En Banc. Rehearing Denied September 12, 1972.
Finis Leach Clampitt and Mrs. Helen Marbury Raymond instituted a petitory action against Davis Brothers Lumber Company, Ltd., and California Oil Company seeking to be recognized as owners of 240 acres of land in Jackson Parish, Louisiana. Prior to trial the California Company was discharged as a party defendant because it had no interest in the litigation. Davis Brothers answered denying plaintiffs' allegations and affirmatively pleaded acquisitive prescription of thirty years. Following trial on the merits the district judge rendered a comprehensive written opinion, finding plaintiffs had failed to prove title in themselves which is a prerequisite to the success of their petitory action; but, on the contrary, that defendant had borne the burden of proving its title by thirty years acquisitive prescription. From formal judgment signed in conformance with this opinion, plaintiffs appeal. We are in accord with the findings of the trial judge and affirm the judgment of the lower court.
The issues are:
When defendant offered evidence to substantiate its possession under its plea of thirty years acquisitive prescription, plaintiffs objected on the ground that defendant's answer was insufficient to permit the introduction of this evidence. Article XX of defendant's answer sets forth:
Based upon the above article of defendant's answer, the lower court admitted evidence under the plea of prescription subject to plaintiffs' objections. Subsequently, defendant filed a supplemental answer
Plaintiffs reurge the objections to the reception of evidence on the plea of prescription. We find the lower court was correct in considering this evidence. Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 1154 provides:
We hold Article XX of defendant's answer adequately sets forth all of the facts necessary to establish the quality of possession essential for the consideration of the plea of acquisitive prescription. It is not necessary for defendant to allege all the evidence by which it expects to prove a prescriptive title. Neilson v. Haas, 199 So. 202 (La.App. 1st Cir. 1940); writ refused 1941); Ciaccio v. Hartman, 170 La. 949, 129 So. 540 (1930). Certainly under the allegations of the supplemental answer, which we find the court had authority to allow under C.C.P. Article 1154, quoted supra, testimony tending to prove a prescriptive title was admissible.
Turning our attention now to the issue of the sufficiency of defendant's possession, we find the preponderance of the evidence shows defendant was in possession of the disputed land at the time suit was filed; in fact, this appears not to be disputed. The law is clear that the party relying on a prescriptive title has the burden of proving public, unequivocable, continuous and uninterrupted possession of the property as owner for the required number of years in order to sustain its plea. Louisiana Civil Code Article 3500. However, the character or quality of possession required under the law varies with the type of property in question. Hill v. Richey, 221 La. 402, 59 So.2d 434 (1952). For example, the law does not require the construction of a fence around every type of property in order to prove possession. Continental Land & Fur Company v. Lacoste, 192 La. 561, 188 So. 700 (1939). In passing on the question of enclosures the court said in Hill v. Richey, supra:
Also, see Industrial Lumber Company v. Howell, 62 So.2d 861 (La.App. 1st Cir. 1953).
The trial judge set forth in detail the acts of possession defendant exercised
We think it appropriate to also point out that neither plaintiffs nor any of their relatives have ever paid any taxes on the property or made any inquiry into the subject of tax liability or the payment thereof.
In view of our holding that the evidence substantiates defendant's plea of thirty years acquisitive prescription, it is perhaps unnecessary to discuss the third issue. However, since the lower court passed on this issue and since we are in agreement with its finding, we shall also briefly discuss this aspect of the case.
A petitory action is one brought by an alleged owner of real estate who is out of possession against another having possession in order to determine legal ownership of the property. Our jurisprudence is that a plaintiff in a petitory action, in order to recover, must rely on the strength of his own title and not on the weakness of that of his adversary; in other words, in order to maintain this suit plaintiffs carry the burden of proving title in themselves. The title of defendant is not at issue until plaintiffs have proved a valid title in themselves. Young v. Miller, 125 So.2d 257 (La.App.3d Cir. 1960); Smith v. Chappell, 177 La. 311, 148 So. 242 (1933); Blevins v. Manufacturers Record Publishing Co., 235 La. 708, 105 So.2d 392 (1957); Collins v. Sun Oil Co., 223 La. 1094, 68 So.2d 184 (1953).
In his written opinion the trial judge traced the chain of title of each 40-acre tract from the original patents to the claims of present plaintiffs. He observed:
He pointed out the serious and unexplained gaps in plaintiffs' title which would conclusively defeat their claim in this petitory action.
Our independent study of the record convinces us the lower court was correct on all the issues and, accordingly, the judgment appealed from is affirmed and Davis Brothers Lumber Company, Limited, is hereby recognized and decreed to be the owner and entitled to possession of the following property:
Appellants are cast with all costs, including the cost of this appeal.