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Linthicum v. Butterfield

April 2, 2009; as modified April 8, 2009

MICHAEL RAY LINTHICUM ET AL., PLAINTIFFS, CROSS-DEFENDANTS AND APPELLANTS,
v.
JOHN LOCKE BUTTERFIELD ET AL., DEFENDANTS, CROSS-COMPLAINANTS AND RESPONDENTS;
ROBERT BJORKLUND ET AL., DEFENDANTS, CROSS-COMPLAINANTS AND RESPONDENTS.



(Super. Ct. No. 1130799) (Santa Barbara County) Denise de Bellefeuille, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gilbert, P.J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

When does a trial court properly exercise its discretion to create an equitable easement? This case provides a good example.

Plaintiffs bought a parcel of land on which defendant owners of neighboring parcels used a roadway, the only access to their land. Plaintiffs sought an injunction to prevent defendants from using the roadway. Defendants cross-complained to quiet title to an easement for the roadway. The trial court quieted title to an equitable easement in favor of defendants. We remand for the trial court to specify the width of the roadway easement, reverse an unrelated cause of action regarding a utility easement, and otherwise affirm.

FACTS

This case concerns a large tract of mountainous land located near the Los Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara County. Originally, the entire tract belonged to the United States Government (government).

In 1891, the government patented what would become parcels 2 through 10 to Thomas Bush. The government kept parcel 1. Francis Griswold obtained parcels 2 through 10 in 1943. A public road, San Marcos Road, gave Griswold direct access to his parcels.

Griswold also wanted access to San Marcos Road over a portion of parcel 1. In 1947, he obtained a special use permit (SUP) from the United States Forest Service (Forest Service) to grade a roadway over parcel 1. The SUP provided for a 66 feet wide right-of-way. It allowed a 12 feet wide road over the right-of-way.

Griswold conveyed parcels 2 through 10 to Robert Hyde in 1949. The Forest Service reissued the SUP in Hyde's name.

In 1958, Hyde conveyed parcel 4 to William Tighman, reserving an easement over parcel 4 for ingress and egress to the remainder of parcels 2 through 10.

In 1961, Hyde granted parcels 2 through 8A to Robert Bjorklund (Bjorklund). Included in the conveyance was an easement over parcel 4.

In 1976, Hyde deeded parcels 9 and 10 to Ygnacio Valley Group, Inc. (Ygnacio). The conveyance purported to grant easements over parcels 2 and 8. Hyde, however, had previously conveyed parcels 2 and 3 to Bjorklund.

Ann Bjorklund retained parcel 2, and sold parcels 3 through 8A. John and Elizabeth Butterfield entered into a contract of sale for parcel 6 in 1969 and obtained a grant deed for the parcel in 1974. Michael and Susan Kitahara and Robert and Karin Lynch obtained parcel 7 in 1991. Joseph Sayovitz, Jr., obtained parcels 8 and 8A in 1977 and 1986. Robert and Roxanne Bjorklund (the Bjorklunds) purchased parcels 9 and 10 during the course of this litigation.

The Forest Service retained parcel 1, over which the disputed roadway runs, until 1998 when it conveyed the parcel to Jerrold Jensen in exchange for another parcel.

From the time Hyde purchased his parcels 2 through 10 in 1949, none of the property owners had the SUP reissued in their names.

Sayovitz testified that he purchased his parcel from a Forest Service employee in 1977. There was no access other than the roadway. He believed he had a lawful easement across parcel 1 to San Marcos Road. The Forest Service did not contact Sayovitz about the SUP until 1993. A Forest Service employee told Sayovitz she would send him an application package that he could review with his lawyer. He never received the application nor heard anything further from the Forest Service. He assumed the Forest Service conceded he had a valid right-of-way. Sayovitz testified his property would lose all value without the roadway.

John Butterfield testified he has lived on his parcel since 1969. The roadway over parcel 1 is and has been the only access to his property. He has maintained his access over the roadway for over 35 years. He had no knowledge that the roadway crossed over what had been Forest Service land. Without the roadway, his property would be worthless.

Robert Lynch testified he lived on his parcel from 1979 until the Painted Cove fire in 1990. He believed he had a deeded easement over parcel 1. He never had any contact with the Forest Service. Without the roadway, his property would have no value.

Ann Bjorklund testified she used the roadway over parcel 1 for 55 to 60 years. There is no other way to access her parcel.

Michael Linthicum and Myla Reizen acquired parcel 1 in 2000. Linthicum has lived in the area since 1974. Prior to the purchase of parcel 1, they investigated the Forest Service files and conducted a site view of the parcel.

During the course of the litigation, Linthicum and Reizen obtained a certificate of compliance from the County designating a portion of parcel 1 as a separate parcel. The new parcel is known as parcel 1-A. The dividing line between parcel 1 and parcel 1-A is San Marcos Road, which the county owns in fee. The roadway in contention now runs over parcel 1-A. Linthicum and Reizen continue to own parcels 1 and 1-A.

Patrick Pontes is a former Forest Service district ranger. Pontes testified that, in the view of the Forest Service, the SUP did not terminate when Hyde transferred his property. It is the practice of the Forest Service to ...


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