The pivotal issue in deciding the propriety of admitting parol evidence is whether a written instrument is ambiguous. The written instrument is ambiguous when its terms are uncertain or capable of being understood as having more than one meaning.
The parties involved are adjoining landowners. The plaintiffs, once the owners of the entire tract, now retain several acres located south of the defendants' property. The defendants purchased their parcel (the north tract) from the plaintiffs by real estate contract. While they were still paying on that contract, the defendants requested a deed release to a small section of the north tract to allow financing for the construction of a home. The plaintiffs agreed in return for the promise of an easement along the southern 30 feet of the north tract when the defendants eventually obtained title. Plaintiffs constructed a mobile home park, and the park residents were using the easment. Defendants interfered with the easment, alleging that only plaintiffs had a right to use it. Plaintiffs filed an action alleging that the easement was not personal. The written agreement that created the easement was ambiguous because it evidenced an easement that was both appurtenant to the land and personal to the easement holders. The trial court found for defendants.
Is parol evidence admissible to construe an easement as personal to the grantees?
The court held that the parol evidence was properly admitted, but the conclusion that the easement is personal to plaintiffs was erroneous. The pivotal issue in deciding the propriety of admitting parol evidence is whether the written instrument is ambiguous. A written instrument is ambiguous when its terms are uncertain or capable of being understood as having more than one meaning. The written instrument promised the easement specifically to the plaintiffs, to "Don Green and Florence B. Green," and described the easement as "for ingress and egress for road and utilities purpose." The designation of named individuals as dominant owners evidences an intent that the easement be personal to the named parties. The grant of an easement for ingress, egress and utilities to the owners of adjacent land is evidence of an intent that the easement benefit the grantees' adjacent land. Thus, the court finds that the instrument was ambiguous as to whether the easement granted was personal to the plaintiffs or appurtenant to their land. The parol evidence was properly admitted.