Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg
appeal from the 2nd 25th District Court of Gonzales County,
Chief Justice Valdez and Justices Benavides and Longoria
M. BENAVIDES, JUSTICE
issues, which we construe as three, appellant John Cores
challenges the trial court's declaratory judgment in
favor of appellees Carroll LaBorde,  Barbara LaBorde, and LaBorde
Properties, LP. (collectively LaBorde) regarding an easement
by estoppel. Cores alleges that: (1) the evidence was legally
insufficient to support a finding of an easement by estoppel;
(2) that the trial court improperly transferred venue from
Hays County to Gonzales County; and (3) that the trial court
erred in entering a declaratory judgment that was duplicitous
of claims already made. We affirm.
dispute arises between two property owners regarding an
easement road. Cores owns an 89.96-acre tract of land in
Gonzales County. LaBorde owns a 386.60-acre piece of land
adjacent to Cores's. To the southeast of Cores's
property are tracts of land that are landlocked. An easement
road was constructed to allow access to the landlocked
properties. The easement road runs along the northern
boundary of Cores's property, turns, and then continues
south towards the landlocked properties. The western part of
the LaBorde tract also butts up against the easement road and
a gate was constructed on the LaBorde fence line. Cores filed
suit to stop the LaBordes from using the easement road to
access their land. Cores claims that the LaBorde property is
not landlocked, that they have access to their property from
other roads, and the LaBorde land was not included as part of
the easement properties. The LaBordes argue the former
landowners have continually had access to the easement road
and an easement by estoppel was created due to the access.
the undivided tract of land that now comprises the LaBorde
and Cores properties was jointly owned by the Francis and
Brown families. The families ran a cattle operation on their
land, with the cattle pens being housed on what is now the
LaBorde property. In 1979, the families divided the land.
Cores's property was owned by the Brown family, and the
LaBordes property was owned by the Francis family. However,
even after the land was divided, the cattle operation
continued to run, with both families having access to the
cattle pens via the easement road. In 1986, the Brown family
divided their land into multiple tracts, with each separate
tract going to members of the Brown family. In 2004, Rafe
Jackson purchased the Francis tract (LaBorde property) as it
2008, Cores purchased his tract of land from members of the
Brown family. In 2010, the LaBordes bought Jackson's land
on testimony presented at the bench trial, all prior owners
of both the LaBorde and Cores's land had used the
easement road to access their properties. Issues developed
once the two parties to this suit became neighbors. Both
sides put on deposition testimony from Jackson, Gail Brown
Schauer, and Rebecca Connell. Based on the
testimony of these three witnesses, the trial court held that
an historical use of the easement road existed. The trial
court denied Cores's petition for a temporary and
permanent injunction and attorney's fees and granted
LaBorde's request for a declaratory judgment and held
that an easement by estoppel existed on behalf of the
LaBordes. This appeal by Cores followed.
we construe as his second issue, Cores alleges it was error
to transfer venue from Hays County to Gonzales County. Cores
originally filed suit in Hays County, where the LaBordes have
a residence. The LaBordes filed a motion to transfer venue to
Gonzales County because that is where the property at issue
Applicable Law and Discussion
easement confers upon one person the valuable right to use
the land of another for a specific purpose. Hubert v.
Davis, 170 S.W.3d 706, 710 (Tex. App.-Tyler 2005, no
pet.). Since an easement is an interest in land, the grant of
an easement should be drawn and executed with the same
formalities as a deed to real estate. Id. The
doctrine of equitable estoppel, or easement by estoppel,
provides an exception to prevent injustice and protect
innocent parties from fraud. Allen v. Allen, 280
S.W.3d 366, 381 (Tex. App.- Amarillo 2008, pet. denied).
Under section 15.011 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies
Code, it states:
Actions for the recovery of real property or an estate or
interest in real property, for partition of real property, to
remove encumbrances from the title to real property, for
recovery of damages to real property, or to quiet title to
real property shall be brought in the county in
which all or a part of the property is located.
Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 15.011 (West,
Westlaw through 2017 1st C.S.)(emphasis added). Although
Cores contends that venue was proper in Hays County because
the LaBorde homestead was located there, because an easement
is an interest in real property, venue was proper in Gonzales
County, where the property in question was located. The trial
court properly transferred venue from Hays to Gonzales
County. We overrule Cores's second issue.
multiple sub-issues which we construe as one issue, Cores
challenges the legal sufficiency of the trial court's
finding of an easement by estoppel. By his sub-issues, Cores
argues that (1) alleged prior permissive use of an express
easement did not give rise to an easement by estoppel for
future property owners, (2) a later-created express easement
precluded a finding of an easement by estoppel, and (3) an
owner's silence regarding use of an easement is not
enough to establish an easement by estoppel.
A. Standard of Review
appeal from a bench trial, the trial court's findings
have the same force and dignity as a jury's verdict upon
questions. Anderson v. City of Seven Points, 806
S.W.2d 791, 794 (Tex. 1991). A trial court's findings may
be reviewed for legal and factual sufficiency under the same
standards that are applied in reviewing evidence to support a
jury's answers. Ortiz v. Jones, 917 S.W.2d 770,
772 (Tex. 1996); Catalina v. Blasdel, 881 S.W.2d
295, 297 (Tex. 1994). When the appellate record contains a
reporter's record, as it does here, findings of fact are
not conclusive and are binding only if supported by the
evidence. Horner v. Heather, 397 S.W.3d 321, 324
(Tex. App.-Tyler 2013, pet. denied). We review the trial
court's conclusions of law de novo. Id.
The standard of review for conclusions of law is whether they
are correct. Id. We will uphold conclusions of law
on appeal if the judgment can be sustained on any legal
theory the evidence supports. Id.
who challenges the legal sufficiency of the evidence to
support an issue on which it did not have the burden of proof
at trial must demonstrate on appeal that there is no evidence
to support the adverse finding. Croucher v.
Croucher, 660 S.W.2d 55, 58 (Tex. 1983). When
considering a legal sufficiency challenge after a bench
trial, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to
the trial court's findings, "credit[ing] favorable
evidence if reasonable [fact finders] could, and
disregard[ing] contrary evidence unless reasonable [fact
finders] could not." Horner, 392 S.W.3d at 324
(quoting City of Keller v. Wilson, 168 S.W.3d 802,
827 (Tex. 2005)). We must indulge every reasonable inference
that would support the trial court's findings. City
of Keller, 168 S.W.3d at 822. "The final test for
legal sufficiency must always be whether the evidence at
trial would enable reasonable and fair-minded people to reach
the decision under review." Id. at 827.
Easement by Estoppel
doctrine of easement by estoppel holds that the owner of the
alleged servient estate may be estopped to deny the existence
of an easement by making representations that have been acted
upon by the owner of alleged dominant estate."
Ingham v. O'Block, 351 S.W.3d 96, 100 (Tex.
App.-San Antonio 2011, review denied) (quoting Holden v.
Weidenfeller, 929 S.W.2d 124, 131 (Tex. App.-San Antonio
1996, writ denied)). Three elements are necessary for the
creation of an easement by estoppel: (1) a representation
communicated, either by word or action, to the promisee; (2)
the communication was believed; and (3) the promisee relied
on the communication. Id. These elements apply at
the time the communication creating the alleged easement is
made. Holden, 929 S.W.2d at 131. An easement by
estoppel, once created, is binding upon a successor in title
if reliance upon the existence of the easement continues.
gravity of a judicial means of acquiring an interest in land
of another solely by parol evidence requires that equitable
estoppel be strictly applied. Horner, 397 S.W.3d at
325. The estoppel should be certain, precise, and clear.
Id. Texas case law supports the notion that for
easements, the doctrine of equitable estoppel, or estoppel in
pais as it is sometimes called, operates as an exception to
the statute of frauds, which requires a writing for all
transactions involving land, to prevent injustice and to
protect innocent parties from fraud. See Scott v.
Cannon, 959 S.W.2d 712, 720 (Tex. App.-Austin 1998, pet.
denied) (citing Storms v. Tuck, 579 S.W.2d 447, 451
(Tex. 1979); Drye v. Eagle Rock Ranch, Inc., 364
S.W.2d 196, 209 (Tex. 1962)).
doctrine of easement by estoppel is not applied as strictly
as the doctrine of implied easement. Id. Being an
equitable doctrine, it has not been clearly defined and its
application must depend on the unique facts of each case.
order for the LaBordes to establish their entitlement to an
easement by estoppel, they had to meet three elements.
Representation Communicated by Word or Action
alleges in his brief that there was no evidence of any act of
reliance prior to 2004 by the LaBorde property. We disagree.
establish the first element of easement by estoppel, the
LaBordes must show a representation was communicated, either
by word or action, to the promisee. Ingham, 351
S.W.3d at 100. "It is well-settled that estoppel may
arise from conduct or from a failure to act."