Cloverdale Holiday Inn wins easement dispute over signage

A Putnam County flooring business couldn’t win against a neighboring hotel in an easement dispute involving a sign the company argued was a burden to its property.

Hicks and Sons LLC purchased land in Cloverdale in 2014 for its flooring business, which is adjacent to a Holiday Inn hotel. The hotel, which had been nearby since the late 1990s, had already negotiated several easement agreements with neighboring property owners.

Two of those easements directly impacted the Hicks real estate, including the creation of a driveway easement granting hotel operator Carewell International Inc. ingress and egress over Hicks’ property to County Road 900 S. Carewell also obtained a sign easement granting it the right to install a directional sign for the Holiday Inn within the easement’s parameter, which it did.

Hicks sued Carewell after unsuccessfully demanding that it remove the Holiday Inn sign located within the driveway easement. Hicks’ suit sought damages and injunctive relief for civil and criminal trespass resulting from Carewell’s continued maintenance of the sign in its current location, claims Carewell denied.

Instead, Carewell asserted the Holiday Inn sign “in no way impaired or burdened Hicks’s use of the ingress-egress easement.” It then filed a counterclaim seeking declaratory judgment and requesting that the trial court quiet title in its favor as to the scope of Carewell’s rights with respect to the easements.

The Putnam Superior Court granted summary judgment to Carewell on the criminal trespass claim and set the civil trespass claim for trial, which also resulted in a ruling for Carewell. The trial court concluded that Carewell “may continue to use, maintain, replace sign as needed.”

On appeal, Hicks argued the trial court erred in expanding the terms of the ingress-egress easement to include the placement and display of the sign. But the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in Hicks & Sons, LLC v. Carewell International, LLC, 20A-PL-1874.

Referring to the case of Wendy’s of Fort Wayne, Inc. v. Fagan, 644 N.E.2d 159 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994), the appellate court first noted that the evidence presented at trial established that Carewell’s Holiday Inn sign served the same purpose as the directional sign in Wendy’s. Absent the sign, Holiday Inn’s suppliers and customers would not know where to turn to access the hotel, the appellate court wrote.

“Finally, while Hicks claims that the trial court’s judgment must be reversed because Holiday Inn’s directional sign is larger than that which was placed on the property in Wendy’s, the evidence showed that the Holiday Inn directional sign assists customers traveling from I-70 to locate the driveway,” Judge Robert Altice wrote for the appellate court.

“Given the distance to the Holiday Inn from I-70, the evidence established that a smaller sign would not serve the same function. Without the sign, the very purpose of the ingress/egress easement would essentially be rendered meaningless. And Hicks presented no evidence that the placement of the sign hindered his use of the easement,” Altice wrote.

Thus, the appellate court concluded that the Holiday Inn sign is necessary to fulfill the purpose of the easement and that Carewell’s continuing use of the sign within the ingress-egress easement is a matter of right and not a trespass.

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