Court Says That All Adjoining Landowners Have Right to Access Roadway
Lemaster v. Powers, No. 3-784 / 13-0355, 2014 Iowa App. LEXIS 140 (Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 5, 2014)
The Iowa Court of Appeals recently settled a neighborhood dispute, ruling that all neighbors had the right to use a roadway that was designed to benefit the neighborhood.
Plaintiffs, the owners of two tracts of land, sued their neighbors, seeking a declaration that the plaintiffs had an exclusive easement to use those portions of a roadway that were located on the defendants’ property and seeking to enjoin their neighbors from entering upon that roadway.
The trial court found that the plaintiffs were the only parties to have any interest in the roadway located on their own tracts, that they had an exclusive easement to use the roadway on Lot 5 (for motor vehicles only), and that they had an exclusive easement to use the roadway located on the defendants’ properties. At the plaintiffs’ request, the trial court enjoined the defendants from using most of the roadway.
On appeal, the Iowa Court of Appeals reversed the key holdings of the district court. The defendants did not challenge the portion of the trial court’s ruling finding that only the plaintiffs had exclusive access to the roadway located on their own tracts. The defendants did challenge and the court reversed that portion of the trial court’s order finding that the plaintiffs had an exclusive easement to use the roadway located on defendant one’s property.
The parties agreed that the case was governed by a plat mat and three contracts. These controlling documents comprised:
- A 1977 plat map showing a roadway easement running through Lots 4 (defendant two’s property) and 5.
- A 1979 document created by the individuals who subdivided the lot extended the roadway easement to a corner of Lot 5 “for the benefit of all other lots in said Pin Oak Acres.”
- A 1981 document created “an easement for ingress and egress and utilities” to benefit Tracts I (defendant one’s property), II (plaintiffs’ property), and III (plaintiffs’ property) in Outlot 1.
- A 2008 document executed by defendant two’s predecessors on Lot 4 conveyed to plaintiffs “a fifteen-foot wide private access roadway easement for ingress/egress to and from” the plaintiffs’ property.
The court found that nothing in the 1981 document creating the roadway easement over defendant one’s property granted the plaintiffs exclusive rights to its use. In fact, the court held that the opposite was true. The document evidenced an intent to afford access to the road by the owners of all three tracts. The remaining documents did not reflect a contrary intent.
The court also reversed the trial court’s finding that the plaintiffs had an exclusive easement to use the roadway on Lot 5. The 1979 document creating the easement stated that it was to be a “perpetual covenant for the benefit of all other lots in said Pin Oak Acres.” By its terms, the court ruled, the easement was not exclusive.
Finally, the court reversed that portion of the trial court’s order granting the plaintiffs an exclusive easement to use the roadway located on defendant two’s property. The court found that there could be no doubt from the plat map that the original intent of the easement was to benefit the owners of the tracts in Outlot 1, who otherwise would have had no access to Pin Oak Drive. Although the 2008 agreement between plaintiffs and defendant two’s predecessors purported to grant the plaintiffs exclusive access to the roadway easement, the court found that the agreement was inconsistent with the other relevant documents. The two sets of landowners, the court found, had no authority to arbitrarily reconfigure an existing easement running in favor of multiple landowners and to simultaneously limit its use.
Based upon its findings, the court granted the defendants’ request to require the plaintiffs to remove the gate they had erected to restrict their neighbors’ access to the roadway. The court ruled that the adjoining landowners had the right to use the roadway.
With the gate down and the roadway open, perhaps a block party is in order. That will no doubt depend on whether further appeal ensues.
The Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation does not provide legal advice. Any information provided on this website is not intended to be a substitute for legal services from a competent professional. The Center's work is supported by fee-based seminars and generous private gifts. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the material contained on this website do not necessarily reflect the views of Iowa State University.