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Richardson v. Franc

California Court of Appeals, First District, Fourth Division

January 27, 2015

JAMES SCOTT RICHARDSON et al., Plaintiffs and Respondents,
v.
GREG FRANC et al., Defendants and Appellants.

Marin County Super. Ct. No. C1V1005512, Hon. Faye D’Opal Trial Judge.

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COUNSEL

Trombadore Gonden Law Group; David M. Gonden and Donald T. Ramsey for Defendants and Appellants.

Bien & Summers, Elliot L. Bien, Jocelyn S. Sperling, Epstein Law Firm, Robert F. Epstein and Michael B. Lopez for Plaintiffs and Respondents.

OPINION

RUVOLO, P. J.

I.

INTRODUCTION

In order to access their home in Novato, California, James Scott Richardson and Lisa Donetti (respondents) had to traverse land belonging to their neighbors, Greg and Terrie Franc (appellants) on a 150-foot long road which

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was authorized by an easement for “access and public utility purposes.” Over a 20-year period, both respondents and their predecessors-in-interest maintained landscaping, irrigation, and lighting appurtenant to both sides of the road within the easement area without any objection. Six years after purchasing the property burdened by the easement, appellants demanded that respondents remove the landscaping, irrigation, and lighting on the ground that respondents’ rights in the easement area were expressly limited to access and utility purposes, and the landscaping and other improvements exceeded the purpose for which the easement was granted. Respondents brought this lawsuit seeking, among other things, to establish their right to an irrevocable license which would grant them an uninterrupted right to continue to maintain the landscaping and other improvements.

After a bench trial, the trial court ruled––irrespective of the terms of the easement––it would be inequitable to deny respondents an irrevocable license given their substantial investment of time and money on the landscaping and other improvements and appellants’ years of acquiescence. Appellants have filed this appeal, claiming the evidence did not support the granting of an irrevocable license in this case. We disagree, and find the court’s decision was sound, equitable, and supported by substantial evidence.

II.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The relevant facts are stated in the light most favorable to respondents, the prevailing parties below, giving them the benefit of all reasonable inferences. (Howard v. Owens Corning (1999) 72 Cal.App.4th 621, 630-631 [85 Cal.Rptr.2d 386].)

In 1989, Karen and Tom Poksay began building their home on undeveloped property at 2513 Laguna Vista Drive in Novato, California. The project included constructing and landscaping a 150-foot long driveway within the 30-foot wide easement running down to the site of their new home, which was hidden from the street. The driveway was constructed pursuant to an easement over 2515 Laguna Vista Drive, which was then owned by Dan and Jeanne Schaefer. The easement was for access and utility purposes only.

Landscaping along the driveway was important to the Poksays. They “envision[ed] it being natural and beautiful on both sides to be a nice entrance to the home.” They hired a landscaper, who dug holes for plants and trees. Ms. Poksay then added plants and trees along both sides of the

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driveway in the easement area––hawthorn trees, Australian tea trees, daylilies, Mexican sage, breath of heaven, flowering pear trees, and evergreen shrubs.

The landscaper installed a drip irrigation system. It was part of a complex system, including a “major irrigation line” under the driveway, connected to water valve pumps that pumped water to separate drip lines for the individual trees and plants. The lines were operated through a central control box, located behind the house, that regulated a dozen different areas: one on each side of the driveway in the easement area, and the rest on their property. Water fixtures were also installed along the driveway for fire safety. The Poksays also added electrical lighting along the driveway, later replacing the electrical lighting with solar lighting.

During the decade that the Poksays resided at the property Ms. Poksay regularly tended to the landscaped area, including trimming and weeding, ensuring the irrigation system was working properly, and replacing plants and trees as necessary. In addition to Ms. Poskay’s own labor, the Poksays paid their landscaper to perform general maintenance, including checking the irrigation system, replanting, and digging holes for Ms. Poskay to add new plants. The Poksays also incurred water bills and other costs over the decade to maintain and improve the landscaping.

Respondents purchased the property in late 2000. As described by the trial court, after taking an on-site tour of the property, “When Ms. Poksay sold the property to [respondents], the 30’ wide easement was improved with a long sloping 12’ wide driveway that was significantly enhanced by borders on each side adorned with trees, landscaping, irrigation, and lighting. A number of the trees had matured along with the landscaping to a beautiful natural entranceway running almost the entire length of the ...


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