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COA rules for landlocked landowner in easement dispute

March 20, 2018

A Crawford County landowner is entitled to an easement by necessity across adjacent land owned by a property company because the sale of the land in question severed the unity of ownership and left the individual landowner without access to a public road, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.

While at a tax sale in Crawford County in September 2013, WindGate Properties, LLC and Chris Sanders each purchased a parcel of land that was divided into two tracts, for a total of four connected tracts. Sanders 1 was located within WindGate 1, while Sanders 2 sat between WindGate 1 and 2. Only Sanders 1 had access to a public roadway, but prior to the sale Opportunity Options had built dirt and gravel roads throughout the land to the north of the tracts to allow access to public roadways.

In May 2015, WindGate filed a complaint to quiet title in the parcel comprised of both of its tracts, naming Sanders and other adjacent property owners as defendants. Sanders responded by claiming an easement across WindGate’s property, but when the case proceeded to trial, WindGate argued Sanders’ easement should be established through the private roads throughout the land to the north of their tracts.

The Crawford Circuit Court, however, found an implied easement of necessity was created when WindGate and Sanders purchased their properties because the sale severed the unity of ownership and left Sanders 2 without public road access.  Thus, the court quieted title to WindGate subject to an easement that benefitted Sanders 2.

WindGate appealed in WindGate Properties, LLC v. Chris Sanders, 13A01-1706-PL-1453, but the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision Tuesday. Judge Robert Altice wrote for the unanimous appellate panel that WindGate failed to prove its argument that Sanders had an implied easement by prior use over the northern properties.

“In fact, WindGate’s property manager testified that WindGate, whose land was also landlocked as a result of the tax sale, did not have an easement over any of the Northern Real Estate…,” Altice wrote.

“To demonstrate that an easement of necessity should be implied, a plaintiff must establish both unity of title at the time that tracts of land were severed from one another and the necessity of the easement,’” the judge said. “Sanders did just that, clearly making a prima facie showing in support of his claimed implied easement of necessary across WindGate 1 for the benefit of Sanders 2.”

 

 

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