Keeping Current—Property offers a look at selected recent cases, literature, and legislation. The editors of Probate & Property welcome suggestions and contributions from readers.
ADVERSE POSSESSION: Land held by city for resale is subject to loss by adverse possession. The city acquired a parcel of land by eminent domain for part of a highway project but ultimately did not use it in the project, declaring it “surplus property.” A decade after the completion of the highway, Galdo purchased a two-story dwelling directly across the street from the parcel and began using it as if he owned it—pouring concrete slabs for parking vehicles and storing tools, planting trees, and building a fence, a carport, a tree house, and a volleyball court. When the city entered into an agreement to sell the parcel, it filed an ejectment action against Galdo. Galdo counterclaimed, asserting ownership by adverse possession. After a bench trial, the court ruled in favor of the city, but the commonwealth court vacated the decision, remanding for a determination whether the property was devoted to public use. Before the supreme court was the question whether the parcel was devoted to a public use in a case in which it was acquired by condemnation to assist in a highway project but later held for resale. The court ruled for Galdo, first reciting the well-established principle that a claim of title by adverse possession does not lie against state property. This rule of immunity emanates from the doctrine nullum tempus occurrit regi, meaning “time does not run against the king,” which has its roots in the prerogative of the Crown. Though this rule ordinarily does not apply to counties and municipalities, as the prerogative is that of the sovereign alone, an exception applies when the political subdivision devotes the property to a public use. The acquisition of the parcel as part of the highway project is undoubtedly a public use, but the city abandoned that public use when it began holding the parcel for resale only. Nearly 40 years passed since its acquisition while the city left the parcel idle and unoccupied. City of Philadelphia v. Galdo, 2019 Pa. LEXIS 5452 (Pa. Sept. 26, 2019).