Property remains in question

NEW CUMBERLAND – The parties in a dispute over a small strip of land between Hancock County Magistrate Court and the law office of Lawrence Manypenny came close to a settlement late last year but to no avail, court documents say.

Manypenny, who claims ownership of the Magistrate Court sidewalk and stairwell property, responded this week to a motion filed by Hancock County commissioners, asking for an injunction against Manypenny and his wife, Connie.

In his response to commissioners, Manypenny said the two sides entered “sufficient and encouraging” negotiations late last year that almost brought a resolution to the controversy.

Manypenny believes he is entitled to compensation for the county’s use of what he insists is his land. Commissioners, in their motion for an injunction, challenge Manypenny’s claim of ownership, saying the property has been used for Magistrate Court business for 30 years.

Bringing the controversy to a head this week was the erection of barrier tape, pylons and “no trespassing” signs on the disputed piece of property. Commissioners filed their motion the same day the barriers were installed.

The motion asks 1st Judicial Circuit Court Judge James P. Mazzone for an order requiring the removal of all obstructions and determining the “proper boundary line” between the two properties.

In the motion and in a letter to Manypenny, Assistant Hancock County Prosecutor Bill Fahey said the legal doctrine of “adverse possession” may apply because the property has been used for court business for 30 years. In cases of adverse possession, courts sometimes recognize the longtime occupant of a piece of property as the rightful owner.

“I am well aware that adverse possession does not apply against a governmental entity,” Fahey said in a letter to Manypenny dated Dec. 28, 2012, “but I am willing to litigate whether it exists in favor of a governmental entity after 30 years of use.”

In a letter dated Dec. 26, Fahey said, “The sidewalk is instrumental to the operation of the Magistrate Court and may give rise to a cause of action for adverse possession and/or easement of necessity.”

In his response, Manypenny cites two 2009 surveys – one commissioned by him and one by the county – as proof that the property is his. One county commissioner acknowledged as much during the course of negotiations between Manypenny and the county last year, he said.

Manypenny said the negotiations were over whether commissioners should purchase the land in question.

“The ownership of real estate is a sacred right and no one, nor government, should have the right to use Respondents’ real estate without just compensation,” Manypenny said in his response.

Manypenny, who could not be reached for comment Friday, asked the court to dismiss the motion.

County commissioners have referred questions to Fahey, who declined comment.

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