Iowa Court of Appeals Says Farmer Acquired Prescriptive Easement to Use His Irrigation Rig on Right of Way
Roudybush v. Lewis, No. 13-1168 (Iowa Ct. App. June 11, 2014)
The Iowa Court of Appeals has ruled that a farmer obtained an easement by prescription to keep a large irrigation rig on a portion of his neighbors’ property over which he already held a right of way.
The farmer purchased 30 acres of property from his neighbors in 1970. The deed also conveyed to the farmer an easement over an abandoned railroad right of way which crossed the neighbors’ property. The right of way was the only road access the neighbors and the farmer had to their property. The farmer owned additional property on both sides of the right of way. For 10 years starting in 1997, the farmer also rented 25 acres of land from the neighbors for farming.
For 40 years, the farmer used an irrigation system to water his property. The system included a large irrigation rig that spanned the right of way. The farmer asserted that a car could drive under the rig, but the neighbors disagreed. In 2008, they contacted an attorney and informed the farmer that his easement was for ingress and egress only and that he could no longer run his irrigation system across the property. After the farmer refused to stop using the right of way for irrigation purposes, the neighbors placed a utility pole with a solar-powered light on the right of way. The pole prevented the farmer from using his irrigation rig to water about 80 acres of his property. The farmer sued the neighbors.
The district court found after a bench trial that the farmer had established the right to an easement by prescription over the right of way and that he was entitled to $16,514.35 in actual damages stemming from being unable to water his crops for two weeks because of the pole.
Iowa Court of Appeals
On appeal, the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed, ruling that the farmer had proven that he used the property for irrigation purposes under right or color of title openly, notoriously, continuously, and hostilely for 10 years or more. Specifically, for more than 10 years, the farmer had used his irrigation unit on the land under the right or color of title granted by the 1970 deed. He used the unit openly, notoriously, and hostilely, contrary to the neighbors’ demands whenever he wanted to water his crops. Because the farmer continually used the easement in a manner contrary to the neighbors’ interpretation of the uses the easement permitted, it mattered not that the neighbors’ acknowledged that the farmer had an easement to the abandoned railroad right of way. An easement by prescription was obtained for the specific use of irrigation.
This case is unusual in that the easement by prescription was acquired for property on which the farmer already had a right of way. It demonstrates that prescriptive rights can be acquired to increase the scope of an already existing right. Landowners are urged to closely monitor another person’s use of their property, whether that use is pursuant to an easement or not. This case is another example of how a landowner’s failure to object soon enough to an adverse use may strip him of his right to object at all.
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