Category: Easement

Georgia easements: Do you know what a bridle path is?

This issue came before the Georgia Court of Appeals. See Doxey v. Crissey, et al, A20A0443 (June 26, 2020). For those of you who do not know (the author included), a bridle path is “a trail for horseback riding.” The American Heritage Dictionary, 5th ed. (2020). See also Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (2020) (bridle path is “a trail suitable for horseback riding”).

This case involved the enforceability of an easement originally intended as a bridle path, which the owner of the easement wanted to convert to a walking path. The case highlights two important principles related to real estate easements:

(1) To interpret the scope of an easement, the rules of contract construction apply; this is a question of law for the court. The cardinal rule of construction is to ascertain the parties’ intent. Here, the Court of Appeals found that the term “bridle path” has only one meaning, which is a trail for horseback riding. Thus, per the terms of the easement, the only allowed use under the easement was to ride a horse.

(2) As is typical in the law, there is an exception to the above rule. This occurs when use of the easement changes over time, so long as the change is not so substantial as to cause unreasonable damage to the servient estate or unreasonably interfere with its enjoyment. The servient estate is the property that granted or give the easement. This rule applies even without the consent of the servient estate. So, if the easement became a walking trail over time, and the change did not harm the party who granted the easement, then the easement converts to a walking path.

If you have any questions regarding an easement, please call us at 404-382-9991.

Georgia Easement Disputes

For those interested in easements disputes, a new case from the Georgia Court of Appeals is worth reviewing. Patel Taherbhai, Inc. v. Broad Street Stockbridge, LLC, A19A0820 (October 3, 2019). This case involves adjoining landowners, Patel and Broad Street, who got into a dispute regarding an easement. The easement was on Patel’s property and allowed Broad Street to go over Patel’s property to reach a public street.

Broad Street complained that Patel was blocking access to the easement. After back and forth between the parties’ attorneys, Broad Street filed an ejectment lawsuit against Patel. The lawsuit alleged Patel had constructed improper and unsafe encroachments on the easement. These were denying Broad Street access and diminishing the value of its property. Therefore the encroachments should be removed. Patel denied the alleged encroachments were blocking access. And, even if access was being blocked, Broad Street had consented to the encroachments by failing to timely object.

The trial judge agreed with Broad Street and ordered the encroachments ejected (i.e., removed) from the easement. Broad Street appealed. The appellate court’s analysis focused on whether a party is entitled to file an ejectment lawsuit to remove an encroachment from an easement. In a well-reasoned decision, the appellate court determined that ejectment cannot be used in these situations. Instead, ejectment only applies when a party’s rightful possession to its property is being denied. Here, Patel’s alleged misconduct wasn’t occurring on Broad Street’s property (instead, it was occurring on Patel’s property) and therefore Patel wasn’t interfering with Broad’s Street’s possession of its property. This does not mean Patel is off the hook, only that the correct remedy is these cases is to file an action for damages and/or an injunction.

While many appellate decisions unfortunately provide little guidance, this thoughtful decision arrives at a ruling by carefully examining prior case law (going back to the 1800’s) and opinions expressed by real estate experts. In the end, lawyers (and landowners) now have a definitive understanding of how to handle situations in which an adjoining neighbor blocks an easement.

If you’re in a real estate dispute, please contact us for a free evaluation. Our number is (404) 382-9991.