This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Dale Michel, et al.,
James Lambrecht, et al.,
Olmsted County District Court
File No. C9-03-1687
Douglas A. Boese, Kari C. Stonelake-Hopkins, Dunlap & Seeger, P.A., 206 South Broadway, Suite 505, P.O. Box 549, Rochester, MN 55903-0549 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge; Toussaint, Chief Judge; and Schumacher, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge
This appeal challenges a judgment granting respondents a prescriptive easement, damages, and injunctive relief. Appellants maintain the record does not contain sufficient evidence supporting the district court’s determinations that (1) respondents have a prescriptive easement in the south drive; (2) appellants cannot claim adverse possession in the south drive; (3) respondents are entitled to damages of $904.20; (4) respondents may improve the north easement at their discretion; and (5) appellants are not entitled to damages. Because we conclude the record contains sufficient evidence supporting the district court’s findings, we affirm.
D E C I S I O N
“Findings of fact, whether based on oral or documentary evidence, shall not be set aside unless clearly erroneous, and due regard shall be given to the opportunity of the trial court to judge the credibility of the witnesses.” Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01. “In applying this rule, we view the record in the light most favorable to the judgment of the district court.” Rogers v. Moore, 603 N.W.2d 650, 656 (Minn. 1999). “If there is reasonable evidence to support the district court’s findings, we will not disturb them.” Id.
Respondents’ family has owned and farmed a landlocked parcel since 1950. It is surrounded by appellants’ property. In addition to accessing their property by a legal easement from the north (north easement), respondents also access their property by traveling across the southern-most portion of appellant’s adjacent property (south drive). The north easement is properly recorded in relation to both appellants’ and respondents’ properties. At issue is whether respondents acquired a prescriptive easement in the south drive.
A prescriptive easement is based on prior continuous use and grants a right to use the property of another. See Romans v. Nadler, 217 Minn. 174, 180-81, 14 N.W.2d 482, 486-87 (1944) (holding same elements required to prove prescriptive easement and adverse possession). To establish a prescriptive easement the property must have been used in an actual, open, continuous, exclusive, and hostile manner for at least 15 years. Rogers, 603 N.W.2d at 657; Minn. Stat. § 541.02 (2002) (stating adverse possession claim cannot be made until after 15 years of possession). To succeed with a prescriptive easement claim, the individual claiming title against the legal owner must prove these elements by clear and convincing evidence. See Ehle v. Prosser, 293 Minn. 183, 189, 197 N.W.2d 458, 462 (1972)(setting out elements for adverse possession claim); Rogers, 603 N.W.2d at 657.
Respondents claim a prescriptive easement based solely on their farming actions and the actions of those under their direction. It is undisputed that respondents have actually used the south drive to access their property since at least 1957. Respondents, their renters, and their employees have accessed their property four to five times a year via the south drive since their family acquired the property in 1950. Their use was patently open as respondents used large farming vehicles and equipment when accessing their property via the south drive. Because the planting, maintenance, and harvesting of various crops was done annually, the south drive was respondents ingress and egress on four or five occasions each year. This use was consistent with the act of farming and is sufficient to constitute continuous use. See Rogers, 603 N.W.2d at 657 (“[C]ontinuity of use will vary depending on the type of use, and accordingly the court should not view continuity of use in the context of a prescriptive easement as strictly as in the context of adverse possession.”); see also Block v. Sexton, 577 N.W.2d 521, 523-25 (Minn. App. 1998) (granting prescriptive easement based on use of farm road several times per month during summer months). The longtime actions of respondents and their assigns clearly establish sufficient exclusivity. Finally, there is insufficient evidence in the record suggesting respondents received permission at any time as to make their use of the south drive permissive. This evidence supports the district court’s findings and conclusion that respondent’s acquired a prescriptive easement to the south drive.
To succeed with an adverse possession claim, the individual claiming title against the legal owner must show by clear and convincing evidence an actual, open, hostile, continuous, and exclusive possession of the property for the requisite period. Ehle, 293 Minn. at 189, 197 N.W.2d at 462. Here, appellants base their adverse possession claim on the continued farming of the south drive at issue in this case. But there is no dispute that appellants own the south drive, and, therefore, appellants cannot claim adverse possession of their own land.
“We apply an abuse-of-discretion” standard of review when analyzing a district court’s award of damages.” Robert W. Carlstrom Co. v. German Evangelical Lutheran St. Paul’s Congregation, 662 N.W.2d 168, 173 (Minn. App. 2003).
The district court concluded appellants are liable for the $904.20 paid by respondents for improvements to the north easement. The award is based on evidence showing that respondents deposited 24 yards of rock at a cost $169.20, and 70 yards of dirt at a cost of $735, to improve the north easement. Because appellant James Lambrecht admitted moving the dirt, and other evidence showed the rocks were also removed, causing the north easement to be unusable for respondents’ purposes, the district court properly exercised its discretion in awarding respondents damages.
Appellants contend their combine was damaged when it struck a rock deposited on their property by respondents’ employees and claim respondents damaged a fence. Because the record does not support appellant’s claim of negligence the district court’s findings are not clearly erroneous.