Property II, Pages 563–568

Brown v. Voss

Supreme Court of Washington, 1986

Facts:

There were three parcels in a line—A, B, and C. Defendants acquired A, while plaintiffs bought B and then C from two different owners. The previous owners of A granted the previous owners of B an easement for "ingress to and egress from" B. The road the easement was granted for ran across all three properties.

Plaintiffs intended to replace the single-family home on B with a house that straddled the boundary between B and C. Plaintiffs began clearing B and C and moving materials in, investing $11,000. After a year of work, defendants then put up a roadblock to stop plaintiffs from using defendants' section of the road.

Plaintiffs sued for removal of the obstructions, while defendants counterclaimed for damages and an injuction against plaintiffs for using the easement other than for parcel B.

Procedural History:

  • Trial court awarded each party $1 in damages, finding that plaintiffs acted reasonably as they had to access their landlocked parcel, but that they made a slight trespass outside the easement over a corner of defendants' property. It also limited plaintiffs' use of B & C to for a single family residence.

  • The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for entry of an order prohibiting the use of the easement across A to gain access to a residence on C.

Issue:

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[T]o what extent, if any, the holder of a private road easement can traverse the servient estate to reach not only the original dominant estate, but a subsequently acquired parcel when those two combined parcels are used in such a way that there is no increase in the burden on the servient estate.

Rule:

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As a general rule, an easement appurtenant to one parcel of land may not be extended by the owner of the dominant estate to other parcels owned by him, whether adjoining or distinct tracts, to which the easement is not appurtenant.

Reasoning:

Plaintiffs have no easement rights to use A to access C. Plaintiffs only have rights to use A to access a single-family home on B.

However, the trial court is given broad discretion, which was not abused by their findings that plaintiffs acted reasonably, that defendants waited over a year while plaintiffs invested over $11,000 into the project, and that no appreciable hardship or damages would flow to defendants or by their limiting plaintiffs' use of B & C to for a single family residence.

Judgment:

Court of Appeals reversed; trial court affirmed.

Dissenting Opinion:

Dore: As the majority said, plaintiffs using A to reach C violated their easement so an injunction should have been granted as the Court of Appeals said. Plaintiffs are responsible for landlocking C, as they should have known that the easement was not appurtenant to C. If they desire access to C, there is a statutory procedure for condemnation of a private way of necessity.

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