O’Donovan v. Huggins Case Brief

Summary of O’Donovan v. Huggins, S. Ct ME [1999]

Relevant Facts: Mcintosh purchased property, 184 Foreside Rd, adjacent to Fish parcel and separates that parcel with Foreside Road. He also purchased an option on the Fish parcel and then optioned both 184 and his option on the Fish parcel to Casco which sought to build a subdivision. When they did not proceed and Mcintosh’s option lapsed, Mcintosh sold 184 to Huggins, but retained a right of way easement across. He did so by warranty deed reserving easement for access. The deed incorporated a side agreement binding subsequent owners to the easement and Huggins agreed not to oppose any application for development. Odonovan is the president of Big Bear Developing which entered into agreement to purchase for the easement from Mcintosh, and then also applied for subdivision approval. The Board suspended the application after a dispute arose regarding the transferability of the easement.

Legal Issue(s): Whether the easement in gross is transferable?

Court’s Holding:

Procedure: Trial ct summary for Huggins, in gross is ~transferable; Reversed and judgment vacated. Remanded for further proceedings.

Law or Rule(s): An easement in gross may be assignable when expressly stated within an instrument conveying an interest in property.

Court Rationale: McIntosh owned no dominant estate to which the easement could be appurtenant, therefor the easement is in gross. An easement may be assignable, under certain conditions. The ct has never applied the rule against assignment of in gross to frustrate the parties’ clear intent, as set forth in a deed, that the holder may assign the easement. Traditionally, an easement is construed to be appurtenant to the land of the person for whose use the easement is created. The ct has held that a profit is freely assignable even when that right is in gross. It is consistent with policy that an easement in gross may be assignable. The easement is assignable because the parties demonstrated their intent within the clear language of the deed. The deed created an easement and limited the assigns on the Fish parcel.

Plaintiff’s Argument: The easement in gross may be transferred, conveyed, or assigned to Odonovan when the original deed expressly allows and states that effect.

Defendant’s Argument: Easements appurtenant not attached to the land of the dominant estate and easements in gross are not transferable. The holder can only use the easement in a manner consistent w/ the intent of the parties that created the easement.

DISSENT: Once an easement has been determined to be in gross and personal, it is not assignable, and terminates upon the death of the creator. If there is a need to change the law, it is better addressed by the Legislature.



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