Iowa Court Says No Prescriptive Easement for Gravel Farm Road
On July 3, 2019, the Iowa Court of Appeals issued a ruling regarding the creation of an easement over the boundary of a gravel road. The court found that because the owner of the property did not have notice of an easement claim, no easement was created.
One of the plaintiffs, JAR Farms, owned two parcels of land. The first parcel, the North Parcel, consisted of 40 acres while the second parcel, the South Parcel, consisted of 300 acres. The North Parcel bordered the highway. The only way to access the South Parcel from the highway was by using a gravel road that ran between the North Parcel on the west side and two properties on the east side. The defendant owned four acres of land to the east of the North Parcel. An additional plaintiff owned the land in between the defendant and the South Parcel.
When the owner of JAR Farms purchased the South Parcel in 1981, the deed included a 30-foot easement to access the highway. This gravel lane had been used to allow ingress and egress even before the current plaintiff purchased the land. The owner purchased the North Parcel in 1997. The owner used the gravel road to drive farm equipment to his field.
The defendant purchased its four-acre east of the North Parcel in 2015. By 2016, the defendant began to build a chain link fence along the boundary line with the North Parcel. Part of the gravel road was on the defendants land. Several utility poles run through the center of the easement. Because of the defendant’s new fence and the utility poles, the plaintiff could no longer access the South Parcel with large farm machinery.
JAR Farms sought an injunction to stop the defendant from completing construction on the fence. JAR Farms claimed it was entitled to access the gravel boundary through either a prescriptive easement or boundary by acquiescence. Following the grant of the injunction, the district court held a bench trial and found the farm was entitled to a prescriptive easement over the edge of the gravel road. The defendant appealed.
A prescriptive easement is created when an individual uses another’s land openly, notoriously, continuously, and hostilely in good faith for at least 10 years. In addition, the owner must have “express notice” of the claim on their land. In this case, the issue is whether the defendant had notice of JAR Farms adverse use of the gravel road boundary.
To succeed with a prescriptive easement claim, the proponent must claim the easement as a matter of right. JAR Farms used the defendant’s land for many years to travel to and from the South Parcel. The previous owner before the defendant testified he knew people used the gravel road but never spoke to any of them. The court ruled that this was insufficient evidence to show there was an express notice of a claim of right over the boundary of the gravel road. The court found that the previous owner may have assumed the JAR Farms used the lane because the previous owner allowed him to use it, not because he thought he owned it.
The court did find evidence that JAR Farms periodically put down rock along the road. However this was also insufficient to put the previous owner or the lane on notice of an easement. Use of land is not enough to put the landowner on notice of the claim of right.
The Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s ruling and found because the owner was had not received notice of the easement, the claim for a prescriptive easement failed. The court did not address the question of boundary by acquiescence.
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