The Law School Authority

Nelson v. Johnson Case Brief

Summary of Nelson v. Johnson, S. Ct Idaho [1984]

Relevant Facts: In 1956 the Wakes owned the land in question where they operated a dry farm operation and maintained a cattle herd. They sold the dry farm under a contract for sale with a condition which reserved a right to use the water from a spring, to the Hesses. The Hesses did not record the K and deed was not executed. In 1963 they in turn sold the farm to the Johnsons under K. The terms included an excepting clause allowing permissive use of the premises. The Johnsons executed a deed which reflected the original K terms and had it recorded.  The Wakes continued to use the road and springs until they sold the remaining property to the Nelsons by way of a warranty deed which included the use of the springs.  Shortly thereafter the Johnsons granted permission of the use, but then 5 years later revoked that permission by letter, and placed locks on the gates.

Legal Issue(s): Whether the easement reserved in the original contract for sale of the property to the Dfs,  was appurtenant to the ranch which was then sold to the Pl?

Court’s Holding: Yes

Procedure: Trial ct ruled for pl, Nelsons, S. Ct of Idaho Affirmed.

Law or Rule(s): The instrument granting the easement is to be interpreted in connection with the intention of the parties, and the circumstances in existence at the time the easement was granted and utilized.

Court Rationale: The trial ct determined that the easement reserved was appurtenant in nature, with a Dominant estate in the ranch and a servient estate in the dry farm.  The easement had consequently passed with the Dominant estate upon each transfer of title.  The language of the reservation clause indicates a clear intention of the parties that the easement was to be intended for the benefit of the cattle ranch.  There is no showing that the parties intended it to be a mere personal right. An easement in gross is merely a personal interest in the land of another; whereas an easement appurtenant is annexed to the possession of the Dominant estate and passes with it.  An appurtenant must bear some relation to the use of the Dominant AND is incapable of existence separate from it. Any attempted severance from the Dominant must fail.  This easement is a beneficial and useful adjunct of the cattle ranch, AND it would be of little use apart from the operations of the ranch.  In cases of doubt it is presumed appurtenant.

Plaintiff’s Argument: The reservation clause of the original K and the exception of the subsequent K, indicates an intent that the easement was to be appurtenant an attached to the Dominant estate.

Defendant’s Argument: The easement was personal in nature, in that there is no commercial benefit to the servient estate, nor a commercial burden upon the Dominant estate.

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