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Mountain States Telephone & Telegraph Co. v. Kelton

    Brief Fact Summary. A telephone company brought an action against property owners and a contractor (Kelton) for damage to an underground cable laid across land under a perpetual easement, which had been duly recorded. The property owners were found negligent in failing to take proper precautions.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The court cited the Pennsylvania case of Maul v. Rider, 59 Pa. 167, which held that, “It is sometimes said that the record of a deed is constructive notice to all the world. That, it is evident, is too broad and unqualified an enunciation of the doctrine. It is constructive notice only to those who are bound to search for it.” [emphasis added in original].

    Facts. The telephone company brought an action against property owners and a contractor (Kelton) for damage to an underground cable laid across land under a perpetual easement, which had been duly recorded. The opinion of the Court, which deals with the constructive notice to the contractor is briefed herein; the property owners having actual notice were found negligent in failing to take proper precautions. The lower court found that the Defendant Kelton exercised reasonable care in the acts, which resulted in the damage to the underground line.

    Issue. Was the contractor under constructive notice of the easement on the land in favor of Plaintiff?

    Held. No. Judgment affirmed in part and reversed in part.
    The Plaintiff telephone company argued that the Defendant contractor should be held liable for the reason that Defendant entered upon the property of Plaintiff with heavy digging equipment and made no inquiry as to what might lay below the surface of the premises, even though the easement was a matter of record.
    The Court cited the Pennsylvania case of Maul v. Rider, 59 Pa. 167, which held that, “It is sometimes said that the record of a deed is constructive notice to all the world. That, it is evident, is too broad and unqualified an enunciation of the doctrine. It is constructive notice only to those who are bound to search for it.” [emphasis added in original].
    Applying the rule to the case at bar, the Court found that the Defendant contractor was under no obligation to actively search the deed to the property, and that the Defendant contractor had no interest in the title to the land.
    Because Defendant contractor was not charged with notice of Plaintiff’s easement, the doctrine of constructive notice will not be applied to Defendant contractor.

    Discussion. This decision illustrates the need for property owners to take precautions when working on their property to ascertain the existence of any easements, which might be violated by such work.


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