February 21, 2008

Court looked to understandings between parties to a real estate transaction and awarded a prescriptive easement for access

WILLARD D. GORE, ET AL. v. TONY STOUT, ET AL. (Tenn.Ct.App. Feb. 20, 2008)

This appeal involves a dispute between two landowners over use of a route across the defendants' land that the plaintiffs use for access to their nearby land. Plaintiffs filed suit contending they had a right to use the disputed route. The trial court determined that the route had been dedicated and accepted as a public road, that the plaintiffs were entitled to a prescriptive easement over the defendants' land, and that the plaintiffs had a right to use the road by adverse possession. We have determined that the contested section of the route is not a public road, that adverse possession does not apply, and that the plaintiffs are entitled to a prescriptive easement over the defendants' land.

Opinion available at the Tennessee Bar Association website: http://www.tba2.org/tba_files/TCA/2008/gorew_022008.pdf

"To establish a public road by implication, the proponent must satisfy two requirements. First, the landowner must intend to dedicate the road to the public. McCord v. Hays, 302 S.W.2d 331, 333 (Tenn. 1957). Second, the public must expressly or impliedly accept the road. Id. The burden of proof is heavy. In short, the proponent must present 'proof of facts from which it positively and unequivocally appears that the owner intended to permanently part with his property and vest it in the public, and that there can be no other reasonable explanation of his conduct. In other words, dedication is a question of intention, and the intent must be clearly and satisfactorily proven.' ... Mr. Stout asked the county to gravel the entire length of the track. But this was just an attempt to get a little free work, to “gouge” the county as Mr. Stout put it. His intent was to save money, not to donate a road to the county. The county declined his request." Id. (quoting McKinney v. Duncan, 118 S.W. 683, 684 (Tenn. 1909)).

"An easement is an interest in another's real property that confers on the easement holder an enforceable right to use that real property for a specific use. Brew v. Van Deman, 53 Tenn. (6 Heisk.) 433, 436 (1871)). The most common form of an easement is a right of passage across another's property. Shew v. Bawgus, 227 S.W.3d 569, 578 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2007). In Tennessee, easements can be created in several ways: (1) express grant, (2) reservation, (3) implication, (4) prescription, (5) estoppel, and (6) eminent domain. Pevear v. Hunt, 924 S.W.2d 114, 115-16 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1996). A prescriptive easement is an implied easement that is premised on the use of the property rather than language in a deed. Shew, 227 S.W.3d at 578. To create a prescriptive easement, the use and enjoyment of the property must be adverse, under a claim of right, continuous, uninterrupted, open, visible, exclusive, with the knowledge and acquiescence of the owner of the servient tenement, and must continue for the full prescriptive period. Pevear, 924 S.W.2d at 116 (citing Keebler v. Street, 673 S.W.2d 154 (Tenn. Ct, App. 1984). The proponent must prove each of the elements by “clear and convincing evidence.” Stone v. Buckley, 70 S.W.3d 82, 86 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001). In Tennessee the prescriptive period is twenty years. Nashville Trust Co. v. Evans, 206 S.W.2d 911, 913 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1947). ... All of this evidence – Johnson and Mr. Gore’s discussions, the fact that there is no other feasible access to Gore’s land, and their use of the route both before and after the sale – can only lead to one conclusion: Johnson and Gore had a parol understanding that Johnson was transferring the right to use the route." Id.