Judge rules against Rosser family over property dispute

A long-simmering property dispute between a Vashon family and the Vashon Park District reached a milestone last week when a King County Superior Court judge ruled that the family lacked evidence to support its legal claim.

Judge Laura Gene Mid-daugh ruled in the park district’s favor Friday in a case brought by the park district against Margaret and Gay Rosser, a longtime Island family that says the Vashon Island School District has failed to recognize an easement they received from the school district more than 60 years ago.

Middaugh told the Rossers the only evidence that can support their claim to an easement along the eastern edge of their property is a deed, according to David Hackett, a lawyer and park district commissioner who attended the hearing.

“All the claims of handshakes and memories, all the disputed evidence … doesn’t matter, because in Washington law, if you don’t have a deed, you don’t have property,” Hackett said.

The Rossers have long contended that the agreement was made by way of a handshake between Leon Rosser, Margaret’s late husband, and the school district’s superintendent at the time. They say they never received a deed confirming the transaction and have blamed the school district for the lack of evidence.

In a hand-written statement given to The Beachcomber over the weekend, Margaret Rosser and her daughter Gay, who share the family home adjacent to the park district’s fields project, said the ruling came as no surprise to them.

The park district and school district “have tax dollars and attorneys. We have no legal pro bono representation,” the Rossers said in their statement.

The judge’s ruling, issued from the bench, came at the end of a 90-minute hearing over the park district’s request for summary judgment, meaning a ruling issued from the bench “summarily,” or without a full trial. Judges can issue such a ruling if there are no material facts in dispute, Hackett said.

In this case, he said, the judge noted that only the existence of a deed — filed with the King County Assessor’s Office — can prove property ownership.

“We presented the title search and showed there was no recorded deed in the title search,” Hackett said. “It was (the Rossers’) obligation to present a deed.”

The Rossers can appeal Middaugh’s decision to the state Court of Appeals. The family, in their statement, suggested they might continue to press their claim. “We continue to seek (a) pro bono attorney for assistance,” they said.

The dispute has been an issue as the park district pushes forward on its $1.7 million project to install state-of-the-art sports fields at a 10-acre parcel it leases from the school district.

Since the project’s inception a few years ago, the Rossers have raised objections, say-ing the two governmental agencies have failed to respect their property rights.

The dispute has been tense at times. The park district filed a restraining order at one point against Gay Rosser, saying she was impeding progress by parking a truck in the way of work crews. And at least twice, the Rossers have called the King County Sheriff’s Office to complain about the park district’s actions.

Jan Milligan, executive director of the park district, said she hopes Middaugh’s ruling puts the issue to rest. She said she was saddened by the dispute and the time and effort it’s cost both the park district and the Rosser family.

“But hopefully, it’s behind us and we can move forward and have ballfields to play on in the fall,” she said.


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