IN COURT OF APPEALS
Terrance R. Magnuson, et al., d/b/a Warroad Marine,
John J. Cossette, d/b/a Spearfish Aviation, Inc.,
Filed January 17, 2006
Affirmed in part and reversed in part
Roseau County District Court
File No. C4-03-263
Michael L. Jorgenson, Charlson & Jorgenson, P.A., 119 West Second Street, P.O. Box 506, Thief River Falls, MN 56701 (for respondents)
Steven A. Nelson,
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge; Randall, Judge; and Dietzen, Judge.
S Y L L A B U S
1. A landowner does not have riparian rights unless the property extends into or abuts the waters of a lake, stream, or river.
2. When interpreting a legal description contained in a deed, the phrase “along the sea wall” is a description of a permanent physical landmark that takes precedence over language expressed in courses and distances in the same description.
O P I N I O N
challenges the district court order and judgment denying his claim for riparian
rights to the
Terrance, Margaret, and Kevin Magnuson own and operate the Warroad Marina on
Prior to 1988, Robert
Anderson, through a limited partnership, was the common owner of the land upon
which both the marina and RV parcels are located.
A six-inch wide corrugated aluminum “sea wall” was constructed to prevent erosion of the shore-line of the marina bay and the north-bank of the east channel. The sea wall commences on the northwest point of the marina bay and follows the general contour of the bay, running approximately 113 feet north-south, and then east-west another 315 feet along the north bank. The sea wall comes within inches of the shoreline, but does not extend into or abut the water.
dredging operations required work in public waters, it was necessary for
Beginning in 1982
In October 1988, respondents
entered into a three-year lease with
The deed for the marina parcel included a metes and bounds description of the marina, and referred to certain landmarks in describing its boundaries. The description of the northern border of the marina parcel, in pertinent part, reads:
Beginning at the Northwest Corner of said Lot One (1) . . . thence South 88 degrees, 36 minutes, 51 seconds East 55.67 feet to an iron pipe monument; thence South 88 degrees, 36 minutes, 51 seconds East, 55.67 feet to an iron pipe monument on the Westerly line of an existing steel wall . . . thence South 88 degrees, 42 minutes, 45 seconds East along said wall 314.56 feet . . . .
Respondents continued the maintenance of the marina, including dredging operations of the marina bay and east channel every year after their lease began in October 1988. Respondents dredged the marina bay and east channel, placed the dredge spoils on the north-bank of the north parcel, and transported the dredge spoils over the haul road to an upland area in accordance with the COE and DNR permits.
The RV Property
commencement of operations of the Warroad Marina,
The legal description in the RV parcel deed uses the identical language to describe its south boundary as is used to describe the northern boundary of the marina parcel. The legal descriptions for both parcels were prepared by the same surveyor, who did not prepare a new legal description, but used the information obtained from the previous marina parcel survey.
purchased the RV parcel, he believed that he had riparian rights to use the marina
bay and the east channel to access
In 2002, appellant parked his boat in the marina bay along the sea wall south of the RV parcel. When respondents asked appellant to move his boat, he refused, claiming he had riparian rights.
In the spring of 2003, appellant attempted to block respondents’ use of the haul road by having a sheriff stop them from moving equipment across the road. Respondents filed a complaint seeking an injunction to prohibit appellant from parking his boat in the marina bay, and for compensation of unpaid slip fees. Respondents also sought and obtained a temporary court order allowing them to continue using the haul road. Respondents amended their complaint asserting that they had easement rights to use the haul road. Appellant counterclaimed alleging, inter alia, that he had riparian rights to the marina and seeking to prevent respondents from continuing to use the haul road.
At the bench
trial, both Anderson and respondents testified that it was the intention of the
parties that respondents would acquire the sea wall as part of the acquisition
of the marina parcel. The surveyor who
drafted the deed testified that he intended that the description of the sea
wall had priority over the courses and distances language in the legal
Following trial, the district court ruled in favor of respondents, concluding that: (1) respondents have both a prescriptive easement and an easement by implication of necessity across the haul road running through the RV parcel; (2) respondents own the marina including the sea walls and embankments of the harbor and channel bordering the water; (3) appellant’s RV parcel does not include the sea walls or embankments of the marina harbor or channel; and (4) appellant trespassed onto respondents’ marina property by storing his boat in the marina water. The district court entered judgment in favor of respondents and against appellant for the trespass. This appeal follows.
I. Did the district court err in concluding that appellant is not entitled to riparian rights?
II. Did the district court err in concluding that respondents are entitled to an easement by prescription and easement by necessity?
On appeal, appellant
contends that he has riparian rights and that respondents do not have an
easement across his RV parcel. “The standard of review on appeal from a civil
judgment is whether the evidence sustains the findings and whether the findings
support the conclusions.”
that he has riparian rights to the marina bay because the courses and distances
language in his deed create a southern boundary that extends into the marina bay. Respondents contend that appellant does not
have riparian rights because the deed description refers to a fixed object, the
sea wall, and the boundary to appellant’s property only goes as far as the sea
wall. Riparian rights are the rights to reasonably use the surface of waters
abutting a parcel of real property. Johnson v. Seifert, 257
Appellant’s claim of
riparian rights turns on whether his property ownership set forth in the deed
extends to the waters of the marina bay.
We discern the meaning of a writing, such as a deed, by looking at its
language. See In re Application of
Here, the legal description in the deeds for the marina
and RV parcels reference the property boundaries as running “to an iron pipe
monument on the
Appellant, citing City of North Mankato v. Carlstrom, 212
Our conclusion is also consistent with caselaw
that requires us to consider the intent of the grantor. “In the last analysis, the call
adopted as the superior and controlling one should be that which is most
consistent with the apparent intent of the grantor.” Dittrich
v. Ubl, 216
Appellant contends that the district court incorrectly concluded that his property is burdened by an easement for a haul road that benefits respondents’ property for the purpose of conducting dredging operations of the marina bay and east channel. The district court concluded that respondents’ property was benefited by an easement by prescription and necessity across the RV parcel.
Easement by Prescription
that the facts are insufficient to support the district court’s conclusion that
a prescriptive easement existed because the requisite 15-year time requirement
was not met. A prescriptive easement grants a right to use the
property of another based on prior continuous use by a party. See Romans v. Nadler, 217
Here, the district court found that respondents’ use of the haul road commenced in October 1988, when they first leased the marina; respondents have continued to use the haul road until appellant blocked it in the spring of 2003. Because the 15-year time period was not met, we conclude that the requirements for a prescriptive easement have not been met.
Easement by Necessity
Respondents contend that appellant’s property
should be burdened by an easement implied by necessity. An easement implied by necessity is created
when “(1) [there is] a separation of title; (2) the use of which gives rise to
the easement shall have been
so long continued and apparent as to show that it was intended to be permanent;
and (3) that the easement is
necessary to the beneficial enjoyment of the land granted.” Romanchuk v. Plotkin, 215
To be “necessary,” an easement must be more than a mere convenience. Clark v. Galaxy Apartments, 427 N.W.2d
723, 727 (
Appellant argues that the easement was
unnecessary because the facts establish that the north bank of the east channel
can be accessed across land presently owned by Anderson, the original grantor,
or by water during the summer and by ice during the winter. But the question is not whether there are
hypothetical alternative routes available; it is whether the haul road was
reasonably necessary. See
Appellant further argues that the easement was
not known or apparent when he purchased the RV parcel in 2000. But we consider the use giving rise to an
easement by implication of necessity at the time of the severance. Niehaus v. City of Litchfield, 529 N.W.2d 410, 412 (Minn. App.
1995); see also Rosendahl, 408 N.W.2d at 611 (Minn. App. 1987); Kleis v. Johnson, 354 N.W.2d 609, 611 (
Here, the severance in title did not occur in 2000 when appellant entered into a contract for deed to purchase the RV parcel. Instead, the severance of title occurred in 1991, when respondents purchased the marina and related parcels. The district court found that the haul road was used by the grantor beginning in 1982 and was apparent and obvious, and intended to be permanent at the time of severance. The record reasonably supports the findings of the district court.
Appellant argues that because the easement for
the haul road provides no reciprocal benefits to appellant’s property, i.e., no
riparian rights, respondents are not entitled to an easement by necessity. Although an implied easement is an equitable
doctrine, the elements for an easement by necessity do not include a
reciprocal, separate benefit to the servient property. See Romanchuk, 215
Appellant further argues that his property
should not be burdened by an easement by necessity because respondents did not
join adjacent property owners in this suit to establish whether alternative
easements were practical. In Nunnelee v. Schuna, this court upheld
the district court’s denial of an easement by necessity where the claimant
failed to join in the action parties that were “necessary for a fair and
complete resolution of the plaintiffs’ claim for an easement by necessity.” 431 N.W.2d 144, 148 (
argues that as a good-faith purchaser for value, his land should not be subject
to an easement by necessity. Appellant
suggests that respondents’ failure to record the easement relieves his property
from the easement. But notice is not a requirement for an easement implied by
necessity. See Romanchuk, 215
D E C I S I O N
Because physical landmarks prevail over courses and distances in the legal description in a deed, appellant’s property does not extend into the waters and, hence, appellant does not have riparian rights to the marina bay. Further, the record supports the district court’s determination that respondents’ property includes an easement by implication of necessity for purposes of using the haul road for its dredging operations of the marina bay and east channel in accordance with the COE and DNR permits.
Affirmed in part and reversed in part.
 The marina property is presently owned by respondents, and the RV parcel is owned by appellant.