In Helleberg v. Estes, 2020 S.D. 27, a dispute arose between property owners regarding, among other things, the use of an easement road. Helleberg contended that the road crossing her property could only be used by Estes, an adjacent landowner, and developer of the subdivision, for the limited purpose of installing and repairing water lines. Estes, however, claimed that he could use the easement road for any reason.
In determining whether Estes’ use of the easement road was limited in scope, the circuit court interpreted the covenants providing the following access easement to Estes: “The right of access to repair or install the water lines and to build an access road and use said access road over the water line[.]” After a bench trial, the court ruled that Estes only held a limited private easement. The South Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, concluding that the easement is not ambiguous and when reading in the context of the covenants in their entirety, the use of the easement road is clearly limited to purposes related to repairing or installing the water lines.
The Supreme Court also affirmed the circuit court’s conclusion that Estes did not have a prescriptive easement for the road. The circuit court had determined that Estes failed to prove either element of the two-part test for prescriptive easements: 1) that Estes openly used the road for purposes unrelated to the installation and repair of water lines for at least 20 years; and 2) that Estes’ use of the road was hostile or adverse to the property owner. The Supreme Court concluded that based on the record, neither finding by the circuit court was clearly erroneous.
The above South Dakota Supreme Court summary was written by Gunderson, Palmer, Nelson & Ashmore, LLP associate attorney Stacy Hegge. For more information please reach out to Stacy through our website or by calling our Pierre office at (605) 494-0105.