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Law School Case Brief

Toal v. Smith - 54 S.W.3d 431 (Tex. App. 2001)

Rule:

Burdening another's property with a prescriptive easement is not well-regarded in the law. To burden a party's land with an easement by prescription, the plaintiff must show that his use of the land was: (1) open and notorious; (2) adverse to the owner's claim of right; (3) exclusive; (4) uninterrupted; and (5) continuous for a period of 10 years.

Facts:

The family homesteaded a piece of property for 80 years and used a driveway built on an adjacent parcel of land the family leased from a railroad under a "pasture lease" to access the homestead. The home was abandoned but family members would occasionally visit the property. The property owner had the railroad cancel the lease, which still had 20 years to run, and eventually purchased the leased property. The property owner refused to sell the property the driveway lay on and told the family that the driveway could no longer be used to access the homestead property. Appellee family estate sued appellant property owner in the 40th District Court, Ellis County, Texas alleging an easement by prescription. The jury found that an easement existed and the easement had not been abandoned. The property owner appealed.

Issue:

Was the evidence sufficient to show that the family had acquired an easement by prescription by its earlier and lengthy use of a driveway built on an adjacent parcel of land the family leased from a railroad under a "pasture lease" to access the homestead?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

Affirming, the appellate court held that the evidence was sufficient to show that the family had acquired an easement by prescription. The family's use of the property for a driveway was contrary to the use for which the land had been leased, i.e., as pasture land, the railroad had been put on notice of the adverse use and all other requirements for an easement had been met. The fact that the family had not lived on the property for some time did not constitute abandonment of the easement as non-use alone was not sufficient. Circumstances must have affirmatively shown the intent to abandon the easement.

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