Face Challenges Confidently

425 Greenwood v. Lee

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 significance to you.
Greenwood v. Lee held that an “easement and right-of-way” was limited to a means of ingress and egress only. Clanton owned a 10-acre tract of land in Brazos County, Texas. Greenwood owned a neighboring 40-acre tract, which was landlocked and connected to a public road by means of an “easement and right-of-way” over Clanton’s property. Greenwood wanted to build a house on Greenwood’s land and run utility lines along the easement burdening Clanton’s property. Clanton resisted, arguing that the easement was limited to a means of ingress and egress only. The easement at issue was established in a 1964 deed as follows: “An easement and right-of-way over a certain tract . . . in Brazos County, Texas . . . being a strip of land 45 feet in width off the extreme Northeast side of said tract . . . .”

Basic principles of contract construction govern the terms of an express easement. An easement should be interpreted to give effect to the intentions of the parties as ascertained from the language used in the instrument, or the circumstances surrounding the creation of the servitude, and to carry out the purpose for which it was created. That is “[t]he contracting parties’ intentions, as expressed in the grant determine the scope of the conveyed interest” . . . . Nothing passes by implication as incidental to the grant of an easement “except what is reasonably necessary” to fairly enjoy the rights expressly granted . . . .

“An easement confers upon one person the right to use the land of another for a specific purpose.” “‘Right-of-way,’ when used alone, can have more than one meaning: it may denote either a right of passage or the right-of-way strip of land itself.” The court held that the only reasonable reading of “easement and right-of-way” is that it means a right to pass over described land.
The court held that based on the plain, ordinary, and generally accepted meaning of the terms used, the easement serving Greenwood’s property and burdening Clanton’s property was limited in scope to an easement for means of ingress and egress only. Installation of utility lines was not permitted and would have been an unauthorized presence on Clanton’s property.
Of course, instruments creating easements used in the energy industry are generally far more detailed than the easement examined in this case. The significance of the case is that it highlights that an “easement” has no real meaning, that an “easement and right-of-way” is nothing but access, and the detailed provisions in an express easement will be construed like a contract.  It is the details that give meaning to an express easement.