Warsaw v. Chi. Metallic Ceilings, Inc.

35 Cal. 3d 564, 199 Cal. Rptr. 773, 676 P.2d 584 (1984)



The party claiming a prescriptive easement must show use of the property which has been open, notorious, continuous and adverse for an uninterrupted period of five years.


The owners of a parcel of commercial property brought an action for declaratory and injunctive relief against the adjoining landowner, alleging that they had acquired a prescriptive easement over a strip of defendant's property that abutted their driveway and loading docks. For approximately seven years trucks servicing plaintiffs' facility had used a portion of the strip to turn and back into the loading docks, and it was undisputed that an inability of the trucks to make such use of defendant's property would destroy the commercial value of plaintiffs' building. The action arose when defendant graded a portion of the land at issue in preparation for construction of a warehouse, thus effectively blocking plaintiffs' use of the land. Following denial of plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, defendant proceeded with construction, which was completed during the pendency of the litigation. After a trial on the merits, the trial court found that plaintiffs had acquired a prescriptive easement over defendant's property and ordered defendant to remove that portion of its building which interfered with the easement. 


Can a landowner be obligated to get rid of a structure if such encroaches on an easement?




The court first held that substantial evidence supported the trial court findings that plaintiffs' use of the property was hostile and that the truckers had followed a definite course and pattern of travel. The court also held that a mandatory injunction was an appropriate remedy under the circumstances. The fact that defendant's decision to proceed with construction may have been reasonable in light of the denial of a preliminary injunction did not change the result. Finally, the court held that defendant was not entitled to any offsetting monetary relief from plaintiffs, who had acquired a title by prescription which was "sufficient against all" (Civ. Code, § 1007), including defendant. That being so, there was no basis in law or equity for requiring them to compensate defendant for the fair market value of the easement so acquired. Nor could plaintiffs be required to contribute to the cost of removing the encroaching structure, since it was erected after plaintiffs' suit was filed with full knowledge of their claim. 

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