Scope, use and purpose of express easements should be clear and unambiguous

When drafting an express easement to be recorded, it is important to explicitly provide for the scope, use and purpose of such easement. The easement language should be clear and unambiguous so as to avoid potential misinterpretation and disputes. In the recent California appellate case of Arnold J. Schmidt v. Bank of America, 223 CA4th 1489, 168 CR3d 240, 2014 CA Lexis 165, plaintiff (owner of burdened land) commenced an action against the owners of the adjacent benefited land alleging trespasses and nuisances over and under the easement including the improper and unauthorized installation of certain structures and improvements. The language of the easement at issue reads as follows: "RESERVING to the grantor, her successors, assigns and/or heirs, the right of ingress and egress for public road purposes over, along and across the Easterly 40 thereof."

Defendants argued that the phrase "for public road purposes" created a public right-of-way over the reserved easement. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants, but the appellate court reversed such judgments and found that the mere inclusion of the phrase "for public road purposes" does not transform an otherwise private easement into a public right-of-way. In interpreting the easement language, the appellate court found that the benefited land had only a right of ingress and egress through the burdened land "for public road purposes," that is, in order for the owners/occupants of the benefited land to reach a nearby public road.

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