Alleys dedicated for public use cannot be adversely possessed

The Washington Supreme Court answered an often asked question by clearly stating that alleys dedicated for public use cannot be adversely possessed.

The case is Kiely v. Graves and concerns competing claims to a portion of an alley that had been vacated by the city of Port Townsend. William and Sally Chapin Kiely were neighbors to Kenneth and Karen Graves. An alley ran the length of the properties, and as long as anyone could remember, a wire fence ran the length of the two properties.

The Graves property adjacent to the disputed alley has remained open space where the Graves have planted fruit trees, berry vines, and garlic. Part of the Kielys’ cottage encroached upon the disputed alley.

In 2008, the Graves filed a petition with the city to vacate the western half of the alley and merge it into their property. The city held a public hearing on the application and in February 2009, the Port Townsend City Council passed an ordinance to vacate the alley and convey the vacated alley to the Graves through a lot line adjustment.

The Kielys then filed an action claiming that they owned the entire alley through adverse possession. The trial court agreed with the Kielys.

The Supreme Court granted direct review to decide whether the Kielys could assert adverse possession based on events which preceded vacation of the alley. Upon review, the Court found that Port Townsend held an easement interest in the alley until it was vacated by public hearing. This is a critical finding because RCW 7.28.090 prevents the adverse possession of property owned by a governmental entity. The Kielys agreed that the interest held was an easement interest, but they argued that the statute should not apply to easements.

As the Court clearly stated, “This case hinges on whether an easement dedicated for a public thoroughfare constitutes ‘land held for any public purpose’ under RCW 7.28.090. We hold that it does.”

And with that, the Court reversed the trial court and rejected Kielys’ adverse possession claim.

Dedicated unused and opened alleys run through many areas in our towns and cities. Even long use of these unused alleys will not result in the property being transferred to the possessors.

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