Appellate court affirms ruling for landowner denied easement use

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a ruling Thursday in favor of a Steuben County landowner who claimed he was wrongly denied access and use of a recorded easement.

VanHorne Properties LLC was granted summary judgment in Steuben Circuit Court on its claims against James VanElla, which the appellate panel upheld. VanElla owns and controls Golden Eagle Mining and Recovery Inc., which owns more than half of the 20 parcels in the Bod’s Beach Subdivision that was platted in 1950 with portions vacated in 1970.

VanElla acknowledged VanHorne and others have a right to ingress and egress over portions of a 25-foot road easement recorded on each lot, the record says, but he has restricted its use.

"VanElla constructed a barn that extends twelve feet into the easement, he parks a dump truck within the easement, he has previously dug depressions in the road to serve as speed bumps, and he constructed a fence within the easement. Although the road has large depressions, ruts, and rocks and is in poor condition, VanElla refuses to allow the road to be maintained or repaired.  The road is currently a sixteen-foot-wide dirt and sand roadway,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote.

VanHorne’s suit sought a declaratory judgment regarding use of the easement; an injunction prohibiting defendants from interfering with VanHorne’s right to maintain and use the road; an order requiring VanElla to remove obstructions from the easement and refrain from harming or impairing the roadway, as well as damages and attorney fees. He also argued the 1970 order vacating property was void.

The trial court granted VanHorne summary judgment while finding the 1970 order was valid, but had no effect on the properties and issues in the instant case.

“The trial court … concluded that summary judgment was proper because the 1970 Order could not divest the lot owners that did not participate in the action or consent to the vacation of the easement of their rights to the easement. We agree,” Barnes wrote.

The case is James Van Ella v. VanHorne Properties, Inc., 76A03-1607-CC-1699.

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