In 1969, Houston Light & Power obtained a prescriptive easement to place an electricity transmission tower on a lot in Texas. In 1998, the electric company leased space on the electric tower to a cellular company, which then placed a cellular antenna on the tower. Later in 1998, John Gates purchased the lot, not noticing the cellular antenna until after he took possession of the property.
Gates filed suit in Gates v. Sprint Spectrum LLC alleging a trespass and looking to recover the value of cellular company’s lease of the space. The district court ruled against Gates, finding that the cellular company’s use of the land was a permanent trespass, which Texas law recognizes as a cause of action only on behalf of the owner at the time the trespass was originally committed. Accordingly, the lower court held, Gates had no standing to sue. Gates appealed the district court’s ruling.