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Originating in the common law, easements by necessity are premised on the conception that the law will not presume that it was the intention of the parties that one should convey land to the other in such manner that the grantee could derive no benefit from the conveyance. An easement by necessity is imposed where a conveyance by the grantor leaves the grantee with a parcel inaccessible save over the lands of the grantor. The party seeking an easement by necessity has the burden of showing that the easement is reasonably necessary for the use and enjoyment of the party's property.
Both the plaintiffs' and the defendant's properties were originally part of a single lot owned by Martha Thomas, the grandmother of the plaintiffs. In 1959, Martha Thomas conveyed the one and one-quarter acres of landlocked property, currently owned by the defendant to Arthur Primus, the defendant’s brother. At the conveyance, Martha and Arthur agreed that access to the landlocked property would be through the passway, which until that time had been used by Martha to access the eastern portions of her property. In 1969, the defendant took possession of the land. In 2002, the plaintiffs took possession of the western portion of Martha’s property, including the passway. In 2009, the plaintiffs signed a contract to sell their property, but the prospective purchasers cancelled the contract when they learned of the defendant's claimed right to use the passway. Subsequently, the plaintiffs sought to quiet title to the passway located on the northern portion of their property. The defendant filed a counterclaim asking the court to establish his right to use the passway uninterrupted by the plaintiffs. The trial court rendered a declaratory judgment for the defendant on the plaintiffs' complaint and on his counterclaim, granting an easement by necessity and implication in favor of the defendant. Plaintiffs appealed.
Did the trial court err in finding that an easement by necessity existed over the passway?
The court affirmed the judgment of the trial court, noting the landlocked nature of the defendant’s property. Because of its landlocked nature, the court held that the easement was necessary to access the property, and the defendant was not required to purchase additional property in order to create an alternative access. The court further held that the defendant’s easement request was not barred by the defense of laches, as the delay was not inexcusable because the defendant had no prior reason to assert the right until he learned that the plaintiffs intended to sell their property, at which point his access might have become jeopardized.