Brown v. Moss Case Brief

Summary of Brown v. Moss, S. Ct. WA [1986]

Relevant Facts: In 1952 the predecessors in title A granted to the predecessors of B a private road easement across A for “ingress/egress" from B. Pl bought B, and C but from 2 different owners. Df had already bought A. When Pl acquired B they intended to remove a dwelling and replace it with another that would straddle the boundary common to B and C. Pl began clearing both parcels and moving fill material. Df first attempt to stop Pl’s use did not occur until after Pl had spent $11000 in developing the property. Dfs placed logs, a concrete stump and a chain link fence w/i the easement.

Legal Issue(s): Whether the holder of a private road easement can traverse the servient estate to reach not only the dominant but a subsequently purchased parcel, when together they do not burden the servient estate?

Court’s Holding:

Procedure: Tr ct judgment permitting the plaintiffs to use their easement to access both parcels of land so long as the land was used only for a single family residence. Ct App reversed reversed the judgment, and enjoined the plaintiffs from using the easement to benefit any land other than the dominant estate. S. Ct. reverses the decision of the Court of Appeals and reinstates the judgment.

Law or Rule(s): An easement appurtenant to one parcel of land may not be extended by the owner of the dominant estate to other parcels of land owned by him, whether adjoining or distinct tracts, to which the easement is not appurtenant.

Court Rationale: Where an easement is expressly created the extent of the right acquired is to be determined from the terms of the grant properly construed to give effect to the intentions of the parties. Both Pl and Df agree that the 1952 grant created an easement appurtenant to parcel B as the dominant estate. Pls, as owners of the dominant, acquired rights in the use of the easement for ingress/egress. If an easement is appurtenant ANY extension to other parcels is a misuse. The classic rule in property law is directed to the rights of the parties and not the actual burden on the servitude. Here, the purpose of the estate was retained by the Pls, a single family dwelling. The Dfs stood by for over a year to gain leverage against the Pls. The volume of use did not increase, there was no damage to the Dfs, no burden on the servient estate, Pls would suffer an undue hardship if the injunction were granted while the Dfs would not suffer any hardship if it were not granted, and the Pls acted reasonably.

Plaintiff’s Argument: The extension of the use of the easement for the benefit of nondominant property does not constitute a misuse of the easement, b/c there is no increase in the burden to the servient estate.

Defendant’s Argument: An injunction would not interfere with Pls right to ingress/egress parcel B. The easement did not expressly grant access to parcel C, and Pls have misused the easement.

Any misuse is a trespass.

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