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Miller v. Skiles

Court of Appeals of Kentucky

December 13, 2019

RANDY LEE MILLER APPELLANT
v.
EMILY SKILES APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM JEFFERSON CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE ANGELA MCCORMICK BISIG, JUDGE ACTION NO. 17-CI-003003

          BRIEFS FOR APPELLANT Steven D. Jaeger

          BRIEF FOR APPELLEE Kyle M. Vaughn

          BEFORE: ACREE, SPALDING, [1] AND L. THOMPSON, JUDGES.

          OPINION

          SPALDING, JUDGE.

         Randy Miller appeals from the summary disposition of a dispute involving an easement to a garage. The Jefferson Circuit Court concluded that the easement had been extinguished by joinder of the dominant and servient estates prior to Mr. Miller's acquisition of his property; that the extinguished easement was not revived by its mention in subsequent conveyances; that even had an easement existed, it was abandoned by Mr. Miller's failure to maintain the garage as required in the easement; and that the finding of abandonment of the easement was fatal to Mr. Miller's claim of a prescriptive easement. We affirm.

         The easement in question was created in 1984 when Raymond and Elizabeth Montgomery, who owned what are now the Miller and Skiles properties, sold the Miller portion of the property to Constance Webb. The deed for that conveyance included a "perpetual appurtenant easement consisting of the right to use the concrete block garage adjacent to the rear of the house situated on the lot described as Tract 2 [now the Skiles property]" and required that "[m]aintenance, repairs, and any replacement of the garage" be at Ms. Webb's sole expense. Notably, in 1985, the Montgomerys also sold what is now the Skiles property to Ms. Webb. At that point, Ms. Webb became owner of both the dominant and servient estates.

         In July 1988, Ms. Webb sold the Miller property to Lucy Sakry by deed which included the conveyance of "an appurtenant easement for garage and access thereto as set out in Deed Book 5458, Page 400," citing the easement language in the deed by which the Montgomerys had transferred the Miller property to Ms. Webb. Ms. Sakry owned that property until 2004 when she conveyed the property to Mr. Miller as part of divorce proceedings between them. That deed provided that the conveyance was subject to "any and all easements, restrictions, stipulations and mortgages of record affecting said property." It did not include any specific language in regard to the easement in question.

         In September 1988, Ms. Webb sold the Skiles property to Richard and Ruth Cain by deed indicating that the conveyance was "made subject to easement for use of concrete block garage and other rights and responsibilities in favor of others set out in Deed Book 5458, Page 400." The Cains subsequently sold their property to appellee Skiles by deed covenanting that the property was free of encumbrances "except restrictions and easements of record." Like the Miller deed, it did not include any specific language in regard to the easement in question.

         A dispute arose in 2017 when Ms. Skiles was cited by Louisville Metro Government on the basis that the garage was in a state of disrepair and was thus in violation of property maintenance regulations. The garage was in such disrepair that the roof had failed. After attempts to resolve the dispute proved fruitless, Ms. Skiles initiated this action in the Jefferson Circuit Court seeking to quiet title to the garage attached to her home which caused her to be cited by the Metro government. Ms. Skiles alleged in her complaint that the easement created in the 1984 deed of the Miller property to Constance Webb was extinguished in 1985 when Ms. Webb became owner of both the dominant and servient estates; that the reference to the prior easement in subsequent deeds did not create a new easement; that Mr. Miller had abandoned the easement; that Mr. Miller was in breach of his duty to maintain the garage; and that Mr. Miller was trespassing on her property.

         In response, Mr. Miller maintained that he enjoyed a perpetual appurtenant easement for the use of the garage and that he was using the garage to store property consistent with that easement. In addition, Mr. Miller argued that Ms. Skiles was not entitled to a judgment quieting title because an "issued but unapproved" plat placed the garage on his property, thus creating a genuine issue as to the true owner of the garage. Finally, Mr. Miller insisted that even if the easement had been extinguished through the doctrine of merger, it was revived when reference to the easement was contained in subsequent deeds to the properties and that, in any event, he was entitled to a finding of a prescriptive easement for use of the garage. Both parties moved for summary judgment.

         After considering written memoranda submitted by the parties, the circuit court concluded that there were no genuine issues of material fact and that Ms. Skiles was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The court was persuaded that the easement was extinguished when Ms. Webb obtained common ownership of what is now the Skiles and Miller properties under the doctrine of merger. Citing Sievers v. Flynn, 305 Ky. 325, 204 S.W.2d 364 (1947), the court noted the rationale underpinning the merger doctrine: "the reason one may not have an easement in his own land is that an easement merges with the title, and while both are under the same ownership the easement does not constitute a separate estate." Id., 204 S.W.2d at 366. Of particular pertinence to this appeal, the circuit court also determined that references to the extinguished easement in subsequent conveyances did not revive the extinguished easement.

         Further, the circuit court held that Mr. Miller's failure to maintain and repair the garage, despite his obligation to do so if the easement was valid, evinced an intention to abandon the easement. Stating that Mr. Miller had offered no evidence to controvert Ms. Skiles' showing regarding his evident intention to abandon the easement, the circuit court concluded that the finding of abandonment also precluded the establishment of a prescriptive easement through open and notorious use. This appeal followed.

         As an initial matter, we reiterate the familiar and well-established standard by which appellate courts ...


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