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Hemmelgarn v. Huelskamp & Sons, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Third District, Shelby

December 23, 2019

JAMES R. HEMMELGARN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
HUELSKAMP & SONS, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.

          Appeal from Shelby County Common Pleas Court Trial Court No. 18CV000210

         Judgment Affirmed

          Jeremy M. Tomb for Appellant

          Robert B. Fitzgerald and Stanley R. Evans for Appellee

          OPINION

          SHAW, J.

         {¶1} Plaintiff-appellant, James R. Hemmelgarn ("Hemmelgarn"), appeals the May 23, 2019 judgment of the Shelby County Common Pleas Court finding in favor of defendant-appellee, Huelskamp & Sons, Inc. ("HSI" and/or the "Huelskamps") regarding two easements on Hemmelgarn's property.

         Conveyance History of Tracts I and II

         {¶2} In 1981, Hemmelgarn purchased land consisting of his current property and Tract I and Tract II. In 1984, Hemmelgarn agreed to sell Tract I and Tract II to Curtiss "Dutch" Henschen, a local farmer. Tract II is comprised of 24.502 acres and does not have legal access to a pubic roadway. In other words, Tract II is surrounded by other parcels that abut public roads, but Tract II itself is "landlocked." Tract II is situated directly east of Hemmelgarn's property. As part of the agreement, Hemmelgarn also sold Tract 1 to Henschen. Tract I is comprised of 0.64 acres is situated directly north of Hemmelgarn's property. Tract I has access to Knoop-Johnston Road, a public roadway.

         {¶3} Tract I and Tract II are not contiguous. As a result, the 1984 deed documenting the sale of Tract I and Tract II from Hemmelgarn (grantor) to Henschen (grantee) included the following language:

The grantor also grants to the grantee the drive easement as shown on the plat recorded in Plat Vol. 19, Page 72. Plat recorded Vol. 19, Page 72.
ALSO a 30' easement along the north boundary line of Grantor connecting Tract I and Tract II above.

(Pl. Ex. 5, Def. Ex. A) (emphasis in original).

         {¶4} In 1992, Tracts I and II were sold in a Sheriffs sale to Bernard Steinke. The 1992 deed contained identical language describing the easements over the northeast corner of Hemmelgarn's property. (Pl. Ex. 6, Def. Ex. B). Tracts I and II were later conveyed via general warranty deed to Bernard Steinke's son, Richard S. Steinke, in 2010, and then again to Richard's son, Richard D. Steinke in 2015. Both the 2010 and 2015 deeds contained the same language describing the easements as the original 1984 deed. (Pl. Exs. 7-8, Def. Exs. C-D).

         {¶5} In April of 2017, HSI purchased Tracts I and II from Richard D. Steinke. The 2017 deed contained the same easement language as the 1984, 1992, 2010, and 2015 deeds. HSI is a closely held Ohio corporation consisting of five brothers and their mother by the family name of Huelskamp. Farming and livestock production is the primary business of HSI. HSI and another entity owned by the same individuals, Huelskamp Brothers Farm ("HBF"), own other parcels of land in the area surrounding Tract I, Tract II, and Hemmelgarn's property. After this transfer, a dispute arose between the parties over HSI's use of the easements and this lawsuit was initiated by Hemmelgarn.

         Procedural History

         {¶6} On October 31, 2018, Hemmelgarn filed a complaint against HSI requesting injunctive and declaratory relief, and claiming civil trespass and termination of easement by adverse possession and abandonment. HSI filed an answer and counterclaims for quiet title relief regarding its rights to the easements-specifically, a declaration that the deed entitles it to use of the easements. Hemmelgarn filed an answer to HSI's counterclaims.

         {¶7} On March 28 and 29, 2019, a trial to the court was held. Numerous witnesses testified for each party. Several exhibits were admitted, including all the deeds related to the conveyance of Tracts I and II, the plat map, and several aerial photographs of the area.

         {¶8} On April 26 and May 23, 2019, the trial court issued decisions in favor of HSI. Specifically, the trial court found that the deeds conveyed two easements in two separate paragraphs, with the second easement located on a thirty-foot wide strip along Hemmelgarn's north property line connecting Tract I and Tract II. The trial court further found that Hemmelgarn failed to substantiate his trespass claims and failed to demonstrate that the express easements in the deed have been extinguished by adverse possession or abandonment. The trial court also found in favor of HSI on its counterclaims.

         {¶9} Hemmelgarn filed this appeal, asserting the following assignments of error.

ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. 1
THE TRIAL COURT IMPROPERLY INTERPRETED THE TWO DRIVE EASEMENTS BY REVISING AND CHANGING THE DRIVE EASEMENTS TO EXPAND THEIR LOCATION AND SCOPE.
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. 2
THE TRIAL COURT MISCONSTRUED THE FACTS AND MISCONSTRUED THE LAW ON THE USE OF EASEMENTS AND TRESPASS TO HOLD HEMMELGARN FAILED TO PROVE A CLAIM OF CIVIL TRESPASS.
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. 3
THE TRIAL COURT MISCONSTRUED OHIO LAW ON ADVERSE POSSESSION AND, OR ABANDONMENT OF AN EASEMENT TO HOLD THESE CLAIMS WERE NOT ESTABLISHED.

         First Assignment of Error

         {¶10} In his first assignment of error, Hemmelgarn argues that the trial court improperly interpreted the two drive easements conveyed in the deeds. Specifically, Hemmelgarn claims that the trial court in its decision expanded the scope and location of the easements originally conveyed in the 1984 deed.

         Express Easement

         {¶11} An easement is the grant of a use on the land of another. Crane Hollow, Inc. v. Marathon Ashland Pipeline, LLC, 138 Ohio App.3d 57, 66 (4th Dist.2000); Alban v. R.K. Co., 15 Ohio St.2d 229, 231 (1968). "An easement in or over the land of another may be acquired only by grant, express or implied, or by prescription." Gulas v. Tirone, 184 Ohio App.3d 143, 2009-Ohio-5076, ¶ 23 (7th Dist), citing Trattar v. Rausch, 154 Ohio St. 286, 291 (1950), at paragraph two of the syllabus. Once the determination is made that an easement is in existence, the focus must be shifted to ascertaining what type of easement has been created.

         {¶12} When interpreting the terms of a written easement, the court must follow the ordinary rules of contract construction so as to carry out the intent of the parties as demonstrated by the language in the contract. Lakewood Homes v. BP Oil, Inc., 3d Dist. No. Hancock 5-98-29, 1999-Ohio-851, citing Skivoloski v. East Ohio Gas Company, 38 Ohio St.2d 244, 313 (1974), syllabus, paragraph one. If the question is the scope of an easement, the court must look to the language of the easement to determine the extent. When the terms of an easement are clear and unambiguous, a ...


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