Northeast Kansas farm neighbors Pyle, Gall ask state’s highest court to settle property dispute

Pyle’s role as senator, governor candidate add intrigue to complex legal conflict

By: - February 2, 2023 3:03 pm
Independent state Sen. Dennis Pyle of Hiawatha is at the center of a neighor-to-neighbor property dispute that made its way Thursday to the Kansas Supreme Court. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Independent state Sen. Dennis Pyle of Hiawatha is at the center of a neighor-to-neighbor property dispute that made its way Thursday to the Kansas Supreme Court. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Protracted legal friction between neighboring northeast Kansas landowners Dennis Pyle and James Gall Jr. about vehicle and farm equipment access to crop fields finally matured sufficiently to reach the Kansas Supreme Court.

The Gall and Pyle farming families endured a bench trial in Brown County District Court and proceedings with the Kansas Court of Appeals before their respective attorneys stood before the state’s highest court Thursday for oral argument on state law and court precedent on murky principles of adverse possession, prescriptive easement, exclusive use, easement by necessity and agricultural purpose.

It’s an unusual case because one of the central figures is Dennis Pyle, a state senator and independent candidate for governor in 2022.

James Willard, counsel for Pyle, and Charles Baskins, representing Gall, asked the Supreme Court to bring clarity to a record of conflicting legal decisions by district and appellate courts in this area of property law.

“There doesn’t seem to be consistency,” Willard said.

Pyle has owned since 1994 a quarter section in Brown County bordering property owned by Gall. A creek slices across a corner of the Pyle land, isolating 2 acres from the rest of his field. There is no bridge access. For many years, Pyle reached his tiny acreage by crossing Gall property. No fence divided the Gall and Pyle properties for 20 years.

Periodically, some of Gall’s crops were damaged by vehicles traveling to Pyle’s fields. Pyle alleged Gall’s tenants in 2015 planted crops on his property. Pyle sought to reestablish a “traditional” crop line the next year through the planting process.

Pyle ignored an offer from Gall to buy the contested chunk of land. In 2015, Gall told Pyle to stop crossing the family’s property. Surveyors were hired, but they reached different conclusions on the joint property line. Gall built a fence in the disputed field 20 feet east of the traditional boundary.

Pyle filed a petition seeking title to the land up to the 2015 crop line through a process known as adverse possession. He also requested approval of a prescriptive easement granting temporary access across Gall land so he could plant and harvest crops on the 2-acre lot.

District Court Judge James Patton declared Pyle acquired ownership of he land up to the 2015 line by adverse possession and a prescriptive easement existed across a 60-foot stretch of Gall property enabling Pyle to cross back and forth. The judge concluded Pyle never asked permission to be on Gall property and Gall didn’t definitively order Pyle to stop until 2015.

Gall challenged the district court’s decision in the Court of Appeals, which in 2022 affirmed Pyle had taken ownership of a slice of the disputed property through adverse possession. The Court of Appeals said the district court mistakenly found Pyle had a prescriptive easement on Gall’s field.

The appellate court granted Pyle permission to return to district court to pursue an alternative claim that he could cross that land due to an implied easement by necessity. In the meantime, Gall appealed the Court of Appeals’ decision to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court was asked during oral argument to determine whether the lower courts erred in evaluating the property feud. Chief Justice Marla Luckert said justices would consider rival arguments and relevant briefs before issuing a decision at a later date.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.