New Case Summary – M.N.V. Holdings v. 200 South


July 9, 2021

Utah Court of Appeals

2021 UT App 76 (Click for full text)

The Utah Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s dismissal of a suit to recognize a prescriptive easement. 

Background:

A developer recently purchased two contiguous parcels of property (“Property”) on the northwest corner of 200 South and State Street, which is occupied by a fast-food restaurant and a parking lot. Just north of these two parcels, M.N.V. Holdings owns two other contiguous parcels of property, occupied by two shops. Because M.N.V.’s shops have insufficient parking space, employees have crossed the Property’s parking lot to get to work, and they have done so daily for at least twenty years. Because the Property lies on a corner, M.N.V. invitees would use one of three routes that cut through the Property’s parking lot. After learning of the developer’s plan to construct a high-rise apartment building on the existing parking lot, M.N.V. filed a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment recognizing a prescriptive easement over the Property. Both parties filed for summary judgment, and the district court found for the developer because it found that MNV could not prove continuous use of all three easement routes through the parking lot. M.N.V. appealed.

Holding:

Focusing its analysis on whether M.N.V. failed to make the requisite showing of continuous use of any particular route for the requisite twenty years, The Utah Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the lower court’s holding. To gain legal recognition of a prescriptive easement in Utah, the claimant must prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that their use of another’s land was (1) open and notorious, (2) continuous, (3) adverse, and (4) for a period of twenty years. The Court of Appeals concluded that the district court inappropriately relied on the precedent set in Lund v. Wilcox, in which an easement route was altered at some point during the twenty years of use, and the deviation destroyed the required continuity to make the route a prescriptive easement. Unlike the claimant in Lund, M.N.V. did not switch routes at any point during the past twenty years and was not trying to “tack” two distinct periods of two separate routes. Looking to persuasive authority from other jurisdictions, the Court held that “the continuity required to establish a prescriptive easement does not entail frequent or constant use. Rather, all that is necessary is that the use be as often as required by the nature of the use and the needs of the claimant.” Accordingly, the Court concluded that “a claimant’s use of multiple distinct routes over the servient estate does not, by itself, operate to defeat the claimant’s ability to meet the ‘continuous’ element of the prescriptive easement.” The lower court erred in dismissing M.N.V.’s claim as a matter of law. The case was reversed and remanded with instructions to engage in the necessary factual inquiry with regard to each of the three routes to establish the continuity requirement for prescriptive easements.