June 27, 2008

Court limits use of an easement to the extent that a driveway runs onto the adjacent property; Dominant estate may not materially increase burden

GARY W. FRYE, ET AL. v. CARL PRESLEY, ET AL. (Tenn.Ct.App. June 27, 2008).

This case involves a dispute between the owners of adjoining properties over the use of a driveway. The dispute focuses on the easement rights of the defendants, if any, to a right-of-way across the north edge of the plaintiffs' property and a portion of the west edge. The court, following a bench trial, made findings regarding the subject driveway. The defendants appeal. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

Opinion may be found at:

"An easement is a right an owner has to some lawful use of the real property of another. [] Any easement in this case would be an easement appurtenant, involving two tracts of land – the dominant tenement (in this case, the defendants’ property) and the servient tenement (the plaintiffs’ property). The dominant tenement benefits in some way from the use of the servient tenement. [] A prescriptive easement arises when a person acting under an adverse claim of right makes uninterrupted, open, visible, and exclusive use of another’s property for at least twenty (20) years with the owner’s knowledge and acquiescence. []." Id. (citations omitted).

"While the Presleys’ deed to their son refers to an easement 30 feet in width, that easement, to the extent it crosses the plaintiffs’ property, is limited in width to the 14 feet found by the trial court. ... Simply stated, the son’s easement over the Fryes’ property is limited to a width of 14 feet. If the driveway on the ground is more than 14 feet wide, the excess over 14 feet must be located entirely on the Presleys’ property." Id. (quotations to transcript omitted).

"[T]he owner of an easement “cannot materially increase the burden of it upon the servient estate or impose thereon a new and additional burden.” [] Accordingly, the use of the driveway has been expanded over time from originally benefitting only Mr. and Mrs. Presley to now being used by at least nine drivers, owning a combined fleet of approximately 15 vehicles including boats, trailers, and farm equipment. Mr. Frye testified that a number of the defendants speed along the driveway and “create the nuisance of dust”[]. ... It is clear to us that this testimony is related to the roadway along the northern section of the Frye property, not the portion of the driveway along a portion of their western boundary. The trial court concluded that the defendants’ use of the easement along the northern boundary did not result in an unreasonable increase in the burden to the servient estate. ... Furthermore, our review of the record likewise reveals no evidence of an increased burden along the western section of the easement. Accordingly, we find the plaintiffs’ argument to be without merit." Id. (citations omitted).