may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Michael S. Hastings, et al., grantees/defendants,
Scott A. Bremer, et al., counterclaimants,
Craig Miner, counterdefendant,
Scott County District Court
File No. 2003-10015
Benjamin R. Skjold, Hellmuth & Johnson, PLLC, 10400 Viking Drive, Suite 500, Eden Prairie, MN 55334 (for appellant)
Christopher E. Morris, O’Neill, Traxler, Zard, Neisen & Morris, LTD., Law Building, 222 East Main Street, P.O. Box 105, New Prague, MN 56071 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge; Peterson, Judge; and Crippen, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
This appeal is from a judgment that permits respondents to use and store boatlifts on an easement on appellant’s lakeshore property. Because the easement only permits respondents to construct and maintain one dock from the shoreline abutting the easement, we reverse the judgment with respect to the use and storage of boatlifts, but we affirm the remaining portions of the judgment.
September 1993, appellant Craig Miner purchased lakeshore property on
Said easement is
granted for the purpose of providing the grantees with a means of access to
The easement was amended by district court orders issued in 1987 and 1997. The 1987 order placed the following restrictions on the easement:
(a) The dock of the fee owners and the dock of the grantees shall be maintained a reasonable distance from each other so as to not interfere with or obstruct the use of or access to each others[’] docks.
(b) No person shall use said easement in any manner so as to obstruct or interfere with the use of the easements by the fee owners and the other grantees in said easement.
(c) The grantees shall not use or permit said easement to be used for storage purposes, except that the grantees may store within the Northeasterly 15 feet of Lot 7 and in a location so as to be screened from view of the residence located upon Lot 7 a trash container during the summer months and the common dock of the grantees during the winter months. No other storage shall be permitted on said easement by or on behalf of the grantees.
The 1997 court order declared that respondents did not have the right to vehicular ingress and egress to the lake under the easement.
Two of the respondents constructed and used boatlifts adjacent to the dock as early as 1993. During the winter months, the dock was stored on the easement property, and the boatlifts were usually stored on the shoreline.
In 2003, appellant filed a complaint, seeking a declaratory judgment that the easement did not permit respondents to place boatlifts on the easement property. Appellant also sought to enjoin respondents from placing boatlifts on the easement and alleged that the boatlifts constituted a nuisance under Minn. Stat. § 561.01 (2004). Appellant’s request for injunctive relief was denied. Respondents filed a counterclaim, seeking a declaration that the easement (1) prohibits appellant from mooring his pontoon boat on the beach; and (2) requires appellant to maintain the easement property. Respondents also claimed that the beached pontoon boat constituted a nuisance. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the district court ultimately denied both motions.
fall 2003, respondents left the boatlifts and the dock in the water, which blocked
snowmobile access to the easement. In
November 2003, appellant again sought injunctive relief. Appellant claimed that the boatlifts made
entering or exiting the lake by snowmobile difficult and dangerous. Appellant also asserted that respondents’ use
of the boatlifts violated
In December 2003, the district court granted appellant’s motion for injunctive relief and ordered respondents to remove the boatlifts from the water and store them off appellant’s property. Respondents did not remove the boatlifts, and appellant brought a motion for contempt. Respondents claimed that they could not remove the boatlifts because they were frozen in the lake.
Following a hearing at which no testimony was taken, the district court concluded that the boatlifts were permitted under the terms of the easement, but respondents violated the easement by leaving the dock and boatlifts in the water. The court also concluded that the easement permits respondents to store the boatlifts on the easement property during the winter months in the same manner as the dock. The district court determined that neither party is entitled to an award of attorney fees and also ordered respondents to comply with the court’s January 26, 2004, order requiring respondents to reimburse appellant $250 for the bond he posted, and as a sanction for failing to pay the $250 in a timely manner, the district court ordered respondents to pay appellant an additional $250. This appeal from the district court’s July 7, 2004, judgment followed.
Appellant argues that the easement does not permit placing boatlifts in the water in the summer months, or storing boatlifts on his property during the winter months. On appeal from a declaratory judgment, we review questions of law de novo and determine whether the district court’s factual findings are clearly erroneous. Rice Lake Contracting Corp. v. Rust Env’t & Infrastructure, Inc., 549 N.W.2d 96, 98-99 (Minn. App. 1996), review denied (Minn. Aug. 20, 1996).
The easement on
appellant’s property was created by an express contractual grant to which
appellant is a successor in interest. “When an easement is by express grant, its
extent depends entirely upon the construction of the terms of the grant. Only when ambiguities exist may the
circumstances surrounding the grant be considered.” Highway 7 Embers, Inc. v. Northwestern
Nat’l Bank, 256 N.W.2d 271, 275 (
The objective of judicial interpretation of disputed provisions of a contract is to ascertain and give effect to the parties’ intention. This, the courts, both trial and appellate in cases such as this, seek to accomplish by placing themselves in the position of the parties at the time the agreement was negotiated and executed and, upon consideration of the agreement as a whole and the plain meaning of the language used, viewed in the light of the surrounding circumstances, endeavoring to arrive at what the parties must have reasonably contemplated.
Ctr. Assocs. v. Midway Ctr., Inc., 306
The determination of whether a contract is ambiguous is a question of law for this court to decide. The determination depends, not upon words or phrases read in isolation, but rather upon the meaning assigned to the words or phrases in accordance with the apparent purpose of the contract as a whole.
Art Goebel, Inc. v. N. Suburban
Agencies, Inc., 567 N.W.2d 511, 515 (
The easement does not specifically address boatlifts. The easement grants respondents “the right to construct and maintain one dock from the shoreline abutting said easement for the purpose of mooring their boats in a manner consistent with the joint use of said dock by all grantees.” The district court determined that whether the easement permits boatlifts depends upon the construction of the term “mooring” and found “mooring” to be an ambiguous term.
In concluding that the easement permits boatlifts, the district court relied upon the language in the easement that grants respondents “the right to use said easements for swimming, boating, snowmobiling, and for such other uses as are customary on such lakeshore property and consistent with the joint use of such easements by others receiving the same.” (Emphasis added.) The district court reasoned that because (1) boatlifts are customary on lakeshore property in general; (2) boatlifts are used by other nearby property owners; and (3) all respondents consented to the use of the boatlifts, their use is consistent with the joint use of the easement by all and permitted under the terms of the easement.
But in reaching this
conclusion, the district court failed to apply the long-established rule of
contract interpretation that “[t]he express enumeration of one instance of many
belonging to the same class impliedly excludes the others.” Egner v. States Realty Co., 223
Appellant also argues that the district court erred in interpreting the easement to permit respondents to store their boatlifts on the easement property in the winter months. We agree. Under the express terms of the easement, respondents may not use the easement for storage purposes, with two exceptions, a trash container may be stored during the summer months, and the common dock may be stored during the winter months. After describing these two permitted storage purposes, the easement explicitly states, “No other storage shall be permitted on said easement by or on behalf of the grantees.” Storing boatlifts is not one of the two permitted storage purposes, and, therefore, it is not permitted, and the district court erred in concluding that respondents could store boatlifts on the easement property during the winter months.
In light of our decision with respect to the interpretation of the easement, we do not address appellant’s other arguments.
We affirm the district court’s determination that no party is entitled to an award of attorney fees and its order requiring respondents to pay appellant $500.
Affirmed in part and reversed in part.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.