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An easement, as a general rule, is required to be in writing, under the statute of frauds. An exception to this general rule is the doctrine of easement by estoppel, a creature of equity designed to prevent injustice and protect innocent parties from fraud. This doctrine is not clearly defined, and its application depends on the facts of each case. The gravity of a judicial means of acquiring an interest in land of another solely by parol requires that equitable estoppel be strictly applied, and the estoppel should be certain, precise and clear.
For decades, the McClung family reached their landlocked property in Franklin County, Texas, by crossing through a neighboring property owned by the Ayers family. In 2000, Irene Ayers, sole owner of the Ayers property at that time, refused to let the McClungs cross her property any longer. In July 2009, after trying other options to access their property, the McClungs filed suit against Ayers, alleging that they had established an easement across her property by at least one of four alternative theories—prescription, estoppel, necessity, and implication. The jury found that no easement existed under any of the four theories. On appeal, the McClungs attacked each of the four findings on both legal and factual sufficiency grounds.
Were the McClungs able to establish an easement across Ayers’ property?
The court found that there was more than a scintilla of evidence supporting the jury's finding that the McClungs' use was permissive; therefore, there was no prescriptive easement. The McClungs failed to prove an easement by estoppel as a matter of law, because there was conflicting evidence regarding whether Ayers represented the McClungs could use the road, belief in that representation, and reliance on the belief. The claims of the McClungs for easement by implication and necessity failed, because there was no evidence that a road was necessary at the time the McClungs’ land was patented. There was also no evidence that the McClungs’ use of the property was continuous or apparent at the time the estates were severed.