Property dispute focus for commissioners

NEW CUMBERLAND – Hancock County commissioners are asking a judge to find in their favor without a trial in the ongoing property dispute with attorney Lawrence Manypenny.

In a motion for summary judgment filed Tuesday, commissioners restated their claim that the Hancock County Magistrate Court building sits on parcels acquired by the county in 1976 and 1982, and that they’re entitled, under the legal doctrine of adverse possession, to use adjoining land claimed by Manypenny.

The court building neighbors the law offices of Manypenny and James Carey, 106 Court St., and Manypenny claims ownership of the land up to and including the Magistrate Court sidewalk and enclosed staircase.

At issue is the small strip of land between the law office and the court building, which court employees and the general public use to gain access to the building’s second floor.

Manypenny approached commissioners last year about the county compensating him for the use of the land, but negotiations went nowhere. In February, Manypenny erected caution tape, orange pylons and “no trespassing” signs in the area between the two buildings in an attempt to delineate his property.

Commissioners took Manypenny and his wife, Constance, to court the same day, asking for an injunction forcing the removal of the barriers and an order determining the proper boundary lines. The property has been surveyed three times since 2009, most recently in the fall.

The case has languished in Hancock County Circuit Court with no resolution for most of the year, although a pre-trial conference with visiting Judge David W. Hummel Jr. of Marshall County Circuit Court is scheduled Monday. Hancock County Circuit Court judges have recused themselves from the case.

“I hope everything can be worked out. We’ve been in that building for years and years,” Commissioner Dan Greathouse said.

Greathouse said the issue may be made moot with the planned relocation of Magistrate Court to another part of town next year. Commissioners bought the old New Cumberland Dollar General building in February and want to adapt the retail space for reuse as a judicial complex for the Magistrate Court.

Once that happens, the current court building may either be sold or demolished, Greathouse said. If the building is razed, the space likely will be turned into a parking lot, he said.

But on a recent bus tour of New Cumberland sponsored by the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, Commissioner Jeff Davis said the building may have some life left in it.

“Personally, I think it’s too good a building to tear down. It’s a sound building,” Davis said.

Greathouse said one prospective buyer already has expressed interest in the property.

The building has been home to the Magistrate Court for about 30 years, and, up until February, Manypenny has never attempted to “exercise dominion and control over the property,” according to the motion for summary judgment, filed Tuesday by Hancock County Assistant Prosecutor William Fahey.

“(The Manypennys) have never maintained the sidewalk or stairwell, have never expended any money for paving the sidewalk, have never engaged in snow or ice removal and have never attempted to have the disputed area assessed to them for tax purposes,” the motion reads.

The 10-page motion, which cites case law in support of the commissioners’ position, asks that the court grant “commissioners the disputed property by adverse possession, by prescriptive easement, by estoppel, as well as equity.”

In cases of adverse possession, courts sometimes recognize the longtime occupant of a piece of property as the rightful owner. Easement-by-estoppel is a court order granting an easement in cases where none was recognized in the written title deed.

Fahey’s motion suggests that the best resolution is to set “the property line where the sidewalk ends between the parcels for the full length of the lot.”

Neither Manypenny nor Carey could be reached for comment.