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REAL ESTATE 32: Plaintiffs and defendants executed a second easement.

In December 2000, defendants, a married couple, conveyed to plaintiffs a parcel of real property with approximately 300 feet of Lake Superior frontage. The property had been part of a larger property owned by defendants, who continued to own the non-conveyed portion. The easement attached to the deed (the First Easement) provided in pertinent part as follows:

Further the parties hereto also realize the best access to the shores of Lake Superior is by a ravine located slightly to the west of the property being conveyed to second parties, and which is the creek bed. Both parties desire to have access to Lake Superior, and accordingly first parties grant to second parties and retain unto themselves, access rights in the form of a mutual easement to reach the Lake by use of the ravine area which shall extend fifty feet (50’) either side of the said creek bed and two hundred fifty feet (250’) back from the shores of said Lake Superior.

Sometime after taking possession of the property, plaintiffs had it surveyed and realized that there was a triangular gap, 30 feet at its widest point, between their property line and the boundary of the easement as described in the First Easement. In an attempt resolve the issue, plaintiffs and defendants executed a second easement in November 2001, approximately 11 months after the 2000 deed was executed.

Plaintiffs made use of the easement to access Lake Superior. In 2008, plaintiffs built a stairway on the easement after the idea was discussed. Plaintiffs testified that they used the stairway until 2014, when defendant placed barricades and no trespassing signs on it. Plaintiffs testified that defendants later said that they had barricaded the stairway because it was unsafe. A year later, defendants removed several treads from the stairway.

Plaintiffs requested that the trial court, either through reformation of the First Easement or interpretation of the Second Easement, quiet title in favor of plaintiffs and declare them to be the owners of an easement to access Lake Superior through the ravine on defendants’ property, enjoin defendants from interfering with their use of the easement, and order compensation for damages to the stairs.

Subsequently, trial court issued a written opinion and order quieting title, enjoining defendants, and awarding money damages. The opinion concluded that the First Easement was ambiguous and stated that the parties’ expressed intention to provide each parcel of land access to Lake Superior through the ravine.

The trial court declined to decide the effect of the Second Easement, stating that it was not necessary given the trial court’s interpretation of the First Easement.  The trial court awarded $4,000 in damages to plaintiffs for the cost of restoring the stairway.

The trial court further found that the stairway was a valid and reasonable means of plaintiffs’ right to exercise their access easement and permanently enjoined defendants from interfering in any way with the full and unfettered exercise by plaintiffs, their heirs or assigns, of their rights under the First Easement.

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