A Hillsborough County judge has ruled against a Peterborough gun club in a dispute with neighboring landowners who say it encroached on their property.
The Monadnock Rod and Gun Club had sought a court order ruling that it had acquired the land by “adverse possession.” Under certain circumstances, the legal doctrine allows someone to claim ownership of another’s land after using or occupying it in an obvious way for a long period of time.
But the club failed to prove it had used several acres owned by Scott and Bridgette Perry for the required duration to establish adverse possession — 20 years in New Hampshire — Judge David A. Anderson wrote in a Sept. 10 order.
A hearing has been scheduled in the Manchester court for Nov. 8 on a counterclaim from the Perrys involving alleged tree-cutting and lead contamination.
The Perrys’ lawyer, L. Phillips Runyon 3rd, declined to comment on the judge’s order. Penny S. Dean, who represents the club in the lawsuit, did not respond to a request for comment, and club officials could not be reached Monday.
The Monadnock Ledger-Transcript first reported the order Thursday.
The lawsuit is one of three ongoing disputes involving the Monadnock Rod and Gun Club on Jaffrey Road. Separate from the club’s lawsuit against the Perrys, the town of Peterborough has taken the club to court over allegations it expanded its outdoor shooting range, filled in wetlands and built a shooting pavilion without the requisite town approvals. That lawsuit has been on hold while the lawsuit involving the Perrys gets worked out.
The Rod and Gun Club has also objected to a zoning amendment that Peterborough voters passed in May, which specifies that shooting ranges must be in “entirely enclosed indoor facilities,” among other changes to the zoning code. The club claims the town did not give adequate notice of the amendment, leaving voters ill informed that one of the provisions related to shooting ranges.
Town officials scheduled a rehearing related to the zoning amendment in July, then announced it would be postponed until today at the club’s request. That rehearing was not actually scheduled and is not on the select board meeting agenda for tonight, though, because the town never received the relevant information from the club, according to the town office. An attorney representing the gun club in that matter, Thomas Hanna, did not respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.
The Monadnock Rod and Gun Club hosts activities related to firearms, archery, fishing and hunting at its grounds on Route 202, along the Peterborough-Jaffrey line, according to its website.
The club was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1949, according to the N.H. Secretary of State’s online business database.
Court records indicate the outdoor firing range has been closed since last fall, pending the outcome of the lawsuit brought by Peterborough, according to court records.
The gun club filed its adverse-possession suit against the Perrys in May 2018, and it went to trial before Anderson, the judge, last July.
At issue were several acres of the Perrys’ wooded, 49-acre property on Old Jaffrey Road. Parts of it — referred to in the lawsuit as the “heel” and the “toe” of the boot-shaped property — border the club’s land to the northeast.
According to Anderson’s Sept. 10 order, the club’s outdoor shooting range extends into the “toe,” and the club has archery trails in the “heel.”
The club claimed it has long used those areas in those ways. But Anderson wrote that the evidence at trial did not support those claims.
“The evidence that the Club offers to show that the shooting range has always been in the ‘toe’ is entirely contradicted by photographs offered by the Perrys, which the Court finds to be credible,” Anderson wrote.
The aerial photos, according to the judge, show the area cleared of trees for the shooting range “entirely on undisputed Club property” until about 2010, when a photograph indicates the range encroached slightly into the Perrys’ property. A 2015 photo showed that the range had expanded significantly in that direction.
The judge found “even less evidence” supporting the contention that the club’s archery trails have been on the Perrys’ land for at least 20 years. A club member testified that he was familiar with archery trails the club had used for a long time, but the club “provided nothing concrete, such as dates of use or historical maps depicting the archery trails,” Anderson wrote.
Even with such evidence, the judge continued, it would not have been clear that the trails met the other requirements for adverse possession, such as being used continuously and “notoriously,” i.e., in such an obvious manner that the landowner would be sure to grasp what was going on.
The Perrys bought the property in 1997. According to Anderson’s order, Scott Perry said he walked the property line at that time and did not see a shooting range or signs of archery trails. After that, he spent little to no time in those parts. In 2017, neighbors told the Perrys that the club seemed to be encroaching on their property.
After a surveyor hired by the club concluded the gun range was on Perry property, the Perrys said they asked the club in April 2018 to stop using their land. The club offered the Perrys $10,000 for the six-acre “toe” property, which they did not respond to, according to Anderson’s order. The club then issued Scott Perry an order to stay off the property and, two days later, filed the adverse-possession lawsuit.