Road rights take wrong turn

Law of the Land

In the case of Jones, et al. v. Sparks, et al., property belonging to Harry and Anita Jones shared a common boundary with property owned by their neighbor, Algin Stamper, that fronted a highway.

Given that access to the property via the original entrance was difficult, especially in bad weather, the Joneses paid the neighbor $500 for permission to clear and use a rough access road from the highway to their property across the neighbor’s land.

The Joneses used the road across the neighbor’s property for 13 years, until the neighbor passed away and his heirs instructed them to discontinue using the road.

The Joneses filed suit, claiming that they had purchased an easement to use the road across Stamper’s land. The trial court ruled against the Joneses, finding that no easement existed. The Joneses appealed.

The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s ruling. Because Stamper had never executed any written deed granting the Joneses an easement, the statute of frauds precluded the Joneses from owning an easement by law. 

Turning to equitable arguments that could create an easement, the Court of Appeals found that no easement by estoppel existed. There was no evidence that Stamper caused the Joneses to expect that he would ever deed them an easement in writing. In fact, the Joneses acknowledged that the deceased repeatedly qualified his permission for them to use the road with the phrase “while he was living.”

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Similarly, the appellate court found no easement by implication. Kentucky law requires that both the dominant and servient parcels were commonly owned at the time an easement by implication was created, which was not the case here. Further, the required necessity element of an easement by implication was nonexistent, given that another access to the Joneses’ property does exist.

Finally, the court rejected the Joneses’ argument that the deceased was unjustly enriched by the monies they expended on the road. While unjust enrichment would require that the deceased or his property benefited from the road, the court found that the road most likely devalued the deceased’s property.

Accordingly, neither legal nor equitable grounds for the Joneses to be granted an easement over the deceased’s property existed, and the trial court’s decision was affirmed.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.

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