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Collins v. Metro Real Estate Services LLC

Court of Appeals of Indiana

April 18, 2017

Luther T. Collins, Appellant-Plaintiff,
v.
Metro Real Estate Services LLC, Appellee-Defendant.

         Appeal from the Washington Circuit Court The Honorable Larry Medlock, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 88C01-1401-PL-50

          Attorney for Appellant Mark D. Johnson Allen & Johnson, LLC Salem, Indiana.

          Attorney for Appellee Robert R. Thomas Thomas Law Group. LLC Zionsville, Indiana.

          Barnes, Judge.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] Luther Collins challenges the trial court's order finding an easement exists across Collins's property for the benefit of adjacent property owned by Metro Real Estate Services, LLC ("Metro"). We affirm.

         Issues

         [¶2] Collins raises five issues for our review, which we consolidate and restate as:

I. whether there is an easement by grant over Collins's property; and
II. whether there is an easement by implication over Collins's property.

         Facts[1]

         This appeal concerns two parcels of land in Washington County. On October 24, 2003, Joseph Howell acquired the real estate identified on the tax map as parcel 7.05 ("the servient estate") from George Sivak, Regina Sivak, and Fred Cambron. See Appellant's App. p. 54. On November 3, 2003, Howell acquired the adjacent real estate identified on the tax map as parcel 2.02 ("the dominant estate") from Patrick Alexander and Connie Alexander. Id.

         (Image Omitted)

         Appellant's App. p. 54.

         [¶4] At the time

Howell purchased the [dominant estate], Howell's only access from a public right of way to the [dominant estate] was over the [servient estate] already owned by Howell. The [dominant estate] had no other access to a public right of way but for over the [servient estate] to Mount Carmel Road.

Joint Stipulated Statement of Evidence p. 3. Howell lived on the servient estate and allowed a neighbor to cut hay on the dominant estate; the neighbor owned property adjacent to the dominant estate and accessed the dominant estate from his own land, not by way of the servient estate.

         [¶5] Some time later, the servient estate was the subject of a foreclosure action, and Collins purchased it at a sheriff's sale; Collins closed on the property on March 27, 2009.[2] Prior to the sheriff's sale of the servient estate, Howell mortgaged the dominant estate to Old Capitol Mortgage. In order to "facilitate" the Old Capitol mortgage, Howell "granted an Easement to himself over the [servient estate] to allow access to the [dominant estate]." Id. Howell recorded the easement on June 23, 2008. The Old Capitol mortgage was recorded on July 23, 2008. "Collins testified that neither Howell nor anyone else used the Easement area to access the [dominant estate] and both ends of the Easement area were fenced with no gate."[3] Id. Collins also testified that, "Howell accessed the [dominant estate] on and across the [servient estate] after Collins purchased the [servient estate] and at no time did Collins object to Howell doing so." Id. at 4.

         [¶6] The dominant estate was also the subject of a foreclosure action, and, on May 11, 2012, Metro purchased it. Collins objected to Metro's use of the easement over the servient estate and, in January 2014, filed a complaint to quiet title. The matter was tried, and the trial court entered its judgment for Metro on July 31, 2015. Collins then filed a motion to correct error, which the trial court denied on September 24, 2015. Collins now appeals.[4]

         Analysis

         I. Standard of Review

         [¶7] We review the denial of a motion to correct error for an abuse of discretion. Otter Creek Trading Co., Inc. v. PCM Enviro PTY, LTD, 60 N.E.3d 217, 226 (Ind.Ct.App. 2016), trans. denied.

A trial court has abused its discretion only if its decision is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances before the court or the reasonable inferences therefrom. The trial court's decision comes to us cloaked in a presumption of correctness, and the appellant has the burden of proving that the trial court abused its discretion. In making our determination, we may neither reweigh the evidence nor judge the credibility of witnesses. Instead, we look at the record to determine if: (a) the trial court abused its judicial discretion; (b) a flagrant injustice has been done to the appellant; or (c) a very strong case for relief from the trial court's order has been made by the appellant.

Id. (citation omitted) (quotations omitted).

         [¶8] Where, as here, the trial court issues findings of fact and conclusions thereon sua sponte, "the findings control our review and the judgment only as to the issues those specific findings cover. Where there are no specific findings, a general judgment standard applies and we may affirm on any legal theory supported by the evidence adduced at trial." [5] Samples v. Wilson, 12 N.E.3d 946, 949-50 (Ind.Ct.App. 2014). We apply a two-tier standard of review to the sua sponte findings and conclusions thereon. Id. at 950. We first determine whether the evidence supports the findings and then whether the findings support the judgment. Id. We will set aside findings and conclusions:

only if they are clearly erroneous, that is, when the record contains no facts or inferences supporting them. A judgment is clearly erroneous when a review of the record leaves us with a firm conviction that a mistake has been made. In conducting our review, we consider only the evidence favorable to the judgment and all reasonable inferences flowing therefrom. We will neither reweigh the evidence nor assess witness credibility.

Id.

         [¶9] The trial court's July 31, 2015, order states:

In this case, Joseph Howell attempted to create an easement by grant through [the servient estate] for the benefit of [the dominant estate]. At the time of this grant in June 2008, Howell owned both pieces of property . . . . Howell filed a properly notarized document that described the easement and declared that it "shall run with the land and shall extend to the grantee's heirs and assigns."
The language used in the official grant is interpreted to mean his intent was that the easement be appurtenant. First, the grant includes the language "run with the land" which almost certainly implies that Howell meant ...

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