May 27, 2009

Court holds that easement was abandoned by predecessor-in-interest who had other direct access

DONNIE VAUGHT, ET AL. v. ALAN JAKES, SR. and wife DEBORAH JAKES, ET AL. (Tenn. Ct. App. May 27, 2009)

A group of Rutherford County landowners whose property abutted one side of a private road which they maintained at their own expense filed a suit for trespass against a neighbor and developer who used the same road for access to houses he was building on the other side. Their suit also included a due process claim against the County for erroneously granting building permits for those houses. 

The trial court agreed that the building permits were granted in error, but ruled that the county's action was an innocent error rather than a due process violation. The trial court also dismissed the plaintiffs' claims against the developer, holding that he was entitled to use the road because of a permanent easement he had acquired from his predecessors-in-interest. We affirm the trial court's dismissal of the due process claim, but reverse its dismissal of the trespass claim because the evidence shows that the individual who sold the property to the defendant had abandoned the easement and, thus, that the defendant had no right to use the road.

Opinion may be found at the TBA website:

"The record indicates that the County correctly informed Mr. Baltz that he was not entitled to sell tracts of his land that did not adjoin Trimble Road, and that the building permits obtained by Mr. Jakes were granted in error. We cannot infer, however, from his acceptance of the Planning Director’s decision that the land could not be subdivided in the way he wished that Mr. Baltz did not know or believe that he could use Bowen Road for other purposes. We conclude on the basis of our examination of the entire record, including the testimony of Henry Parsley and Ronald Baltz, that the Parsleys and Mr. Baltz did know that they could use Bowen Road if they needed to or wanted to, but that they used it only sparingly because they had better access to their property by way of their entrances on Trimble Road. We therefore hold that any easement on Bowen Road enjoyed by the Parsleys or Mr. Baltz was abandoned prior to the sale to Mr. Jakes and that his use of the road amounted to a trespass. We accordingly remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings to determine the damages arising from the defendants’ trespasses which should be awarded to the plaintiffs." Id.