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    Title Insurance Client Alert – Virginia Circuit Court Issues Recent Opinion on Permissible Parking on an Easement on a Subdivision Road

    By James L. Windsor, Real Estate Claims & Title Insurance Solutions

    Recently, the Circuit Court of the County of Gloucester, Virginia resolved a neighborhood dispute regarding the permissible use of an easement on a road in a subdivision. Judge Jeffrey W. Shaw’s opinion in Bowles v. Coates, Case Number CL16000322-00, is of interest not only because of the subject with which it deals, but also the depth of its analysis, which may be helpful in future cases.

    Plaintiffs David and Abigail Bowles (“Plaintiffs”) obtained their property by a deed which conveyed to them their lot “together with all rights-of-way and appurtenances thereunto belonging”, and referenced a plat. The plat identified two purported roads, “40 FT Snug Harbor Drive” and “50 FT. ‘G’ Road”. On the plat, the roads were shown as a separate parcel shaped like an “L” which was separate from the lots (the “Road Parcel”). One leg of the Road Parcel was Snug Harbor Drive, which ran North-South. The other leg of the Road Parcel was G Road, which ran East-West, perpendicular to and joining State Route 707, now called Yacht Club Road.

    Defendants James and Cheri Coates (“Defendants”) obtained their property by a deed which attached a plat which referred to the same two purported roads. Defendants had a gravel drive (the “Gravel Drive”) at the rear of their property leading to Snug Harbor Drive. Shortly after Plaintiffs filed their initial Complaint, Defendants purchased the Road Parcel from the heirs of the original subdivision developer and recorded the quitclaim deed.

    Plaintiffs claimed that Defendants had no right to use Snug Harbor Drive. Further, they claimed that Defendants were interfering with their right to use Snug Harbor Drive by demanding that they move vehicles parked on Snug Harbor Drive and harassing them. Defendants counterclaimed that Plaintiffs had no right to park on Snug Harbor Drive and by doing so had interfered with their access to their property. By an Order entered September 24, 2020, the Court granted partial summary judgment in favor of Defendants, finding that they were the lawful owners of Snug Harbor Drive, subject to all rights of way and easements, and that Plaintiffs had an easement of right of way over Snug Harbor Drive.

    Disputes over parking persisted between the parties, so the issue before the Court became the permissible uses of the easement over Snug Harbor Drive. As a threshold matter, the Court determined that the easement was a “private easement”, because it was acquired by the purchaser of a subdivision lot under a recorded plat,[1] rather than an express easement. Burdette v. Brush Mountain Estates, LLC, 278 Va. 286, 682 S.E.2d 549 (2009). The Court next determined that the purpose of Snug Harbor Drive was to give lot owners access to the public highway. By analyzing in-depth the relevant authorities, the Court determined that, to some extent, parking on Snug Harbor Drive was permitted, but not unlimited. The Court stated that a common theme in cases dealing with the permitted uses of an easement is the question of whether the use is reasonable, which requires a balancing of the benefits to the dominant estate against the burden on the servient estate. The Court found that a “reasonable use balancing test” was compelled in this case.

    Defendants introduced photographic evidence of multiple instances of the blocking of the Gravel Drive attributable to Plaintiffs and argued that this blocking interfered with access to their property and their ability to move their boat from their property to the public highway. The Court found this evidence persuasive and ruled that none of the uses documented in the photographs were reasonable. The Court clarified that occasional parking by Plaintiffs, their guests, or contractors was allowed for short periods of time, provided that it did not block Defendants’ access to their property. The Court denied Plaintiffs’ request for injunctive relief and granted Defendants’ request for injunctive relief in part, and denied it in part. The Court enjoined Plaintiffs from parking on Snug Harbor Drive unless such parking was reasonable, as defined in the opinion.

    A copy of the Court’s opinion and Order are available.

    Jim Windsor would like to express his appreciation to Breckenridge Ingles with Martin, Ingles & Hensley, Ltd. in Gloucester, Virginia for sharing this significant, well-reasoned opinion. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this opinion, or title and real property issues in general, please contact Jim at (757) 873.6308 or jlwindsor@kaufcan.com.

    [1] Some courts refer to this as an “implied easement.”


    The contents of this publication are intended for general information only and should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on specific facts and circumstances. Copyright 2022.