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Carroll v. Shelton

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

March 7, 2018

PENNY CARROLL APPELLANT/ CROSS-APPELLEE
v.
JULIE A. SHELTON APPELLEE/ CROSS-APPELLANT

         APPEAL FROM THE CARROLL COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, WESTERN DISTRICT [NO. 08WCV-15-27] HONORABLE SCOTT JACKSON, JUDGE

          Brett D. Watson, Attorney at Law, PLLC, by: Brett D. Watson, for appellant.

          Taylor Law Partners, LLP, by: Stevan E. Vowell, for appellee.

          DAVID M. GLOVER, JUDGE.

         This is a property case in which Julie Shelton brought an action against Penny Carroll claiming parking rights pursuant to the language of a deeded easement and, alternatively, pursuant to claims of a prescriptive easement, and further claiming damages to her mailbox, real property, and hardwood floors in her house caused by redirected water after an excavation project undertaken by Carroll. Following a hearing, the trial court concluded the deed's language concerning ingress and egress also contemplated the need for parking on the easement; alternatively, a necessity for parking had been proved; and alternatively, a prescriptive easement for parking had also been established. With respect to Shelton's claims for water damages, the trial court concluded Carroll's excavation work had altered the flow of surface water and caused damage to Shelton's property. The trial court ordered Carroll to replace Shelton's concrete parking pad and redirect the flow of surface water away from Shelton's property (not to exceed $700) to pay the cost of the mailbox replacement ($54); it denied Shelton's claim for damages to her hardwood floors ($500), finding that she had not proved causation.

         Carroll appeals from the portions of the trial court's April 12, 2017 judgment concluding that the deed's easement language includes parking; that Shelton proved a parking easement by necessity; and that Shelton also proved a parking easement by prescription. Shelton cross-appeals the trial court's denial of her claim for damages to her hardwood floors. All other claims have been abandoned.

         With respect to Carroll's appeal, we find error in the trial court's construction of the deed language but affirm the alternate finding that Shelton proved a prescriptive easement for parking. Shelton concedes error regarding the trial court's finding of necessity. With respect to Shelton's cross-appeal concerning the hardwood-floor damage, we affirm the trial court's finding that causation had not been proved. As mentioned previously, the other issues have been abandoned.

         Direct Appeal

         In her direct appeal, Carroll contends the trial court erred in its construction of the easement language to include the right to park on the easement. We agree.

         If possible, the intent of a grantor is ascertained from the language employed in the deed, examining its four corners. Van Matre v. Davenport, 2017 Ark.App. 703, ___S.W.3d ___. The initial determination of whether the deed is ambiguous rests with the trial court, and if a deed is not ambiguous, its meaning is a question of law for the trial court. C. & A. Constr. Co., Inc. v. Benning Constr. Co., 256 Ark. 621, 509 S.W.2d 302 (1974). If the deed is ambiguous, then the trial court may consider parol evidence to aid in determining the parties' intent, and the meaning of the deed becomes a question of fact. Id. On appellate review, we examine the trial court's determination of whether an ambiguity exists, and if we conclude there is no ambiguity, then we examine the deed's meaning as a question of law upon de novo review. Maxey v. Kossover, 2009 Ark.App. 611.

         In the trial court's April 12, 2017 judgment, it explained, "Further, from the Court's examination of the property and proof presented, the Court finds that when the easement was created, and as the easement was conveyed down to [Shelton], the parties must have contemplated that the easement included more than just the right to drive across it to [Shelton's] house. The Court finds that it is unreasonable to limit the use of the easement to just driving in and out." In so holding, the trial court, at a minimum, impliedly found the easement language to be ambiguous and then found that the parties must have contemplated more from the easement than just ingress and egress. We disagree.

         Here, the original document that created the easement in 1968 is styled "Easement for Road Right of Way" and contains the following pertinent language:

THAT I, Olive P. Ellis . . . grant . . . an Easement for ingress and egress over and across the herein described lands in Eureka Springs, Carroll County, Arkansas, to-wit:
The SW ½ of Lot 15, Block 163, as designated on R&A Survey Plat. Said lands being further designated and described as Access Easement on Plat of Survey prepared by Crafton & Tull, Consuluting Engineers, Rogers, Arkansas, dated October 15, 1968, filed in Plat Book "A, " Page 36, in ...

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