September 17, 2008

Court finds against landowner who argued different easement theories for access to a secluded portion of property

TERESA WALKER NEWMAN v. WAYNE WOODARD, ET AL. (Tenn.Ct.App. September 17, 2008).

This case concerns the access rights of a landowner to a section of her property divided from the rest of her land by a steep bluff. The trial court held that the landowner did not have an implied easement through her neighbor's land to access her property at the bottom of the bluff because the there was insufficient evidence that the right-of-way preexisted severance of the properties. The trial court determined that Mrs. Newman did not have an implied easement by necessity because there was insufficient evidence that Mrs. Newman would be unable build a road down the bluff for a reasonable cost. Because the evidence does not preponderate otherwise, we affirm that Mrs. Newman does not have an implied easement or an implied easement by necessity over the right-of- way. The trial court also held that Mrs. Newman lacked a prescriptive easement over the right-or- way because she failed to prove that her use was exclusive; we affirm on the basis that Mrs. Newman failed to demonstrate that her use of the right-of-way was continuous.

Opinion may be found at the TBA website:

"Implied Easement. ... The party seeking to establish an easement by implication has the burden of proving the following three elements by a preponderance of the evidence: (1) A separation of title; (2) Necessity that before the separation takes place, the use which gives rise to the easement shall have been so long continued and obvious or manifest as to show that it was meant to be permanent; and (3) Necessity that the easement be essential to the beneficial enjoyment of the land granted or retained." Id.

"the trial court also found that Mrs. Newman failed to present evidence that there was a preexisting route between the two properties at the time of separation. At trial, Mrs. Newman presented the minutes of the Lauderdale County Court dated July 26, 1910, as evidence that both the Woodards’ and Mrs. Newman’s property were once part of the greater “Marley tract” divided in 1910. Although Mrs. Newman presented witnesses that testified that the field road existed for decades before trial, none of the witnesses could testify to the use of the field road before the previous owners severed the property in 1910. The trial court noted evidence that there was no preexisting route in the 1910 County Court Minutes Book and that a surveyor’s map indicated that Lot 7 and Lot 8 of the Marley tract, which comprised the modern-day Newman and Woodard properties, were not cleared at the time of separation." Id.

"Easement by Necessity. ... [A]n implied easement by necessity allows for the establishment of a right-of-way where one previously did not exist. [] An easement by necessity is a type of implied easement based upon the premise that wherever one conveys property he also conveys whatever is necessary for its beneficial use and enjoyment, including access to one’s property. [] The party claiming the right-of-way bears the burden of proving the following: (1) the titles to the two tracts in question must have been held by one person; (2) the unity of title must have been severed by a conveyance of one of the tracts; (3) the easement must be necessary in order for the owner of the dominant tenement to use his land with the necessity existing both at the time of the severance of title and the time of exercise of the easement." Id. (citations omitted).

"Where the party claiming the right can, at reasonable cost, create a substitute on his own estate the easement is not necessary. ... The bulldozer operator ... asserted at trial that for six hundred to a thousand dollars he could improve the overgrown field road so that Mrs. Newman could drive farm equipment down the bluff. Although Mrs. Newman questioned the feasibility and durability of the road Mr. Blankenship claimed he could create, she failed to present evidence at trial contradicting Mr. Blankenship’s testimony that he could create a road at a reasonable expense. ... Mrs. Newman, therefore, failed to prove that the cost of creating a road down the bluff was unreasonable," Id.

"Easement By Prescription. ... In order to demonstrate a prescriptive easement, a claimant must prove that the use and enjoyment of land which gives rise to a prescriptive easement must be adverse, under claim of right, continuous, uninterrupted, open, visible, exclusive, with knowledge and acquiescence of the owner of the servient tenement, and must continue for the full twenty year prescriptive period." Id.

"Mrs. Newman simply failed to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that she or her predecessors in title continuously used the field road. The record is not clear how often Mrs. Newman, her family, or her tenants used the field road to access the fifteen acres. ... At most, the evidence indicated that Mrs. Newman’s predecessors intermittently used the road during the years that they may have farmed the fifteen acres of their land. This is insufficient evidence to prove continuous use of the field road by clear and convincing evidence." Id.