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Schuhardt Consulting Profit Sharing Plan v. Double Knobs Mt. Ranch, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

January 22, 2014

SCHUHARDT CONSULTING PROFIT SHARING PLAN, Allan P. Bloxsom, III, Thomas O. Stoner, Stormy Night, LLC and TOS Ranch, LLC, Appellants
v.
DOUBLE KNOBS MOUNTAIN RANCH, INC. and Carlton E. Thompson, Appellees

Petition for review filed by, 05/05/2014

Page 801

From the 38th Judicial District Court, Uvalde County, Texas. Trial Court No. 2011-09-28311-CV. Honorable Mickey R. Pennington, Judge Presiding.

For APPELLANT: Scott A. Brister, Andrews Kurth, LLP, Austin, TX; Steven Skarnulis, Cain & Skarnulis, Austin, TX.

For APPELLEE: John Claiborne Howell, Allen, Stein & Durbin, PC, San Antonio, TX; Ray Leach, Law Office of Ray Leach, San Antonio, TX.

Sitting: Catherine Stone, Chief Justice, Marialyn Barnard, Justice, Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice.

OPINION

Catherine Stone, Chief Justice.

Page 802

This appeal arises from a lawsuit in which the appellants alleged adverse possession of an easement across their property. The easement was previously expressly granted by their predecessor-in-interest to the predecessor-in-interest of Double Knobs Mountain Ranch, Inc. The appellants claimed they had adversely possessed the easement, but after a bench trial, the trial court disagreed and entered judgment in favor of the appellees. On appeal, the appellants contend the express easement violates the statute of frauds because it cannot be located with reasonable certainty, and the appellees waived their claim of easement by necessity. Alternatively, the appellants contend the evidence conclusively established their claim of adverse possession as a matter of law, and they were not estopped from denying the existence of the easement based on references to the easement in subsequent deeds signed by the appellants. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

Background

In 1979, Royal Stoner conveyed an 800-acre and a 25-acre tract of land to David Llenos. The deed granted an express easement for ingress and egress with regard to both tracts of land. The western boundary of the 800-acre tract is the eastern boundary of the land Royal continued to own, which is commonly referred to as the Stoner Ranch.

A few months after the conveyance, Royal erected a low fence along the eastern boundary of the Stoner Ranch to keep his goats and sheep on his property. In 1993, Royal conveyed the ranch to his three children. Construction of a high fence to replace the low fence began in 1996, and was completed by the fall of 2000. The high fence was erected to keep deer on the Stoner Ranch for hunting operations. In 2006, the ranch was partitioned among the children in order to enable a portion of the ranch to be conveyed to a third party, Allan P. Bloxsom, III. The 2006 partition deeds referenced the 1979 easement.

The 800-acre tract of land was purchased in 2010 by Double Knobs Mountain Ranch, Inc. In the summer of 2011, one of the owners of Double Knobs approached Gil Stoner, one of Royal's children, about the easement. The parties' dispute over Double Knobs's easement rights was the basis for the underlying lawsuit. As previously noted, the trial court held Double Knobs retained its easement rights.

Page 803

Location of the Easement

The appellants initially contend that the express easement fails because the easement cannot be located with reasonable certainty. Both the appellants and the appellees called a professional land surveyor to testify at trial. The appellees' expert stated that the easement could be located with reasonable certainty, while the appellants' expert stated that it could not.

" An express easement is an interest in land to which the Statute of Frauds applies." West Beach Marina, Ltd. v. Erdeljac, 94 S.W.3d 248, 264 (Tex. App.--Austin 2002, no pet.). " If an easement does not sufficiently describe the interest conveyed, the conveyance is void." Id. " 'To be sufficient, the writing must furnish within itself, or by reference to some other existing writing, the means or data by which the land to be conveyed may be identified with reasonable certainty.'" Id. (quoting Morrow v. Shotwell, 477 S.W.2d 538, 539 (Tex. 1972)).

Even if an easement is uncertain, however, a court is not authorized " to completely ignore the right granted, if the easement is susceptible to a reasonable construction as to its true intent and meaning." Id.; see also Hubert v. Davis, 170 S.W.3d 706, 711 (Tex. App.--Tyler 2005, no pet.) (" the fact that an easement clause is vague, indefinite, or uncertain does not authorize the court to completely ignore the valuable right thereby granted if the clause is still susceptible of a reasonable construction as to its true intent and meaning" ). " If enough appears in the description so that a person familiar with the area can locate the premises with reasonable certainty, it is sufficient to satisfy the Statute of Frauds." Vinson v. Brown, 80 S.W.3d 221, 227 (Tex. App.--Austin 2002, no pet.). " There should be sufficient certainty that a surveyor may locate the easement from the description." West Beach Marina, Ltd., 94 S.W.3d at 266. Moreover, with express easements, " an exact designation of location is unnecessary, as long as the tract of land that will be burdened ...


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