Precarious Possession

Author:John A. Lovett
Position:De Van D. Daggett, Jr. Distinguished Professor, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law.
Pages:617-700
 
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Precarious Possession
John A. Lovett*
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction .................................................................................. 618
I. Up from Rome .............................................................................. 625
A. Acquisitive Prescription in the Civil Law Tradition .............. 625
1. Roman Law and Pre-Codification French Law ............... 625
2. French Codification and Subsequent French
Commentary Justifying Acquisitive Prescription............ 628
B. The Concept of Precarious Possession in Roman
and French Law ..................................................................... 630
1. True Possession Equals Detention Supplemented
by Animus ....................................................................... 631
2. Precarious Possession Cannot Produce
Acquisitive Prescription .................................................. 632
3. Initial Presumption in Favor of Possession as
Owner .............................................................................. 632
4. Limited Juridical Effect of Acts Governed by
Article 2232 of Code Civil .............................................. 634
a. Pure Facultative Acts ................................................... 635
b. Acts of Simple Tolerance ............................................ 635
C. Louisiana Commentary After the 1982 Revision of the
Civil Code .............................................................................. 636
D. The Virtues of Louisiana’s Two-Tier Model of
Acquisitive Prescription ......................................................... 640
II. Three Paradigmatic Possession and Acquisitive Prescription
Disputes: A Social and Relational Approach ............................... 646
A. Strangers ................................................................................ 648
1. StrangerClaimant Possessed as Owner ......................... 649
2. StrangerClaimant as Precarious Possessor .................... 654
B. Contractual and Legal Status Relationships .......................... 657
1. Contractual Relationships ............................................... 658
a. Lessees and Lessors .................................................. 658
b. Agents and Principals ............................................... 659
c. Servitude Holders and Servient Estate Owners,
Usufructuaries and Naked Owners ........................... 659
d. Vendors and Vendees ............................................... 660
2. Co-Ownership Disputes: Context Matters ...................... 661
618 LOUISIANA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 77
a. Co-Owners Who Remain Precarious Possessors ...... 663
b. Co-Owners Who Terminate Precarious Possession .. 664
3. Other Family Matters: Sticky Precarious Possession ...... 669
4. Sui Generis Legal Status Relationships .......................... 671
C. Neighbors and Members of Close-Knit Communities........... 673
1. Neighbors as Precarious Possessors Through
Acknowledgment or Agreement ..................................... 674
2. Neighbors as Precarious Possessors Through
Inference .......................................................................... 675
3. Neighbors Who Possess as Owners ................................ 681
III. The Future of Precarious Possession ............................................ 686
A. New Jurisprudential Tools to Analyze Neighbor and
Close-Knit Community Cases ............................................... 687
1. The Presumption of Sharing ............................................ 688
2. Indicia of Giving or Renunciation ................................... 691
B. Reconsidering Boudreaux ........................................................ 694
1. The Boudreaux Opinions ................................................ 694
2. Resolving Boudreaux with New Jurisprudential Tools ... 699
Conclusion .................................................................................... 700
INTRODUCTION
The institution of acquisitive prescription has startling transformative
power.1 A person who commences possession of immovable property in
Copyright 2017, by JOHN A. LOVETT.
* De Van D. Daggett, Jr. Distinguished Professor, Loyola University New
Orleans College of Law. This Article is dedicated to the memory of André van de
Walt (1956 -2016), the holder of the South African Research Chair in Property
Law at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, who invited me to visit his research
group and present an early draft of this Article in March 2016. His contribution to
property law scholarship across the world is beyond measure. I also wish to thank
Hanri Mostert, Cheryl Young, Cornelius van de Merwe, Jacques du Plessis,
Hanoch Daga n, Joseph Sin ger, John Blevins, Nicholas Davrados, Melissa
Lonegrass, and Sally Ann Richardson for their encouragements and valuable
comments on earlier drafts of this A rticle. Finally, I gratefully acknowledge the
outstanding research assistance of Aimee Chalin and Emily Breaux.
1. As French commentators G. Baudry-Lacantinerie and Albert Tissier once
remarked, “Prescription is the transformation of a state of fact in a state of law.” G.
BAUDRY-LACANTINERIE & ALBERT TISSIER, PRESCRIPTION: TRAITE THEORIQUE ET
PRACTIQUE DE DROIT CIVIL, in 5 CIVIL LAW TRANSLATIONS 275, at 145 (La. St. L.
Inst. trans. 1972) (4th ed. 1924).
2017] PRECARIOUS P OSSESSION 619
good faith and with a just title can acquire ownership that is good against
the world after just ten years of uninterrupted possession.2 Even more
remarkable is that a possessor who does not commence possession in good
faith or who lacks a just title can still acquire ownership of an immovable
after 30 years of uninterrupted possession.3 Finally, a person who merely
uses another person’s land in a limited manner can acquire a real right in the
form of an apparent servitude through either ten or 30 years of quasi-
possession.4
According to several Louisiana jurists and commentators, the venerable
institution of acquisitive prescription in Louisiana is now under threat.5 The
source of that threat is a recent decision of the Louisiana Supreme Court. In
Boudreaux v. Cummings,6 the plaintiff, John Boudreaux, and his
ancestors-in-title had used a pathway across his neighbor’s property since
1948 to gain access to a public road and to transport farm equipment to
and from the property.7 In 2012, Paul Cummings, the new owner of the
adjacent land, prevented Boudreaux from using the pathway.8 Boudreaux
sued, claiming that he and his ancestors-in-title had acquired a predial
servitude across Cummings’s land by virtue of 30 years of uninterrupted
quasi-possession.9 Cummings defended the lawsuit by arguing that
Boudreaux’s possession did not count for purposes of acquisitive
prescription because it had always been “precarious,” that is, it had been
exercised “with the permission of or on behalf of the owner.”10 Although
2. LA. CIV. CODE arts. 34733476 (2016) (providing for ten-year acquisitive
prescription of immovables for a possessor with just title and good faith; providing
that possessor need only have good faith at commencement of possession).
3. Id. arts. 34863488.
4. Id. arts. 740, 742.
5. See Boudreaux v. Cummings, 167 So. 3d 559, 568 (La. 2015) (Knoll, J.,
dissenting) (warning that the majority decision in Boudreaux “severely jeopardizes
the law on acquisitive prescription in this state”); A.N. YIANNOPOULOS, PREDIAL
SERVITUDES § 6.36, in LOUISIANA CIVIL LAW TREATISE (4th ed. 2013 & Supp.
2016) (reiterating Justice Knoll’s warning and advising that the majority holding in
Boudreaux “should not be read broadly and should not be read to equate permission
with a landowner’s awareness and failure to object to a disturbance or eviction”);
Andrew M. Cox, Boudreaux v. Cummings: The Louisiana Supreme Court
Presumes Away the Right to Acquire a Servitude of P assage, 90 TUL. L. REV. 973,
984 (2016) (suggesting that faulty reasoning in Boudreaux “looms dangerously over
the right to prescribe a servitude of passage”).
6. 167 So. 3d 559 (La. 2015).
7. Id. at 560.
8. Id.
9. Id.
10. Id. at 561 (quoting LA. CIV. CODE art. 3437 (2011)).

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