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Murdaugh v. Patterson

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, Second Division

July 9, 2014

DAVID K. MURDAUGH and DENISE M. MURDAUGH, Husband and Wife, Plaintiffs-Respondents,
RICHARD PATTERSON and NORMA PATTERSON, Husband and Wife, and MARK A. PATTERSON, a Single Person, Defendants-Appellants

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF GREENE COUNTY. Honorable Michael J. Cordonnier, Circuit Judge.

RICHARD L. SCHNAKE, Springfield, MO, for Appellants.

MARK C. FELS, Springfield, MO, for Respondents.




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This is an appeal from a declaratory judgment, and it involves a dispute between neighbors about the proper scope of an express ingress-and-egress easement. Norma Patterson and her son, Mark A. Patterson (" Defendants" ), appeal the amended judgment (" the Judgment" ) that declared the extent of their rights in a 35-foot-wide, deeded easement (" the Easement" ) across property owned by David K. Murdaugh and Denise M. Murdaugh, husband and wife (" Plaintiffs" ).[1]

Defendants' three points claim the trial court committed a total of five reversible errors: 1) " ruling that [Defendants] ' may ' have the right 'to improve an additional portion of the [E]asement for their reasonable ingress and egress' if they 'need' to do so" ; 2) enjoining Defendants " from 'making any use of the [Easement] that is inconsistent with'" the Judgment because Defendants' " deeded right to use the [E]asement for ingress and egress to their property is paramount to any inconsistent use that [Plaintiffs] might make of it" ; 3) enjoining Defendants from " 'making any use of the [Easement] that is inconsistent with'" Plaintiffs' right to plant and cultivate hay on the non-graveled portions of the Easement; 4) finding that Defendants " 'have no right to interfere with'" Plaintiffs' cultivation of hay because Defendants' rights to have, maintain, repair, and expand the roadway (within its deeded size) are paramount to Plaintiffs' right to cultivate hay within the Easement; and 5) finding that Plaintiffs " have 'the right to have, or refuse to have, a gate located on the easement' because the [trial] court failed to apply the proper four-part test to determine whether [Plaintiffs] would have the right to install a gate[.]"

Because several portions of the Judgment challenged by Defendants address issues that were not ripe for judicial declaration, we affirm the Judgment in part, reverse in part, and remand the matter to the trial court to enter a judgment consistent with this opinion.

Governing Law and Applicable Principles of Review

We first note that " [a] declaratory judgment is not a general panacea for all real and imaginary legal ills." Mo. Soybean Ass'n v. Mo. Clean Water

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Comm'n, 102 S.W.3d 10, 25 (Mo. banc 2003). A declaratory judgment should not be used to decide " hypothetical or speculative situations that may never come to pass." Id. Instead, there must be:

(1) a justiciable controversy that presents a real, substantial, presently-existing controversy admitting of specific relief, as distinguished from an advisory decree upon a purely hypothetical situation; (2) a plaintiff with a legally protectable interest at stake, " consisting of a pecuniary or personal interest directly at issue and subject to immediate or prospective consequential relief; " (3) a controversy ripe for judicial determination; and (4) an inadequate remedy at law.

Id. " Ripeness is determined by whether 'the parties' dispute is developed sufficiently to allow the court to make an accurate determination of the facts, to resolve a conflict that is presently existing, and to grant specific relief of a conclusive character.'" Schweich v. Nixon, 408 S.W.3d 769, 774 (Mo. banc 2013) (quoting Mo. Health Care Ass'n v. Attorney Gen. of Mo., 953 S.W.2d 617, 621 (Mo. banc 1997).

An easement is a non-possessory interest in the real estate of another. The interest is not an interest in title, but confers a right of one person to use the real estate of another for a general or specific purpose. Farmers Drainage Dist. of Ray Cnty. v. Sinclair Refining Co., 255 S.W.2d 745, 748 (Mo.1953). Though the right conferred by an easement is not a possessory right, it is nonetheless a right that can be enforced at law or in equity.

Burg v. Dampier, 346 S.W.3d 343, 353 (Mo.App. W.D. 2011).

" An easement appurtenant creates a dominant tenement (the land which benefits from the easement) and a servient tenement (the land which is burdened by the easement)." Id. " The owner of [a] servient estate has the right of full dominion and use of a roadway strip of land, but he cannot substantially interfere with its reasonable use by the easement owner." Beiser v. Hensic, 655 S.W.2d 660, 663 (Mo.App. E.D. 1983). As a result, " [t]he servient estate owner may not make the easement less useful or convenient." Id. " The fact that a grant [of an easement] does not include a catalogue of the myriad of imaginable interferences does not sanction the unmentioned." Miss. River Transmission Corp. v. Wachter Constr., Inc., 731 S.W.2d 445, 447-48 (Mo.App. E.D. 1987).

Generally, the right of use of an easement " is paramount to every right of the owner of the fee which is inconsistent with such use[.]" Kansas City Power & Light Co. v. Kansas City, 448 S.W.2d 612, 617 (Mo. 1969). But " an easement's use is limited to the purposes for which it was created." Maasen v. Shaw, 133 S.W.3d 514, 519 (Mo.App. E.D. 2004) . " A 'roadway' easement has been construed to afford a right of ingress and egress over a servient tenement." Burg, 346 S.W.3d at 353 (quoting Beiser, 655 S.W.2d at 662). " An easement created for egress and ingress gives a right of passage, and it allows the dominant owner unlimited reasonable use for ingress and egress." Maasen, 133 S.W.3d at 519. " The rights to store, park, plant, and construct on the non-roadway portions of the easement remain with the servient owner[,]" but " the dominant owner may remove trees and earth that obstruct the easement roadway." Id. at 520.

" In order for the easement to be exclusive, the language used to create it must refer 'to the exclusion of the servient tenement from participation in the rights granted to the dominant owner.'" Grider, 325 ...

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