In this quiet title action out of Fayette County, the court weighed in on whether a bankruptcy proceeding, by which a property becomes part of a bankruptcy estate, interrupts the continuous possession required to establish adverse possession. Finding that it does, the court dismissed the adverse possession claim for failing to demonstrate that the property had been continuously possessed for 21 years, among other grounds.
The subject property was purchased in 1939 by Minnie Diamond, John Harding, and Rose Ermini as tenants in common with equal interests. Ermini’s interest was later conveyed to Minnie Diamond, and Harding’s interest to Minnie’s husband Emet. When Minnie died intestate her two-thirds interest was transferred to Emet and their 6 children (one-third to Emet and two-thirds to the children). In 1977 Emet conveyed his interest to Pontorero and Sons Coal Company. In 1983 Pontorero filed for bankruptcy and the property was purchased out of bankruptcy in 2002 by Appellant Bezjak. Bezjak first learned of the remaining interest held by the 6 Diamond children (the Diamond Heirs) in 2010, after which he initiated a quiet title action asserting ownership by adverse possession. Bezjak argued that the 21-year possession requirement was satisfied by tacking his ownership onto the ownership of his successor in title Pontorero. The Court of Common Pleas of Fayette County granted the summary judgment motion of the Diamond Heirs and dismissed the claim with prejudice. Bezjak appealed.
On appeal, the Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s determination. It held that the possessory period had been interrupted by Pontorero’s bankruptcy from 1983 to 2002. By excluding the years the property was part of the bankruptcy estate, Bezjak could no longer establish the requisite 21 years of continuous possession for adverse possession. However, even if this were not the case, the court found Bezjak could not have adversely possessed the property against his co-tenants because he could not demonstrate that he had ousted them from the property. Adverse possession by one co-tenant against another only begins to run after there is actual ouster or some other unequivocal act or declaration by the co-tenant in possession. Because Bezjak only learned of his co-tenants shortly before filing the quiet title action he could not successfully claim adverse possession.
Click here to read: Bezjak v. Diamond, 148 WDA 2015 (Pa.Super. Mar. 3, 2016).