Jury decides against ACS's Hodson in private property dispute

·4 min read

Jun. 22—ANDERSON — A jury unanimously sided against a local school board member in a three-year dispute over privately held property he had tried to reclaim after selling it nearly two decades ago.

Anderson Community Schools Board of Trustees member Kenneth E. Hodson and his wife Cathy could not be reached for comment on the decision reached Thursday following a three-day trial. He had tried to reclaim .47 of an acre from a 1.47-acre parcel bought on July 2, 2019, by Nicole K. Kapuscinski in the 3200 block of Spring Hill Road.

For Kapuscinski, 44, who is allowed to keep title to the full parcel, the win is bittersweet. She was awarded $40,000 in attorney's fees, but because of a quirk in American common law, the award was withdrawn when Hodson's attorney offered an objection.

"I've been having a hard time wrapping my head around it," she said. "He gets to go on like nothing happened. If I was to do this to somebody else, I would be in jail. I wouldn't be able to do this to somebody without some sort of consequence."

The disabled veteran now must refinance the mortgage on the disputed property she originally bought for $98,000, which includes a century-old country house, in order to pay the attorney's fees.

Kapuscinski estimates the value of the acreage under dispute to be about $15,000, far more than what she now owes. According to Zillow, the entire 1.47-acre property now is worth about $184,000.

"I'm in a lot of debt right now," she said. "I was able to get a loan even though I felt my credit was going down, and we had a hard time making ends meet."

If Kapuscinski would have lost the case, she would have been stuck paying a mortgage that included the entire 1.47 acres, she noted.

According to property records, the Hodsons originally sold the property in 2004. It has changed hands at least twice since then.

However, on April 14, 2020, the Hodsons sought affirmation of their ownership of the .47 acres in Madison County Circuit Court 6.

They sought to establish title through their own adverse possession, which they say took place in 2014. Adverse possession, commonly known as squatters' rights, is the principle that someone who never paid for a property might be an owner because he or she has used it.

On July 7, 2020, Kapuscinski filed a counterclaim for trespassing, claiming Hodson prevented her access to the disputed acreage by placing a lock on a shared gate, sending a real estate surveyor onto the property and sending in a tree service company to cut down trees.

In a Jan. 7 order, Judge Mark Dudley ruled in favor of Kapuscinski, saying proof of adverse possession lies in who has paid the property taxes. Hodson said he believed he had but was unable to show proof, while Kapuscinski was able to demonstrate she had paid taxes through her mortgage escrow.

However, Dudley also said the final determination would be best left to a jury.

"In the end the evidence didn't add up, and the jury agreed," Kapuscinski said.

Outside of court, Kapuscinski ran an aggressive public relations campaign, placing a large sign on the property reading, "Kenneth Hodson is a liar" and posting her opinions and case progress on Facebook.

Though the jury agreed the Hodsons had no claim and should pay the attorney's fees, it was under the counterclaim the attorney's fees for Kapuscinski were denied.

"At the end of the day, it wasn't really about the money, anyway," she said.

Though cases such as this normally would be covered by title insurance, Kapuscinski said there were problems with her title company that forced them out of business.

Kapuscinski said she believes the Hodsons wanted the property to build a house on because of the potential of the controversial Mounds Lake project. However, they told the court at trial they wanted to make a special needs camp and nature preserve.

"Currently, it must not be worth much, but if the Mounds Lake comes in, it would be worth a lot," she said.

Follow Rebecca R. Bibbs on Twitter at @RebeccaB_THB, or call 765-640-4883.