2021 COA 73. No. 19CA2016. Amada Family Limited Partnership v. Pomeroy.
Real Property—After-Acquired Interests—Easement by Necessity—Utility Rights—Trespass—Damages.
May 27, 2021
The McGees owned Parcels A through D. Amada Family Limited Partnership (Amada) purchased Parcels A and D from them through a series of transactions. Because the land to the east of Parcels A and D is impassable, these parcels lack any feasible means of ingress and egress except across Parcels B and C, which are owned by the Pomeroys.
In 2017, Amada built a planned spur road and began using it to access its parcels. The spur road connects to the access road on Parcel C and passes through an elk fence on Parcel C that was installed by a person who owned Parcels A and B before the McGees. After Amada built the spur road, and without Amada’s consent, the Pomeroys placed a gate across the spur road where it runs through a hole Amada made in the elk fence. The Pomeroys also locked a gate at the entrance to the access road, effectively denying Amada access to its parcels. In response, Amada filed an action for declaratory judgment and trespass. Amada asserted that it owned an express access and utility easement over Parcels B and C in favor of Parcel A and an implied access and utility easement over Parcels B and C in favor of Parcel D to access the public road. The Pomeroys counterclaimed for, among other things, a declaratory judgment in their favor on Amada’s claimed easements. They also sought legal recognition of an easement on Parcel A in favor of Parcels B and C, arguing this was necessary for them to access a headgate on Parcel A that is essential to their irrigation system.
The district court concluded that (1) when the McGees sold Parcel A to Amada in 2007, Amada obtained an express access and utility easement over Parcel B in favor of Parcel A; (2) in 2012, under the common law after-acquired interest doctrine, Amada obtained an express access and utility easement over Parcel C in favor of Parcel A; and (3) Amada holds an implied access easement over Parcels B and C in favor of Parcel D based on the McGees’ prior use, and an implied easement by necessity, for access and utilities, over Parcels B and C in favor of Parcel D. The court prohibited the Pomeroys from gating the spur road at the elk fence, and it denied Amada’s trespass claim. The court also recognized an eight-foot-wide easement over Parcel A in favor of Parcels B and C for the headgate. After trial, the Pomeroys filed a CRCP 59 motion to amend the judgment, asking the district court to make the headgate easement wider and to allow a gate on the spur road at the elk fence. The court denied the motion.
On appeal, the Pomeroys contended that the district court erred by granting an express easement over Parcel C in favor of Parcel A in reliance on the common law after-acquired interest doctrine, arguing that the after-acquired interest statute abrogated the common law doctrine. However, the after-acquired interest statute does not abrogate the common law doctrine, and easements are among the property interests that may be conveyed under it. Here, the covenant in the 2007 deed provided that although the McGees didn’t own Parcel C at the time, the easement would include the land currently permitted for access if the McGees acquired that land. Based on that understanding, Amada acquired Parcel A, from which no feasible means of access exists without the easement over Parcel C. Amada therefore reasonably relied on the McGees’ promise to allow an easement over Parcel C if they could acquire it, which they later did. The district court did not err by recognizing the claimed easement.
The Pomeroys also challenged the district court’s recognition of an implied access and utility easement over Parcels B and C in favor of Parcel D, contending that the evidence did not support the court’s conclusion that the McGees’ prior use of the access road to enter Parcel D created an implied easement, and any implied easement arising by necessity did not include utility rights. When not expressly conveyed, easements may arise by implication, and when a party conveys property, there is a presumption that the party has conveyed whatever is necessary to provide for its beneficial use. Further, an easement may be appurtenant to land even when the servient estates are not adjacent to the dominant estate. Here, the evidence supported the court’s conclusion that the McGees’ prior use of the access road to enter Parcel D was apparent. Therefore, the district court did not err by recognizing Amada’s implied access easement over Parcels B and C in favor of Parcel D.
Further, the scope of an easement by necessity is set according to the purpose of the conveyance. Here, because the trial court found with evidentiary support that Parcel D was conveyed for residential purposes, the court did not err by recognizing that Amada’s easement on Parcels B and C in favor of Parcel D included utility rights. There was also sufficient record evidence to support the district court’s conclusion that the gate on the spur road at the elk fence must be removed because it is an unreasonable interference with Amada’s easement.
On cross-appeal, Amada contended that the district court erred by declining to award economic damages to remedy the Pomeroys’ alleged trespass. Damages for violation of easement rights are available to an easement holder whose right of way is obstructed. In this case, Amada alleged that the Pomeroys trespassed by locking the gate at the entrance to the access easement and installing a gate on the spur road at the elk fence. The Pomeroys may be liable for damages under Colorado law for this trespass.
The judgment was affirmed in part and reversed it in part, and the case was remanded for a hearing on Amada’s trespass claim.