Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Fourth Division
KENNETH G. and SHIRLEY M. STEGNER, TRUSTEES OF THE STEGNER FAMILY TRUST, Appellants,
RUSSELL D. and DONNA L. MILLIGAN, TRUSTEES OF THE RUSSELL D. MILLIGAN and DONNA L. MILLIGAN JOINT REVOCABLE TRUST, Respondents.
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOPER COUNTY The Honorable Jeff A.
Before: Mark D. Pfeiffer, Chief Judge, Presiding, Lisa White
Hardwick and Edward R. Ardini, Jr.
WHITE HARDWICK, JUDGE.
and Shirley Stegner ("the Stegners") appeal the
circuit court's order dismissing their petition to widen
their private road, which they filed against Russell and
Donna Milligan ("the Milligans"), the owners of the
property over which the proposed widened road would pass. For
reasons explained herein, we reverse and remand the case for
further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
and Procedural History
Stegners and Milligans own tracts of land that abut at their
southeast and northwest corners. The Stegners also own an
L-shaped 14-foot wide gravel road that runs through the
Milligans' property. This road is the Stegners' only
route to and from a public road that adjoins the
Stegners' and the Milligans' properties.
2014, the Stegners filed a lawsuit against the Milligans
("2014 lawsuit") asking the court to award them a
prescriptive easement over a dirt path that runs through the
Milligans' property. The Stegners alleged that, for more
than ten years, they and their tenants and assignees had been
using the dirt path to access the Stegners' property with
agricultural equipment and passenger vehicles. The Stegners
asked the court to hold that they were the owners of a
30-foot wide easement by prescription over this dirt path. In
the alternative, the Stegners asked the court to hold that
they were entitled to condemn an easement by necessity over
the dirt path under Section 228.342, RSMo 2016.
a bench trial, the court entered judgment in favor of the
Milligans. The court found that the Stegners did not
establish the right to a prescriptive easement because they
failed to prove that their use of the dirt path was
continuous, uninterrupted, visible, and adverse. The court
further found that the Stegners did not establish the right
to an easement by necessity over the dirt path because the
evidence showed that the Stegners' gravel road was usable
or could be made usable to allow them unfettered access to
March 2016, the Stegners filed a second lawsuit against the
Milligans, which is the subject of this appeal. In this suit,
the Stegners asked the court to grant them an easement by
necessity to widen their gravel road from 14 feet to 25 feet.
In their petition, the Stegners alleged that the Milligans
had recently built fences enclosing the Stegners' road on
both sides. The Stegners alleged that, with the addition of
these fences, the gravel road's 14-foot width did not
allow for the passage of modern farm equipment, including
mowers, balers, and hay trailers, to the remainder of their
response to the Stegners' petition, the Milligans filed a
motion to dismiss the case on the basis that res judicata
barred the Stegners' claim. The Milligans argued that the
2014 lawsuit constituted a judgment on the merits involving
the same parties, the same claim of private condemnation of a
wider road, and the same issue of strict necessity. The
Milligans attached the petition and judgment in the 2014
lawsuit to their motion to dismiss. In their suggestions in
opposition to the motion to dismiss, the Stegners argued that
their claim in this suit was not the same as their claim in
the 2014 lawsuit because the sufficiency of the width of
their gravel road was not litigated or decided in the prior
suit, and the impact of the Milligans' newly-constructed
fences on the Stegners' access to their property was not
considered in the prior suit.
court held a hearing on the Milligans' motion to dismiss.
During this hearing, the parties presented only arguments of
counsel; no evidence or testimony was offered. Counsel for
both parties asserted their recollections as to the extent of
the testimony from the 2014 lawsuit regarding the sufficiency
of the gravel road for the Stegners' agricultural use of
their property. The Milligans' counsel argued that there
was evidence offered during the 2014 lawsuit regarding
whether the gravel road was sufficient and that, when the
court rejected the Stegners' request in that lawsuit for
an easement by necessity over the dirt path, the court
specifically determined that the 14-foot-wide gravel road was
response, the Stegners' counsel argued that, while
evidence of the existence of the gravel road may have negated
their request for an easement by necessity over the dirt path
in the 2014 lawsuit, the sufficiency of the gravel road after
the Milligans' addition of barbed wire fences on both
sides of the road was not litigated. When the Stegners'
counsel also attempted to argue that, in addition to the
barbed wire fences, there was another "change" on a
"corner" of the road that occurred after the 2014
lawsuit, the court stopped Stegners' counsel and told him
that was "beyond where -- what I should consider in a
motion to dismiss."
conclusion of the hearing, the court advised counsel for both
parties that they could submit further legal authority on the
motion to dismiss to the court. The Stegners submitted
amended suggestions in opposition to the motion to dismiss in
which they argued that their present claim was not the same
as their claim in the 2014 lawsuit and involved new facts
that occurred after the judgment in the 2014 lawsuit.
court subsequently entered its judgment sustaining the
Milligans' motion to dismiss. Citing the petition and
judgment from the 2014 lawsuit, as well as evidence presented
during the trial in the 2014 lawsuit, the court found that
res judicata and collateral estoppel barred the Stegners'