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Law School Case Brief

Gerhard v. Stephens - 68 Cal. 2d 864, 69 Cal. Rptr. 612, 442 P.2d 692 (1968)


Although the acts of the owner of the dominant tenement, to prevent him from enjoying an easement acquired by grant, must be of a character so decisive and conclusive as to indicate a clear intent to abandon the easement, the question of abandonment is one for the trier of fact. It is no doubt true that mere nonuse, not accompanied by an intent to abandon, will not divest the right to the easement. But, the intention with which an act is done is a question of fact, to be determined by the trial court or jury from a consideration of the conduct of the party and the surrounding circumstances. Where the evidence is such that a finding either way might reasonably be made, the conclusion of the trial court must be upheld under the familiar rule protecting from review on appeal findings based on conflicting evidence. 


Plaintiffs brought four actions to quiet title to undivided oil, gas, and mineral interests as successors of stockholders in two now-defunct corporations, which obtained the mineral rights in 1910 but was formerly possessed by defendants. Defendants raised a number of defenses essentially based on their long occupation of the surface of section 31 and the failure of plaintiffs and their predecessors to assert these rights for 47 years until the time that defendants struck oil. The trial court entered judgment for defendants in each action, and plaintiffs appealed.


Was it proper to dismiss the action to quiet title?




The Supreme Court of California reversed the judgments. The court held that substantial evidence established that the predecessors of certain plaintiffs abandoned their interests in the minerals. The court did not find the same substantial evidence of abandonment by the predecessors of other plaintiffs. The court decided that defendants did not gain title to the mineral interests by adverse possession. The court concluded that plaintiffs were not guilty of laches. The court ruled that the decrees in two of the actions did not bar plaintiffs' claims. The court found that plaintiffs were not denied the right to cross-examination. The superior court properly ruled that certain plaintiffs could not bring a class action. The court decided that the bank mortgage did not include plaintiffs' interests in the minerals. The court did not find that one plaintiff illegally obtained his interests.

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