Brief Fact Summary. The Lindseys (Plaintiffs) sought an injunction to prevent Clark (Defendant) from using a ten feet wide right of way, which had been reserved by earlier deeds, but not particularly in the deed to Plaintiffs.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The lower court applied the rule that “[h]e who seeks equity must do equity.” The mere non-use of an easement created by deed, without more, is not sufficient to cause abandonment.
It is well settled that a court of equity may require him who seeks equity to do equity, and in a case in which the rules and principles of equity demand it, it may condition the grant of relief sought from it by a plaintiff with the enforcement of a claim or an equity held by a defendant which by reason of the statute of limitations the latter could not enforce affirmatively or in any other way.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Has the right of way along the South side of the Plaintiffs property been abandoned by the Defendant through non-use?
Held. No. The decision was affirmed.
Abandonment is a question of intention. The intent can be inferred from the cessation of use coupled with acts or circumstances showing an intent to abandon the right. The mere non-use of an easement created by deed, without more, is not sufficient to cause abandonment. There must be acts or circumstances in addition to the non-use of the easement created by deed. The burden of proof in abandonment cases is upon the party claiming such abandonment, and the burden is clear and convincing evidence.
Because Clark reserved a right of way, even though he was mistaken as to where it was, his non-use does not show abandonment.
The Plaintiffs claimed that Clark should be equitably estopped from claiming a right of way on the South side because of the non-use and because he stood by and watched the Sixes build a house encroaching on the easement. The court found otherwise. The Lindseys had actual and constructive knowledge of where the house was and where the driveway was when they bought the property. They negligently failed to effectively search their title to their own detriment.
The suit showed that Clark was entitled to a ten-foot right of way along the South side of Plaintiffs’ property, but that such right of way was blocked by the Plaintiffs’ house and shrubbery. Clark was willing to let the right of way continue on the North side.
The lower court based its decision on the maxim: “[h]e who seeks equity must do equity.” Thus, the lower court did not err in determining that the rights of the Defendant Clark was to be limited to use of the North side right of way only for travel, and not for parking, and that, if the parties requested to elect to do otherwise, the court would fix their rights in a subsequent order.
Discussion. The court was obviously interested in a fair, or equitable, outcome in the case. It would be unfair to require the Plaintiffs, who sought to limit the Defendant to the deed easement on the South side, to tear out their shrubs (and two feet of their house) in order to let Defendant use the South side easement. The decision to allow the Defendant to continue to use the North side right of way was a fair outcome.