Insufficient evidence to show easement essential to beneficial enjoyment of property

by Gary Taylor

Gibson v. Hatfield
(Iowa Court of Appeals, December 22, 2010)

The Gibsons and Hatfields own adjoining parcels of land that were once in single ownership.  A steep, wooded bluff runs along the middle of Gibson’s property, and for several years Gibson used a gravel road running across the Hatfield’s property to access the rear portion of her parcel.  Hatfield  purchased his parcel in 2007.  Nothing in the title search, or in representations made by the realtor indicated to Hatfield that Gibson held a recorded easement to use the gravel road, nor that circumstances suggested the existence of an easement by implication. Nevertheless, Hatfield testified that both before and after Gibson filed suit against him, he made written and verbal offers to the Gibsons to let them use the road if they would make a reasonable effort to call him first, and that in the event they could not reach him or it was an emergency, they would have access to a key in a lockbox.

Gibson filed a declaratory action for an easement by implication.  Gibson testified that she and her husband used the gravel road once per week, on average, for the last 31 years, and that the land was inaccessible by vehicle without the use of the gravel road.

The Court of Appeals found insufficient evidence to establish that the prior owners of the adjoining parcel had ever agreed to provide an easement for access of the rear lot. Likewise, the Court found that Gibson did not meet the four-prong test required for establishing an easement by implication. To obtain an easement by implication the benefitting landowner must show (1) separation of title; (2) that the use was obvious and intended to be permanent; (3) that the use is continuous rather than temporary; and (4) that the easement is essential to the beneficial enjoyment of the land.  The Court observed that item (4) is the primary consideration in establishing an easement by implication.  The Court found that automobile access was not “essential to the Gibsons’ beneficial enjoyment of the land.”  Nothing prohibited Gibson from removing trees on her own property to create a lane for automobile access to the rear portion of the parcel.

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