Property I, Pages 171–176

Mullis v. Winchester

Supreme Court of South Carolina, 1961

Facts:

Plaintiff brings a suit to remove a cloud on and quiet title to a tract of land. Before 1931 this land was owned by E.C. Winchester, who had a good fee simple title to it. He conveyed this title to R.H. Burns. Winchester then died without a will and Burns died with one. Defendants either inherited the land from Winchester or were given it by Burns. The taxes were not paid by defendant, so the sheriff sold the property to Chonis. Chonis then sold the land to plaintiff in 1943. Plaintiff bought a chart of the place from defendant for $10. Plaintiff then had neighbors help him survey the land. The land was understood to be best for forestry, which plaintiff did, cutting down all of the largest trees for lumber and selling the scraps for pulp wood. In 1958 plaintiff brought this suit.

Procedural History:

In trial it was accepted that the tax deed was invalid. The only issue was whether the respondent had acquired title to the property in question by adverse possession. In this, the trial judge concluded that the only inference to be drawn was that the respondent had made a hostile entry upon the lands in question. His occupation was open, notorious, visible, and exclusive, thereby constituting adverse possession.

Issue:

The issue was whether the respondent had acquired title to the property in question by adverse possession.

Plaintiff's Argument:

Plaintiff was in actual, open, hostile, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession of the land since purchasing it.

Defendant's Argument:

Plaintiff was not in adverse possession as he was not in continuous and uninterrupted possession—he merely came and cut the trees down the one time.

Rules:

  • To be adverse possession, it must be open, actual, continuous, hostile, and exclusive, all for the required period of time.

  • For open, wild, unfenced lands not capable of cultivation, it is only required that the adverse possessor act in such a way consistent with the use to which the lands may be put. No residence or occupancy is needed.

Reasoning:

The deed Chonis gave to plaintiff constituted color of title. It contained a minute and definite description of the land, leaving no doubt as to its identity. Color of title doesn't need any actual interest or title in the land. Plaintiff then acted as any owner of the land would have. He even met defendant, and defendant did not exclude him.

Holding:

The respondent did acquire title to the property in question by adverse possession. Affirmed.

Note:

Black's Law Dictionary

Color of title is the appearance, semblance, or simulacrum of title. Any fact, extraneous to the act or mere will of the claimant, which has the appearance, on its face, of supporting his claim of a present title to land, but which, for some defect, in reality falls short of establishing it.

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