In the case Emily Rutherford v. Columbia Gas Transmission Corp., the gas company owned a utility easement across a portion of landowner Rutherford’s property. In order to service the gas line under the easement, the gas company needed to cut down seven trees belonging to Rutherford, who then filed suit seeking an injunction prohibiting the trees from being cut down.
The district court ruled against Rutherford, declaring that the gas company had the right to cut down the seven trees on her property.
On appeal, the district court’s ruling was affirmed. Rutherford argued that because the gas company had allowed the trees, then small, to remain on the property when the pipeline was installed in the 1950s, the gas company must have contemplated large trees growing over the pipeline.
The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, reiterating the precedential rule of law that an express easement without clear dimensions must be interpreted in consideration of what is reasonable and necessary to effect the objective of the easement.
Clearing a right-of-way for access to the pipeline was found to be "reasonably necessary to serve the purpose of the easement." Because clearing a conservative, 15-foot right-of-way would require the seven trees to be felled, the appellate court ruled, the gas company should be allowed to cut the trees down.
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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