Face Challenges Confidently

052 Peacock v. Schroeder

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

Richard F. Brown

The following is not a legal opinion. You should consult your attorney if the case may be of some significance to you.
Peacock v. Schroeder, 846 S.W.2d 905 (Tex. App.–San Antonio 1973, no writ), concerns easement rights across a large ranch to a small oil and gas lease located within the ranch. Schroeder leased 160 acres from the rancher which was surrounded on three sides by the ranch and on the fourth side by an unrelated third party. The only access to the lease was over an existing 2-1/2 mile ranch road, which Schroeder regularly used. The lease described only the 160-acre tract and made no mention of the ranch road. The rancher sold the ranch to Peacock, who then denied Schroeder’s access right over the ranch road.
Held: Schroeder had the right to use the ranch road for access. There are two common implied easements which may be applicable in these circumstances, and the court found that both were supported by the facts. There was an implied easement by necessity. When a grantor conveys part of a tract of land and retains the remaining acreage (as when the rancher leased the 160 acres), there is an implied reservation of a right-of-way by necessity over the land retained, when no other access exists. The elements of an implied easement by necessity are:

  1. unity of ownership of the dominant and servient estates prior to the severance (the leasing transaction);
  2. access must be a necessity and not a mere convenience; and
  3. the necessity must exist at the time of the severance of the two e

The court also found an implied easement appurtenant. The elements of this easement are:

  1. unity of ownership of the dominant and servient estates prior to the severance (the leasing transaction);
  2. the use of the easement must have been apparent at the time of the grant;
  3. the use of the easement must have been continuous so that the parties must have intended that its use pass by the grant; and
  4. the use of the easement must be reasonably necessary to the use and enjoyment of the dominant estate.

Peacock argued that these implied easements were negated by strikeouts in the lease. The parties to the lease struck the Mother Hubbard or catch-all clause. This is the common lease clause that includes small adjacent or contiguous tracts within the leased premises. The court held that whether the lease did nor did not include a Mother Hubbard clause was not relevant. The Mother Hubbard clause only concerns the definition of the acreage included in the lease and not the easement rights outside the leased premises.
The case is significant as a reminder of how the law will treat easement rights under similar circumstances. This is of significance in areas subject to large ranches, and it is equally significant in even small leases which contain Pugh clauses that over time effectively isolate small tracts under lease. Lessees must be careful that they have reasonable access at the time of the original leasing transaction, and the law will thereafter generally operate to protect that access right. Lessors who want to restrict or limit access must be careful to do so at the time of the original leasing transaction. The case is also significant in holding that the Mother Hubbard clause has no application to this question, and it may be included in the lease to address its intended problem (small unleased parcels) without fear that it impacts the issue of access.