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Celebration Worship Ctr., Inc. v. Tucker

Supreme Court of Indiana

June 29, 2015

CELEBRATION WORSHIP CENTER, INC., Appellant (Plaintiff),
v.
PATRICK TUCKER AND CAROLYN P. TUCKER, A/K/A PATTY TUCKER, Appellees (Defendants)

Appeal from the Floyd Circuit Court. The Honorable J. Terrence Cody, Judge. Cause No. 22C01-1106-PL-948. On Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 22A01-1405-PL-229.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: Joseph C. Klausing, Stephanie L. Caldwell, O'Bryan, Brown & Toner, PLLC, Louisville, Kentucky.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEES: John A. Kraft, Young, Lind, Endres & Kraft, New Albany, Indiana.

Dickson, Justice. Rush, C.J., and Rucker, David, and Massa, JJ., concur.

OPINION

Page 252

Dickson, Justice.

This appeal challenges summary judgment for claimants establishing title to and use of real property by adverse possession and by prescriptive easement. Finding no genuine issue of material fact, we affirm the trial court.

In June 2011, the appellant/plaintiff Celebration Worship Center (" the church" ) filed a complaint for declaratory judgment, seeking to determine the boundary line between it and the appellees/defendants Patrick and Carolyn P. ('Patty') Tucker (collectively, " the homeowners" ), to determine ownership of its real estate, to allow it to build a fence along the boundary line, and to seek further injunctive relief against the homeowners to cease their " trespass" activities. Appellant's App'x at 8. The church holds the deed to lots 1, 2, and 3 on plat 349 in Floyd County, Indiana. The homeowners hold the deed to lot 4, the adjacent property to the east. Surveys attached to the church's complaint describe a boundary line as " Edge of Gravel," id. at 15-16, which appears to refer to the east edge of a gravel driveway along the east border of lot 3.

Page 253

Although the church has sued both the homeowners, the only titleholder of the disputed real estate is Patty Tucker, who purchased her home from her mother, Bonnie Weathers, who had owned and occupied the property from March 15, 1972, until she conveyed it to Patty by quit-claim deed on November 4, 2003. Organized in 2002, the church took title to its real estate on January 10, 2003, from Resurrection Morning Fellowship, Inc. The church's pastor, David Ledger, began his employment in 2001 and never held an office with Resurrection Morning Fellowship. The boundary control issue arose in 2003--shortly before the homeowners moved in, and the property was surveyed soon after.

The homeowners filed their answer and a counterclaim to the church's complaint for declaratory judgment, arguing they had acquired title to the disputed real estate--the grassy portion along the east side of lot 3 contiguous to the west side of lot 4 (their side yard) and the " edge of the gravel" --by adverse possession, as well as a prescriptive easement over the adjacent gravel driveway along the west edge of the disputed grassy area and contiguous to the gravel parking area of lot 3. After written discovery and depositions, competing motions for summary judgment, and a hearing on said motions, the trial court issued an order on July 16, 2013, denying the church's motion for summary judgment and granting summary judgment in favor of the home-owners on both the adverse possession and prescriptive easement claims. The parties subsequently filed numerous motions to correct errors, for clarification, and for reconsideration.

The church appeals the trial court's July 16, 2013 order as well as its orders clarifying the homeowner's use of the acquired prescriptive easement on January 22, 2014, and April 30, 2014. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court on both claims, concluding the church, not the homeowners, was entitled to summary judgment. Celebration Worship Ctr., Inc. v. Tucker, 26 N.E.3d 1074, (Ind.Ct.App. 2015) (table). We now grant transfer and affirm the trial court on both claims.

We review a summary judgment decision de novo, applying the same standard as the trial court: summary judgment is appropriate where, drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, the designated evidence shows " that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Trial Rule 56(C), quoted in Hughley v. State, 15 N.E.3d 1000, 1003 (Ind. 2014); Williams v. Tharp, 914 N.E.2d 756, 761 (Ind. 2009). " A fact is 'material' if its resolution would affect the outcome of the case, and an issue is 'genuine' if a trier of fact is required to resolve the parties' differing accounts of the truth . . . or if the undisputed material facts support conflicting reasonable inferences." Williams, 914 N.E.2d at 761 (internal citations omitted), quoted in Hughley, 15 N.E.3d at 1003. The initial burden is on the party moving for summary judgment to " demonstrate[] the absence of any genuine issue of fact as to a determinative issue." Id. at 761-62 (internal substitution omitted), quoted in Hughley, 15 N.E.3d at 1003.

The church appeals the trial court's July 16, 2013 order granting the homeowners' motion for summary judgment on both the adverse possession and prescriptive easement claims. As such, for the basis of this appeal, the homeowners are the moving party for summary judgment.

Adverse Possession Claim

In Fraley v. Minger, this Court discussed and synthesized the common law ...


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