Courts Says Landowner Improperly Obstructed Access to Roadway Easement

November 13, 2020 | Kitt Tovar

On November 4, 2020, the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed a district court order granting a permanent injunction preventing the defendant from interfering with the plaintiffs' use of an easement and private roadway. The court found that the defendant had improperly obstructed the easement with gates, fencing, and speed bumps, and that Iowa's partition fence law was inapplicable to the case.

Background

The plaintiffs purchased land neighboring the defendant. The only way the plaintiffs could access their property was through a paved road in the middle of a thirty-three foot recorded easement on the north side of the defendant’s property. Shortly before the plaintiffs purchased the land, the defendant installed a gate at each end of the road as well as several removable speed bumps. Although the defendant already had fenced in the property, she added additional fencing along the roadway. The plaintiffs brought this lawsuit claiming the defendant’s actions obstructed the easement and deprived them of access to their property. They alleged claims of nuisance and sought an injunction. The district court granted the request for injunctive relief ordering the obstructions to be removed, but did not grant damages for the nuisance claim. The defendant appealed.

Fence Viewer Jurisdiction

The defendant first claimed that the district court did not have jurisdiction because the procedure set forth in Iowa Code chapter 359A for fencing disputes was not followed. Fence viewers must determine all controversies involving chapter 359A. This includes all conflicts which occur between adjoining landowners concerning the legal duty to build and maintain a partition fence. Because the fence in this case was not a partition fence, but rather additional fencing along the roadway used to restrict the plaintiffs’ use of the easement, the court ruled that chapter 359A did not apply.

Injunctive Relief

A court may grant an injunction to prevent a party from interfering with the use of another’s easement. The district court granted the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction and ordered the obstructions to the road, including the fence along it, be removed because it interfered with the plaintiffs’ use of the easement. The defendant claimed that she had the right to build a boundary fence and that the gates were an extension of that right. The court restated that the fencing was not a boundary fence but rather additional fencing along the easement.

The defendant also argued that the additional fencing and speed bumps did not substantially impair or interfere with the plaintiffs’ use of the easement. Evidence showed that the defendant lived on the property for more than ten years but did not install the obstructions until after the seller of the plaintiffs’ land rejected her offer to buy the land. The court determined that the defendant added these speed bumps and gates “solely to interfere with whoever” purchased the property. The defendant claimed she used the gates to keep her horses on the property. However, the plaintiffs testified to the many ways the gates and speed bumps interfered with the use and enjoyment of the easement. The gates would ice over in the winter making them difficult to open, and the gates and speed bumps caused damage to the surface of the road. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court’s grant of permanent injunctive relief.