Case of the Day – Thursday, November 3, 2016

CAREFREE MOBILE HOME LIVING

Everything's big in Texas ... don't get stung.

Everything’s big in Texas … don’t get stung.

Texas is a pretty big place. So when Scott, who was selling a little 175-acre spread to Bill and Julie Coales, reserved to himself the right of ingress and egress — basically, a license to used a road through the land — we’re not talking a jungle trail. We’re talkin’ big. And we’re talking about moving a lot of mobile homes.

At least, that’s what the defendants said in today’s case. After they bought the place, the Coales decided move in Julie’s parents, and to do it in style. So they hauled in some house trailers, no doubt in order to let the old folks live in luxury. But by doing that, they constricted the 100-foot wide path, making it harder for the Scotts to haul through … well, whatever big stuff the Scotts had to haul through.

The Scotts sued, claiming that they couldn’t get their own trailers in, drive through with their 18-wheelers, and turn off the road wherever they wanted to with their 4 x 4s. The Coales disagreed, contending that no one needed more than the small path down the center to get to their properties. Even in Texas.

The trial court disagreed with the Coales, and the Court of Appeals explained with some care why the unambiguous grant of the right of ingress and egress — coupled with the evidence that the Scotts needed the whole width of the former airstrip for moving in their own 18-wheelers, garbage trucks, and, yes, even their own mobile homes — meant that the neighbors’ use of the 100-foot wide, 31⁄2-acre right was “reasonably necessary and convenient.”

The Coales didn't leave the Scotts much space to haul in their mobile home.

The Coales didn’t leave the Scotts much space to haul in their mobile home.

Everything’s big in Texas. Even 100-foot wide driveways.

Coale v. Scott, Not Reported in S.W.3d, 2007 WL 2428631 (Tex.App. Aug. 28, 2007). A 175-acre tract of Texas land was conveyed to Bill and Julie Coale in 2004, reserving to some other landowners “the right of ingress and egress on the part of all landowners” a roadway, which happened to be a 100-foot wide abandoned airstrip. After the Coales bought the property, they started placing two mobile homes on the north side of a trail that runs down the middle of the airstrip. They also installed a storage unit on the south side of the trail, as well as fencing, a ranch gate, and a septic system.

The Coales planned to move their parents into the trailer homes. They contended that “neither of these structures prevented the [other owners] from using the old trail that they and others before them had always used to get to their properties.” The property owners who had the right of ingress sued the Coales. The case went to the trial court jury on the issue as to the width and location of the “passageway” across the land. The jury found in favor of the plaintiffs, deciding they had the right to use the entire 100 foot-wide tract for ingress and egress to their adjoining properties.

The Coales filed a rambling appeal, arguing that the plaintiffs were only entitled to a way across the Coales’ property that was reasonable and necessary for them to have passage to and from their property and imposes the least burden on the Coales’ property.

The Scotts thought their right of egress was fairly wide.

The Scotts thought their right of egress was fairly wide.

The jury’s finding was upheld. The Court noted that under Texas law, the terms ingress and egress indicate rights inherent in the owners of the dominant estate to pass through the servient estate. They do not imply the right to linger for recreational purposes. The owners of the dominant estate are entitled to the rights granted by the instrument, and no more.

A grant or reservation of an easement in general terms implies a grant of unlimited reasonable use such as is reasonably necessary and convenient and as little burdensome as possible to the servient owner. As for the extent of the right, the case of an unambiguous writing, courts will give effect to the intention of the parties as expressed by or as apparent from the writing.

Here, the Court said, the grant expressly provided “[t]his roadway is subject to the right of ingress and egress on the part of all landowners in the above described 173.45 acres tract.” No mention was made of any other rights of use, and none may be implied. The Court saw no reason to go outside of the clear language of the express grant. There was no dispute that the 3.629 acre tract was 100 feet wide. Instead, the dispute centered around what the Coales believed the plaintiffs actually needed to use for their rights of ingress and egress. The Coales argued the plaintiffs were only entitled to a way across the Coales’ property that was reasonable and necessary for them to have passage to and from their property, and that the dirt or gravel road that ran down the middle of the airstrip.

The Coates planned to install their parents in a nice, carefree mobile home.

The Coates planned to install their parents in a nice, carefree mobile home.

The Court, however, held that the plaintiffs entitled to the rights granted by the instrument, and no more or less. A grant or reservation of an easement in general terms implies a grant of unlimited reasonable use such as is reasonably necessary and convenient and as minimally burdensome as possible to the servient owner.

Here, the jury considered the language in the deed, a survey depicting the properties, the legal description of the properties in the tax records, photographs, and testimony. One witness testified that for the past 20 years, he had turned into his property from any point on the airstrip. There were no gates or fences. He said the trailers the Coales placed on the airstrip impeded his access to his land, and if he were still driving his 18-wheeler, he would possibly drive over the Coales’ plumbing lines. Another witness testified she had used the whole width of the airstrip to bring her trailer into her land. Another witness testified that because of the Coales’ trailers, “you can only go one way. And if you want to pass two ways, you can forget it.”

Previously, cars going in the opposite direction could travel simultaneously by using the entire width of the airstrip. Now, one has to pull over to let the other one pass. Based on the evidence, the Court said, there was legally sufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that use of the entire 100 feet of the airstrip was reasonably necessary for the plaintiffs’ right of ingress and egress.

TNLBGray140407

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