Barn Built in Middle of Road Leads to Dispute

May 27, 2008 | Roger McEowen

 

It’s a fundamental principle that most people understand – it’s not a good idea to build a barn in the middle of a road.  But, that’s exactly what happened in this case from Monroe County.  

Here, a couple purchased a 45-acre tract in 1962.  A road ran through approximately five acres in the northwest corner of the tract.  Over the next few years, the couple added another 101 acres to their farm by purchasing land to the immediate east of the 45 acres.  That 101 acres consisted of two tracts, a 40-acre tract directly east of the original 45 acres, and a 61-acre tract.  There is a steep hill with a creek at the bottom of the hill in the middle of the 101 acres that makes accessing the easternmost part of the farm (the original 45 acres) difficult.  In the late 1970s, the couple sold the five acres to another party with the deed referring to the existence of the county road and the buyer’s associated fencing responsibilities concerning the fence on the west side of the county road.  The defendant’s purchased the five acres in two separate transactions in 1990 and 1992.  The 1990 deed referred to the “established road.”  The defendants sold the western portion of five acres in 1997 to another couple – also defendants in the case.  The 1997 deed also referred to the road.  A year later, the other 141 acres of the original farm were sold and the buyer operated a hog confinement facility on the easternmost portion of the farm, but used the balance of the farm to spread hog manure.  To reach the westernmost portion  (the original 45-acres out of which the five acres was sold) of the farm, the road between the defendants had to be used – the manure spreading equipment couldn’t fjord the creek and climb the hill.  The prior owners also used the road to access the westernmost portion of the farm.  The plaintiffs bought the western 40 acres and the middle 40 acres after renting it for a few years.   They also used the road to access the western portion of their 80 acres, as did the party that ran the confinement hog operation so they could access the property to spread hog manure.  

In late 2004, one of the defendants built a barn in the middle of the road.  The plaintiff (and the hog manure spreader) could still access their property by going around the barn.  But, in the spring of 2006, the defendant built a fence around the barn which prevented use of the road.  That action bought them this lawsuit where the plaintiff sued to establish an easement by prescription, easement by necessity and an easement by implication.  The plaintiff also sought an order requiring the barn to be removed and preventing the defendants from erecting any barriers to the use of the road.  

The trial court ruled that the plaintiff had a right to use the road because they had an easement by necessity and an easement by implication.  The court ruled that an easement by prescription had not been created, however.  The court also entered a permanent injunction preventing the defendant’s from barring the plaintiff the use of the road.  On that last point, the court ordered the defendant to “remove any fencing or other barriers which would interfere with, impede, or obstruct the access by [the Kosmans] over the established roadway to their property.”  The defendant appealed.    

On appeal, the court agreed that the plaintiff had acquired implication and, therefore, didn’t have to determine whether an easement by necessity had arisen.  Concerning the mandatory injunction, the appellate court reasoned that the wording of the injunction was not clear as to whether it required the defendant to remove the barn.  The uncertainty surrounded what the words “or other barriers” meant.  So, the appellate court sent the case back to the trial court for clarification of that issue.  

But, the bottom line is this – if you want to avoid trouble with your neighbors and others, don’t build your barn in the middle of a road.  Kosman v. Wignall, et al., No. 8-089/07-1140 (Iowa Ct. App. May 14, 2008).