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Boyd v. BellSouth Tel. Tel. Co. - 369 S.C. 410, 633 S.E. 2d 136 (2006)

Rule:

The essential elements of equitable estoppel as related to the party estopped are: (1) conduct which amounts to a false representation or concealment of material facts, or, at least, which is calculated to convey the impression that the facts are otherwise than, and inconsistent with, those which the party subsequently attempts to assert; (2) intention, or at least expectation, that such conduct shall be acted upon by the other party; and (3) knowledge, actual or constructive, of the real facts. As related to the party claiming the estoppel, they are: (1) lack of knowledge and of the means of knowledge of the truth as to the facts in question; (2) reliance upon the conduct of the party estopped; and (3) action based thereon of such a character as to change his position prejudicially.

Facts:

BellSouth Telephone Telegraph Company, Inc., a/k/a BellSouth Telecommunications, Inc., now known as BellSouth (BellSouth), built a driveway than ran to the rear entrance of a building on its property. A gate was also erected at the end of the driveway on a street. Thereafter, BellSouth severed the lot into two parcels and sold the western parcel with the building to the City of Denmark (Denmark). Denmark then sold its parcel to John Boyd, who later conveyed the parcel to his wife, Caroline Boyd. Boyd used the building as an antique store.  Moreover, both Denmark and Boyd used BellSouth's gate and driveway to access the rear entrance of the building. After September 11, 2011, BellSouth decided to construct a fence between the two parcels for security reasons. This fence would prohibit Boyd from using BellSouth's existing gate and driveway to access the rear entrance of the building. Boyd then brought the present declaratory judgment action contending that she had an easement implied by prior use, implied by necessity, or by equitable estoppel over BellSouth’s parcel. The special referee granted BellSouth's motion for summary judgment on all claims. Boyd appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed the special referee's grant of summary judgment for BellSouth on the easement by necessity claim, but reversed the grant of summary judgment for BellSouth on the claims for an easement implied by prior use and by equitable estoppel. BellSouth appealed to the Supreme Court of South Carolina, arguing that the appellate court erred in reversing the grant of summary judgment on the easement implied by prior use claim, and in reversing the grant of summary judgment on the claim by estoppel.

Issue:

  1. Did the state appellate court err in reversing the special referee's grant of summary judgment for BellSouth on the easement implied by prior use claim?
  2. Did the state appellate court err in reversing the special referee's grant of summary judgment for BellSouth on the easement by equitable estoppel claim?

Answer:

1) No. 2) Yes.

Conclusion:

The state supreme court affirmed the intermediate appellate court's reversal of the grant of summary judgment on the easement implied by prior use claim, and remanded the case for further proceedings. According to the court, there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether without the particular easement, there was no other reasonable mode of enjoying the dominant tenement at the time of severance. However, the Court held that the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the grant of summary judgment on the claim for easement by estoppel because Boyd failed to establish the elements of equitable estoppel. According to the Court, the essential elements of equitable estoppel, as related to the party were: (1) conduct which amounted to a false representation or concealment of material facts, or, at least, which was calculated to convey the impression that the facts were otherwise than, and inconsistent with, those which the party subsequently attempted to assert; (2) intention, or at least expectation, that such conduct shall be acted upon by the other party; and (3) knowledge, actual or constructive, of the real facts. As related to the party claiming the estoppel, they were: (1) lack of knowledge and of the means of knowledge of the truth as to the facts in question; (2) reliance upon the conduct of the party estopped; and (3) action based thereon of such a character as to change his position prejudicially. Viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to Boyd, the Court of Appeals found the evidence indicated when Boyd's husband made the decision to purchase the property, he relied on a representation by BellSouth that he would have access to the driveway. Moreover, it was found that Boyd assumed she would always have access to the rear of the building via BellSouth's driveway. As such, Boyd failed to show the elements of estoppel and summary judgment was properly granted to BellSouth on this claim.

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