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Hinrichs v. Melton

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Sixth Division

May 3, 2017

LESLIE WITHERSPOON HINRICHS, Plaintiff, Cross-defendant and Appellant,
v.
GEORGE R. MELTON, as Trustee, etc., et al., Defendants, Cross-complainants and Appellants

          Superior Court of Ventura County, No. 56-2011-00395805, Rebecca S. Riley, Judge.

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         COUNSEL

         Osborne Law Firm and Brian A. Osborne for Plaintiff, Cross-defendant and Appellant Leslie Witherspoon Hinrichs.

         Jones & Lester, Paul R. Huff; Fell, Marking, Abkin, Montgomery, Granet & Raney and Craig S. Granet for Defendants, Cross-complainants and Appellants George R. Melton and Margaret Ann Melton, Trustees of the Melton California Trust dated July 1, 2003.

         Jones & Lester and Paul R. Huff for Defendant, Cross-complainant and Appellant the Eugenijus Valiulis Revocable Living Trust dated October 2, 2012.

         Fidelity National Law Group and Raymond Perez, Jr., for Defendant, Cross-complainant and Appellant Asquith Family Limited Partnership.

         Opinion by Gilbert, P. J., with Yegan, J., and Tangeman, J., concurring.

          OPINION

          [218 Cal.Rptr.3d 16] GILBERT, P. J.

          How does a landowner whose parcel is landlocked gain access to the property? In Linthicum v. Butterfield (2009) 175 Cal.App.4th 259 [95 Cal.Rptr.3d 538] ( Linthicum ), we held that the trial court may grant the landowner an equitable easement over a neighboring property. In Linthicum, the party to whom an equitable easement was granted had been using a road on neighboring property for several decades. Here we hold, among other things, the court may grant an equitable easement without there being a preexisting use by the landowner seeking the easement.

         Plaintiff, the owner of a landlocked parcel of land, brought an action against the owners of three neighboring parcels seeking to establish easements for access to his parcel. The trial court established access by finding an easement by necessity over one parcel and a connecting equitable easement over another parcel. The court found no easement over the third parcel. The

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owners of the parcels over which the court found easements appeal. Plaintiff, dissatisfied with the route chosen by the court, also appeals. We affirm.

         FACTS[1]

         In 1993, Leslie Witherspoon Hinrichs inherited two contiguous parcels of real property from his mother. The southern parcel is improved with a residence. The northern parcel is unimproved. It contains a rocky ridge running east and west along most of the parcel. In determining an access route to this parcel, one must consider the difficulties imposed by the ridge. When he was growing up, Hinrichs lived in the residence on the southern parcel, but has lived in Alaska since the 1980's. In 1999, Hinrichs sold the southern parcel to the Asquith Family Limited Partnership (Asquith). The conveyance left the northern parcel landlocked.

         A parcel owned by George R. and Margaret Melton lies to the north and east of the northeast corner of the Hinrichs parcel.

         Eugenijus Valiulis is a trustee of a living trust that owns a parcel to the east of the other three parcels. The Valiulis parcel is contiguous with the eastern boundaries of the Asquith and Melton parcels, but is separated from the Hinrichs parcel by the eastern portion of the Melton parcel.

         All of the parcels are approximately 20 to 30 acres and are in a rural setting. No parcel has direct access to a public road. The closest public road is Thacher Road, lying to the south of the parcels and separated from the parcels by private property. Thacher Road runs east and west.

         The parties gain access to their parcels from Thacher Road through Ladera Road, a private road running northerly from Thacher Road. Ladera Road runs northerly into the Valiulis parcel where it divides. Ladera Ridge Road runs easterly from Ladera Road through the southern portion of the Asquith parcel. Hermitage Road runs northerly from Ladera Road through a portion of the Valiulis parcel, then bends northwesterly running through the Melton parcel and intercepting the northeast tip of the Hinrichs parcel.

         Asquith, the Meltons and Valiulis do not contest Hinrichs's right to use Ladera and Ladera Ridge Roads. But the Meltons and [218 Cal.Rptr.3d 17] Valiulis denied Hinrichs right of access over any other portion of their parcels.

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         The Trail

         Hinrichs's complaint sought an easement over what he characterizes as the " historic trail." He claims the trail was documented in a federal survey map as far back as 1868.

         The trail runs from the eastern edge of Hinrichs's parcel through the southwest corner of the Melton parcel, across the northeast portion of the Asquith parcel and into the eastern portion of the Valiulis parcel where it connects with Ladera Ridge Road. Hinrichs reserved an easement over the Asquith parcel in the 1999 deed. The easement was intended to connect with the trail as it passed over the Melton and Valiulis parcels, but Hinrichs had no easement over those parcels.

         The trail is an unpaved path. The last time Hinrichs drove the trail in a motor vehicle all the way to his property was in 1994. Prior to that, he drove the trail in 1993. The last time he attempted to drive the trail in a motor vehicle was in 2002. He stopped after only 50 feet because the trail was so overgrown he did not want the vegetation to scratch his car.

         At the time Valiulis purchased his parcel in 2003, there were boulders blocking the trail as it entered his property from Ladera Ridge Road. In 2004 or 2005, Valiulis added more boulders to block the entrance to the trail. He used heavy equipment to place the boulders and added a barbed wire fence at the entrance to the trail. Valiulis testified he intended to prevent everyone from using the trail.

         In 2006, Hinrichs sued Valiulis for access over a portion of the trail on Valiulis's parcel. Hinrichs dismissed the action after the trial court denied his request for a preliminary injunction.

         Hermitage Road

         Hinrichs's original complaint sought an easement over the trail. During discovery, however, Hinrichs learned that Hermitage Road intersects with the northeast corner of his parcel. He amended his complaint to allege Hermitage Road as a possible easement. Hermitage Road is a private improved road that runs through the Valiulis parcel, then the Melton parcel north of the trail, before it intersects with the northeast corner of Hinrichs's parcel. Hinrichs's complaint describes Hermitage Road as the " best access route."

         Statement of Decision

         The trial court rejected Hinrichs's claim of an easement by prescription or as appurtenant to a federal patent over the historic trail. The court found that

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if Hinrichs ever had an easement over the trail as it crosses the Valiulis parcel, it has been extinguished by adverse possession.

         The trial court granted Hinrichs an easement by necessity over the Asquith parcel. Most of the easement is over an existing driveway that runs northerly from Ladera Ridge Road. A roadway over a relatively short area north of a parking lot on the Asquith parcel has to be ...


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