law-easement | trespass | real estate law and litigation | condemnation and eminent domain proceedings
CASELAW INVOLVING EASEMENT ISSUES
Brookshire Katy Drainage District v. The Lily Gardens, LLC (Tex.App.- Houston [1st Dist.] Dec. 22, 2009)(Wilson,
Davie)(interpretation of easements)
This suit was instituted by the Brookshire Katy Drainage District (the "District"), a political subdivision of the state of Texas located in
Waller County, against Lily Gardens, LLC. The District brought suit to obtain, among other things, a declaration that a bridge
covering built by Lily Gardens upon a culvert within the District's drainage easement violates the District's easement rights, as well
as applicable rules and regulations.
The trial court granted Lily Gardens' motion for summary judgment and awarded attorneys' fees to Lily Gardens under the
Declaratory Judgments Act. In two issues, the District contends the trial court erred in: (1) granting Lily Gardens' motion for
summary judgment because the bridge covering encroaches on the District's easement rights and violates other rules and
regulations; (2) awarding attorney's fees to Lily Gardens because Lily Gardens is not entitled to fees under the Declaratory
REVERSE TC JUDGMENT AND REMAND CASE TO TC FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS:
Opinion by Judge Davie Wilson
Before Chief Justice Radack, Judge Wilson, Justice Hanks
01-07-00431-CV Brookshire Katy Drainage District v. The Lily Gardens, LLC, Richard E. Fluecker and Kenneth
Appeal from 9th District Court of Waller County
Trial Court Judge: Hon. Frederick Edwards
Speedy Stop Food Stores, Ltd v. Reid Road Municipal Utility District No. 2 (Tex.App.- Houston [14th Dist.] Feb. 3,
2009)(Frost)(condemnation case, testimony as to value of easement)
REVERSED AND REMANDED: Opinion by Justice Frost
Before Justices Frost, Seymore and Guzman
14-07-00225-CV Speedy Stop Food Stores, Ltd. v. Reid Road Municipal Utility District No. 2
Appeal from County Civil Court at Law No 4 of Harris County
Trial Court Judge: Roberta Anne Lloyd
Dissenting Opinion by Justice Seymore
Burris and Wheelchair & Scooter Express, LLC v. Metro of Harris County (Tex.App.- Houston [1st Dist.] Aug. 14,
2008)(Keyes) (inverse condemnation case, taking, ingress easement, material and substantial impairment of
access standard not met) (Court concludes, as a matter of law, that the impairment of access at issue in case
does not rise to the level of material and substantial and therefore appellants' claims are not compensable.)
AFFIRM TC JUDGMENT: Opinion by Justice Evelyn Keyes
Before Justices Taft, Keyes and Alcala
01-06-00981-CV James R. Burris and Wheelchair & Scooter Express, L.L.C. v. Metropolitan Transit
AuthorityAppeal from County Civil Court at Law No 1 of Harris County
Trial Court Judge: Hon. Jack Cagle
Ward v. Northamption MUD (Tex.App.- Houston [14th Dist.] June 12, 2008) (Hedges) (easement dispute)
AFFIRMED: Opinion by Chief Justice Hedges
Before Chief Justice Hedges, Justices Hudson and Boyce
14-07-00868-CV Robert Ward v. Northampton Municipal Utiity District
Appeal from County Civil Court at Law No 4 of Harris County
Trial Court Judge: Roberta Anne Lloyd
Chappel Hill Bank v. Lillian Smith (Tex.App. - Houston [14th Dist.] May 8, 2008)(Brown)
(real estate law, easement, attorneys fees)
AFFIRMED: Opinion by Justice Brown
Before Chief Justice Hedges, Justices Brown and Boyce
14-07-00099-CV Chappell Hill Bank v. Lillian Smith
Appeal from 335th District Court of Washington County
Trial Court Judge: Terry Flenniken
Mitchell v. Garza II (Tex.App.- Houston [1st Dist.] Dec. 6, 2007)(op. on rehr'g by Hanks)
(real estate law, easement by estoppel)
AFFIRM TC JUDGMENT: Opinion by Justice Hanks
Before Justices Taft, Hanks and Higley
01-06-00959-CV Robert S. Mitchell and Leta M. Mitchell v. Arturo Garza
Appeal from 129th District Court of Harris County (Hon. Grant Dorfman)
Bradley v. Peters (Tex.App.- Houston [1st Dist.] Dec. 6, 2007)(Bland)(real estate law, easement)
AFFIRM TC JUDGMENT: Opinion by Justice Bland
Before Chief Justice Radack, Justices Alcala and Bland
01-07-00081-CV Paul D. Bradley v. Milton Peters, Rodney Rice and Laura Rice
Appeal from 21st District Court of Washington County (Hon. Terrill L. Flenniken)
Barrow v. Pickett (Tex.App.- Houston [1st Dist.] Nov. 8, 2007)(Keyes)(real estate law, easement, rural, electrical
cattle fence, attorney's fees)
AFFIRM TC JUDGMENT IN PART, REVERSE TC JUDGMENT IN PART, AND REMAND CASE TO TC FOR
FURTHER PROCEEDINGS: Opinion by Justice Keyes
Before Justices Nuchia, Jennings and Keyes
01-06-00664-CV Nick Barrow v. Carl N. Pickett
Appeal from 344th District Court of Chambers County (Carroll E. Wilborn, Jr.)
This is a real property dispute concerning the nature and scope of an express easement. Appellant Nick Barrow, holder of the
servient estate, appeals the trial court's judgment permanently enjoining him from placing a two-wire electric cattle gate across the
roadway easement providing access to appellee Carl N. Pickett's dominant estate. In his sole point of error, Barrow contends that
the trial court erred when it interpreted the Access Easement Agreement to mandate that Pickett's passage along the easement be
uninterrupted by obstructions and permanently enjoined Barrow's use of the gate across the easement.
We reverse and render on the merits and remand for reconsideration of attorney's fees.
We reverse the trial court's orders granting injunctive relief and render judgment that the temporary, permanent, and mandatory
injunctions are dissolved. We reverse that portion of the trial court's judgment awarding attorney fees to Pickett and remand that
issue to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
EFFECT OF EVOLVING TECHNOLOGY ON EXISTING UTILITY EASEMENTS
Does easement for telephone and telegraph wires also include equipment for cell phone transmissions?
A. Easements and Trespass
CenterPoint Energy Houston Electric LLC V Bluebonnet Drive, Ltd. (Tex.App.- Houston [1st Dist.] July 31, 2008)
(Radack) (interpretation of easement, new cell phone technology vs. telephone and telegraph wires in 1929)
"An easement is a non-possessory interest that authorizes its holder to use property for a
particular purpose." Koelsch v. Indus. Gas Supply Corp. 132 S.W.3d 494, 497 (Tex.
App.--Houston [1 Dist.] 2004, pet. denied) (citing Marcus Cable Assocs. v. Krohn, 90
S.W.3d 697, 700 (Tex. 2002)).
A trespasser has neither express nor implied permission to enter the property of another, but enters it
nonetheless. Mellon Mortgage Co. v. Holder, 5 S.W.3d 654, 671 (Tex. 1999); Koelsch, 132 S.W.3d at 497. An
easement holder who exceeds the rights granted by the owner of the servient estate thus commits a trespass.
Marcus Cable, 90 S.W.3d at 703 (quoting McDaniel Bros. v. Wilson, 70 S.W.2d 618, 621 (Tex. Civ.
App.--Beaumont 1934, writ ref'd) ("[E]very unauthorized entry upon land of another is a trespass even if no
damage is done or the injury is slight. . . . .")); see Koelsch, 132 S.W.3d at 499 (holding that no trespass occurred
because easement permitted construction and relocation of above-ground block valve assembly). A party
claiming trespass must establish that the defendant committed an act that exceeded the bounds of any legal
rights the defendant may have possessed. See Koelsch, 132 S.W.3d at 497 (citing Murphy v. Fannin County
Elec. Coop., 957 S.W.2d 900, 903-04 (Tex. App.--Texarkana 1997, no pet.)).
In this case, the trial court concluded, as a matter of law, that (1) CenterPoint and Sprint exceeded the rights
acquired by the 1926 easement by permitting placement of Sprint's cellular telecommunications equipment within
the easement and (2) therefore committed a trespass. See id.
B. Assignability of Easement Rights
CenterPoint claims its rights in this case pursuant to the express easement conveyed to HL&P in 1926. See
Marcus Cable, 90 S.W.3d at 700 (citing DeWitt County Elec. Coop., Inc. v. Parks, 1 S.W.3d 96, 103 (Tex. 1999)).
Sprint's rights derive from CenterPoint's rights. An easement holder who is authorized to assign or apportion
rights to a third party (5) must conform the rights conveyed to the third party to those originally conveyed. See id.
(citing Cantu v. Cent. Power & Light Co., 38 S.W.2d 876, 877 (Tex. Civ. App.--San Antonio 1931, writ ref'd)).
Accordingly, CenterPoint could not grant Sprint any use that "exceed[ed] the rights expressly conveyed to the
original easement holder," here HL&P, and, by succession, CenterPoint. See id.; see also Carrithers v. Terramar
Beach Cmty. Improvement Ass'n, Inc., 645 S.W.2d 772, 774 (Tex. 1983) ( "[A]n easement may not create a right
or interest in a grantee's favor which the grantor himself did not possess.") (citing Drye v. Eagle Rock Ranch, Inc.,
364 S.W.2d 196, 202 (Tex. 1962)).
C. Interpretation of Easements
We interpret easements according to basic principles of contract construction and interpretation. Marcus
Cable, 90 S.W.3d at 700; DeWitt County Elec. Coop., 1 S.W.3d at 100; Koelsch, 132 S.W.3d at 497. Courts
construe contracts as a matter of law, and we review their rulings de novo. See J.M Davidson, Inc. v. Webster,
128 S.W.3d 223, 226, 229 (Tex. 2003) (applying rule in arbitration-agreement context) (citing Coker v. Coker,
650 S.W.2d 391, 394 (Tex. 1983)).
The intent of the parties, as expressed in the grant, determines the scope of the interest conveyed. Marcus
Cable, 90 S.W.3d at 700-01; Koelsch, 132 S.W.3d at 497-98. To interpret the parties' intentions adequately and
to discern the scope of the rights conveyed to the easement holder, we focus on the terms of the granting
language. See Marcus Cable, 90 S.W.3d at 701 (citing DeWitt County Elec. Coop., 1 S.W.3d at 103 and Houston
Pipe Line Co. v. Dwyer, 374 S.W.2d 662, 664-65 (Tex. 1964)); Koelsch, 132 S.W.3d at 497-98; see also Marcus
Cable, 90 S.W.3d at 701 (citing and quoting Restatement (Third) of Property (Servitudes) § 4.1) (providing that
an easement "should be interpreted to give effect to the intention of the parties ascertained from the language
used in the instrument, or the circumstances surrounding the creation of the servitude, and to carry out the
purpose for which it was created")).
The language of an easement is not ambiguous when the terms can be given a certain or definite meaning, in which case we interpret the easement as
a matter of law. See DeWitt County Elec. Coop., Inc. v. Parks, 1 S.W.3d 96, 100 (Tex. 2002). Terms are not ambiguous simply because they are not
clear or because the parties proffer differing interpretations of them. Id. Ambiguity arises only when applying the established rules of construction results
in more than one equally reasonable interpretation. Id.; see Frost Nat'l Bank v. L & F Distribs., Ltd., 165 S.W.3d 310, 312 (Tex. 2005) (interpreting term
equipment-lease agreement with purchase-option provision). In this case, the parties' postures in filing cross-motions for summary judgment as a matter
of law belie claims of ambiguity, despite CenterPoint's and Petro-Guard's having asserted ambiguity as an alternative claim.
We rely solely on the written terms of the easement unless the language is ambiguous. Koelsch, 132
S.W.3d at 498. (6) When terms are not defined, we give them their "plain, ordinary, and generally accepted
meaning." Marcus Cable, 90 S.W.3d at 701 (citing DeWitt County Elec. Coop., 1 S.W.3d at 101). Courts must
consider the entire writing, assume that the parties intended to give effect to every clause they chose to include,
and strive to harmonize and give effect to all the provisions of the contract by analyzing the provisions with
reference to the whole agreement. Frost Nat'l Bank v. L&F Distribs., 165 S.W.3d 310, 312 (Tex. 1999); Koelsch,
132 S.W.3d at 498; Corley v. Entergy Corp., 246 F. Supp. 2d 565, 573 (E.D. Tex. 2003); see also Seagull Energy
E & P, Inc. v. Eland Energy, Inc., 207 S.W.3d 342, 345 (Tex. 2006) (construing contract for sale of oil and gas
working interest and stating that courts must "examine and consider the entire writing in an effort to harmonize
and give effect to all the provisions . . . so that none will be rendered meaningless" and that "[n]o single provision
taken alone will be given controlling effect," but that "all the provisions must be considered with reference to the
When interpreting the granting language of an easement, we resolve doubts about the parties' intent against the
grantor, or servient, estate and adopt the interpretation that is the least onerous to the grantee, or dominant,
estate in order to confer on the grantee the greatest estate permissible under the instrument. See Houston Pipe
Line Co. v. Dwyer, 374 S.W.2d 662, 665 (Tex. 1964); Stevens v. Galveston, H. & S.A. Ry. Co., 212 S.W. 639, 644
(Tex. Comm. App. 1919); Gulf View Courts, Inc. v. Galveston County, 150 S.W.2d 872, 874 (Tex. Civ.
App.--Galveston, 1941, writ ref'd). (7)
No rights pass to the easement holder by implication except those that are "reasonably necessary" to enjoy the
rights that the easement grants expressly. Marcus Cable, 90 S.W.3d at 701 (citing Coleman v. Forister, 514
S.W.2d 899, 903 (Tex. 1974)). Accordingly, if the grant expressed in the easement cannot be construed to apply
to a particular purpose, a use for that purpose is not allowed. See id. In Marcus Cable, the supreme court
construed an easement that granted an electrical utility permission to construct and maintain "an electric
transmission or distribution line or system" over private real property. Id., 90 S.W.3d at 699. In 1991, Marcus
Cable obtained permission from the utility to attach cable lines and wiring to the utility's poles, but its agreement
with the utility limited use of the poles to lawful activity by the utility. Id. The property owners sued, claiming that
the cable company did not have a valid easement and that they had not consented to the placement of the cable
lines across their property. Id. The supreme court held that the grant expressed in the easement encompassed
only an "electric transmission or distribution line or system" and therefore did not encompass use for cable
television transmission. 90 S.W.3d at 706.
Yet, Marcus Cable acknowledged that the common law permits some flexibility in determining an easement
holder's rights because the manner, frequency, and intensity of use of an easement "may change over time to
accommodate technological development." Id., 90 S.W.3d at 701 (citing Restatement (Third) of Property
(Servitudes) § 4.1). Changes must, however, "fall within the purposes for which the easement was created, as
determined by the grant's terms." See id. (citing Restatement (Third) of Property (Servitudes) §§ 1.2 cmt. d ("The
holder of the easement . . . is entitled to make only the uses reasonably necessary for the specified purpose.");
4.10 & cmt. a (noting that manner, frequency, and intensity of easement may change to take advantage of
technological advances, but only for purposes for which easement was created)). Accordingly, an express
easement "encompasses only those technological developments for which the easement was granted." Id., 90
S.W.3d at 702 (citing Restatement (Third) of Property (Servitudes) §§ 1.2 cmt. d, cmt. a, 4.10 & cmt. a).
In Marcus Cable, the supreme court construed the utility easement as limited to the purpose of conveying
electricity by demonstrating that settled law had interpreted the terms "electric transmission" and "electric
distribution" as referring exclusively to conveyances of electricity. Id., 90 S.W.3d at 703-04. Accordingly, the court
declined to permit a use by Marcus Cable that went beyond conveying electricity. Id., 90 S.W.3d at 704.
We distinguish Marcus Cable, however, because there was never an argument in that case that the express grant
to the utility -- to construct and maintain an "electric transmission or distribution line or system"--was broad
enough to encompass use for cable-television transmission. See id., 90 S.W.3d at 704. To the contrary, the cable
company maintained that it should be permitted to use the utility's poles, despite the narrow language of the
easement, for the following reasons: (1) easements should be construed to encompass technical advances, (2)
public policy favored expansion of cable-television services, and (3) adding cable-television wires to existing
poles did not increase the burden on the property owners (the servient estate). See id.
* * *
Technological Advancement or Development
CenterPoint and Sprint acknowledge that the terms of the easement address only "telephone and telegraph
wires," in keeping with the known technology of 1926, and thus do not expressly convey rights to wireless
telephone transmission and equipment as appurtenances that are "necessary and desirable." They contend,
however, that in Marcus Cable, the supreme court recognized the technological advancement doctrine and that
the doctrine applies to permit the installations permitted by CenterPoint's agreement with Sprint. We agree.
The common law recognizes that the "manner, frequency, and intensity of an easement's use may change over
time to accommodate technological advances" and thus permits "some flexibility in determining an easement
holder's rights," as long as the changes respect the original purpose stated in the terms of the grant. Marcus
Cable, 90 S.W.3d at 701-02 (citing Restatement (Third) of Property (Servitudes) §§ 4.10 & cmt. a, 1.2 cmt. d.).
The doctrine did not apply in Marcus Cable because the express easement at issue in that case could not be
construed as permitting any purpose beyond electrical transmission. 90 S.W.3d at 702-03.
In this case, however, the plain terms of CenterPoint's express easement reflect not only electrical transmission
as a purpose of the easement, but also telephone and telegraph transmission as a purpose of the easement. An
express easement properly encompasses technological developments that "further the particular purpose for
which the easement is granted." Id. (citing Restatement (Third) of Property (Servitudes) §§ 1.2 cmt. d, cmt. a,
4.10 & cmt. a). Citing the Restatement, Marcus Cable expressly recognized, as an example of appropriate
application of the doctrine of technological advancement or development, that a holder of an easement granted
in 1940 for the purpose of telephone transmission could properly attach transmitters to its poles for cellular
telephone transmissions unless that use would interfere unreasonably with the servient estate. See id., 90
S.W.3d at 702 (citing Restatement (Third) of Property (Servitudes) § 4.10 illus. 13); see also Corley, 246 F.
Supp.2d at 578-79 (holding that easements using terms "telephone," "telegraph," and "communications" could
properly be utilized for both internal communications and for third-party voice and data communications).
We hold that the express terms of the CenterPoint easement encompass installation and use of cellular
transmission within the easement, and that CenterPoint did not exceed the scope of the easement in assigning
those rights to Sprint. Accordingly, the trial court erred by concluding that CenterPoint and Sprint had exceeded
the scope of the easement.
We sustain CenterPoint's and Sprint's first issue. Because this disposition compels that we reverse and render
judgment that Bluebonnet and Petro-Guard take nothing on their claims against CenterPoint and Sprint, we need
not address their remaining issues.
Rinn v. Wennenweser (Tex.App.- Houston [1st Dist.] July 3, 2008)(Jennings)
(real estate law, easement dispute, validity)
AFFIRM TC JUDGMENT: Opinion by Justice Jennings
Before Justices Taft, Jennings and Bland
01-07-00763-CV Leeland Rinn v. Max Wennenweser
Appeal from 155th District Court of Austin County
Trial Court Judge: Hon. Dan R. Beck
Whaley v. Central Church of Christ of Pearland (Tex.App.- Houston [1st Dist.] Mar 8, 2007)(Justice Elsa
Alcala)(real estate law, dispute, easement)
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