Summary of Brown v. Voss, Supreme Ct. of WA (1986)
Parties: PL is the traversing party. DF is the owner of the servient land.
Cause of action/remedy sought: The following is an equitable action of injunction.
Procedural History: Trial court denied the injunction sought by the owner of the servient estate. Instead gave each party $1 in nominal damages. Court of Appeals reversed. This court reverses Ct./Appeals decision, reinstating trial court judgment.
Facts: In 1952, original predecessors of tract A granted to owners of tract B an easement running on its property for ingress and egress to tract B. Tract A acquired to DF’s in 1973. PL’s bought tracts B and C in two separate transactions in 1977, and tract C was never a party to the original easement. DF’s claim PL’s have no right to maintain use of the easement for use of tract C just because they bought the adjacent land. PL contends it has not abused its right to the easement, and is just trying to build a house bordering on tracts B and C.
Issue(s): Under WA property law, what extent, if any, does the holder of a private road easement have to traverse the servient estate to reach not 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?
Holding: None generally. However, here PL’s never abused their rights to the easement, so although as a matter of law they are incorrect to contend they should be allowed to use the easement for both tracts of land, the injunctive relief is too bold a step to take in the eyes of this court as equitable relief.
Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: In finding that PL was indeed incorrect in his application of the law, the court found there to be no abuse of the general rights associated with the easement as granted in the original agreement. PL’s had already spent some $11K on their project to build their home, and it would be inequitable to stop them now, which would also incidentally landlock their property. The equities simply do not balance in DF’s favor here, and they are not entitled to injunctive relief. (plus, DF already got $1 in damages previously.
Rule: 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.
If an easement is appurtenant to a particular parcel of land, any extension thereof to other parcels is a misuse of the easement.
Did court avoid issues?: No.
Dicta: This is not a proceeding at law.
Dissents: If there was a technical abuse of the law, then there was an abuse of the law. Misuse of an easement is trespass. Damages would continue to mount for each trespass to get to tract C, and for this DF should be entitled to injunctive relief. An injunction would merely require the Browns to acquire access for their use of tract C. One such way would be to condemn a private way of necessity as per WA regulatory code.