may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Daniel J. Guzzetta, et al.,
Margaret M. Mudek,
Filed January 5, 1999
Ramsey County District Court
File No. C3-97-8825
Julian Hook, 3601 Park Center Blvd., Ste. 134, St. Louis Park, MN 55416 (for respondents)
Luke M. Seifert, Dyan J. Ebert, Quinlivan & Hughes, P.A., 400 South First St., P.O. Box 1008, St. Cloud, MN 56302 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Short, Judge, and Foley, Judge.
Appellant challenges the district court's summary judgment award in this action in which respondents alleged that appellant violated an easement agreement by erecting a gate across the easement. Appellant also challenges the district court's directive to remove the gate. We affirm.
Appellant Margaret Mudek and respondents Daniel and Rita Guzzetta own adjoining residential property in St. Paul. Prior to either party's purchase of the property, the former owners of Guzzettas' property obtained a perpetual easement across the property currently owned by Mudek. The easement agreement created a right-of-way for foot and vehicle traffic and states in part:
2. Said easement or right-of-way, which is designed to serve all of said tracts, shall be for the common use, for foot and vehicle travel, as a means of ingress and egress and other lawful purposes, and shall be for the common benefit of the present and future owners of said tracts, respectively, and their and each of their contract vendees, tenants, invitees, and licensees.
* * * *
4. Said easement or right-of-way shall at all times be kept open and free from obstructions so that the same may be used in common for the purposes contemplated, and none of the parties hereto * * * shall cause or permit anything to be
done whereby the common use of said easement or right-of-way shall be prevented or interfered with.
In May 1997, Mudek installed a fence on her property and a wrought iron gate across the portion of her property subject to the easement. The gate latches but does not lock. Mudek stated in her interrogatory responses and during her deposition that she installed the fence and the gate because (1) people use the easement as a thoroughfare; (2) trespassers come onto her property; and (3) she has a dog.
The Guzzettas commenced this action against Mudek, asserting that the gate violated the easement appurtenant to the Guzzettas' property. Mudek moved for summary judgment, and the Guzzettas moved for partial summary judgment. The district court granted the Guzzettas' motion, ordered Mudek to remove the gate, and enjoined Mudek from obstructing the easement in the future.
Mudek asserts that, as a matter of law, the gate does not violate the easement agreement. The parties agree there is no material factual dispute on this issue. We review questions of law de novo. Christensen v. Eggen, 577 N.W.2d 221, 224 (Minn. 1998).
An easement is an interest in land owned by another; it entitles the grantee to limited use or enjoyment of the land. Scherger v. Northern Natural Gas Co., 575 N.W.2d 578, 580 (Minn. 1998). "[T]he extent of an easement should not be enlarged by legal construction beyond the objects originally contemplated or expressly agreed upon by the parties." Minneapolis Athletic Club v. Cohler, 287 Minn. 254, 258, 177 N.W.2d 786, 789-90 (1970) (citations omitted). An easement's extent is entirely dependent on the construction of the easement agreement's terms. Scherger, 575 N.W.2d at 580.
When the terms of an easement grant are unclear, extrinsic evidence may be used to aid in the interpretation of the easement grant; however, when the language granting the easement is clear and unambiguous, the court's power to determine the extent of the easement granted is limited.
Id. (quoting Bergh & Misson Farms, Inc. v. Great Lakes Transmission Co., 565 N.W.2d 23, 26 (Minn. 1997) (citation omitted)). Easements generally should be strictly construed against the grantor. Id.
The easement's terms in this case are clear and unambiguous. The easement agreement states that the easement "shall at all times be kept open and free from obstructions." The agreement contains no language limiting the definition of obstruction to unreasonable obstructions. Mudek, herself, concedes in her brief that the gate may be "an inconvenience."
Mudek cites Minneapolis Athletic Club, 287 Minn. at 259, 177 N.W.2d at 790 and Romans v. Nadler, 217 Minn. 174, 14 N.W.2d 482 (1944) in support of her position that the gate did not constitute an obstruction. In Minneapolis Athletic Club, the supreme court determined that a landowner could build a skywalk over an alley subject to an easement because the skywalk would not interfere with the easement. 287 Minn. at 259, 177 N.W.2d at 790. The court stated:
Generally, the grant of an easement over land does not preclude the grantor from using the land in a manner not unreasonably interfering with the special use for which the easement was acquired.
Id. at 258, 177 N.W.2d at 789. In Romans, the supreme court determined that plaintiffs had acquired an easement by prescription over a portion of defendant's land on which plaintiffs' house and garage eaves and gutters encroached. 217 Minn. at 183, 14 N.W.2d at 487. The court determined that defendants were not required to remove their fence under the eaves and gutters because plaintiffs had obtained an easement only for the eaves and gutters. Id. at 182-83, 14 N.W.2d at 487.
Here, in contrast to both Romans and Minneapolis Athletic Club, the gate directly interfered with the Guzzettas' easement for foot or vehicle traffic across Mudek's property. In Minneapolis Athletic Club, the placement of a skywalk over the plaintiff's easement in no way interrupted the free flow of traffic across the easement. In Romans, the plaintiffs' easement permitted only their gutters and eaves to encroach upon defendants' property and, thus, the fence did not interfere with the plaintiffs' easement. Further, the easement in Romans was prescriptive. Romans and Minneapolis Athletic Club are, therefore, distinguishable from this case.
Mudek also cites several cases from other jurisdictions in support of her contention that the gate did not obstruct the Guzzettas' easement. We need not address these cases, as the easement agreement here is "clear and unambiguous." See Bergh & Misson Farms, Inc., 565 N.W.2d at 26 (court's power to determine easement's extent limited where language granting easement is "clear and unambiguous").
Because the gate violates the specific terms of the easement agreement, the district court did not err in granting the Guzzettas summary judgment and ordering Mudek to remove the gate.
In their brief, the Guzzettas request $500 "for their costs incurred in this [a]ppeal." Although unclear from their brief whether they are requesting costs and disbursements under Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 139.03 or attorney fees under Minn. Stat. § 549.211 (Supp. 1997), counsel indicated at oral argument that they are seeking attorney fees. They provide no further explanation, or support, for this request. The Guzzettas have failed to make a proper motion for fees pursuant to the statute, and we therefore deny their request. See Lucio v. School Bd. of Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 625, 574 N.W.2d 737, 743 (Minn. App. 1998) (denying attorney fees request for failure to make proper motion under Minn. Stat. § 549.211, subd. 4), review denied (Minn. Apr. 30, 1998).
Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by apointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.