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Property owner prohibited from interfering with neighbor’s easement rights

The court held that the trial court did not clearly err in finding that the easement was not terminated or abandoned, and in prohibiting defendant from interfering with plaintiffs’ easement rights. The parties own neighboring properties. When defendant acquired his property, it was burdened by an express easement permitting ingress and egress from County Road KE onto plaintiffs’ property. County Road KE runs through defendant’s property, and at the easement location the road right-of-way passes within 30 feet of the property line between plaintiffs’ and defendant’s property. On appeal, defendant argued that the easement was terminated because its purpose ceased to exist. His theory of the case turned on “interpreting the easement as being for the purpose of vehicular access between County Road KE and plaintiffs’ property.” Defendant noted that the precise width of the easement, 66 feet, is consistent with intending the easement to be some kind of road. “On plaintiffs’ side of the easement either is or was a two-track road, although the testimony differed as to whether that was still passable. Witnesses opined that they would not want to drive ‘a BMW’ through the easement in its current condition, but several witnesses opined that the right kind of vehicle (even the right kind of BMW) would at least potentially still be able to traverse it.” However, defendant asserted that because the easement was “not practically passable by most ordinary vehicular traffic, its essential purpose has been destroyed, and plaintiffs’ continued ‘recreational’ use of the easement” was irrelevant. He also pointed out that they did not need the easement to access their property. The court disagreed, concluding that the plain language of the easement indicated that “the purpose of the easement is for ingress and egress from County Road KE onto plaintiffs’ property.” It did not say that “it can only be used for vehicular ingress and egress, nor does it not say that it will terminate if there is another method of ingress and egress onto the property.” The individual plaintiffs testified that “after the berm was built they continued to occasionally use the easement for various recreational activities. Further, a surveyor hired by plaintiffs to survey the easement testified that it was possible, even with the berm, for an individual to ‘negotiate’ the berm and use the easement.” Defendant acknowledged that his agreement with plaintiffs’ father (to build the berm and plant the trees) “was designed to prevent other persons from using the easement, to the benefit of both plaintiffs’ and defendant’s parcels.” Its purpose was ingress and egress to the road, which still existed. Because the easement’s specific purpose did not cease to exist, it did not terminate. Affirmed.