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Ryan v. Ray

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

August 21, 2018

WILLIAM FRANCES RYAN AND PAMELA REYNOLDS RYAN APPELLANTS
v.
DAVID RAY AND NANCY RAY APPELLEES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 02/09/2017

          HANCOCK COUNTY CHANCERY COURT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. JENNIFER T. SCHLOEGEL JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANTS: PATRICK W. KIRBY

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: DONALD ALAN WINDHAM MATTHEW WARD MCDADE

          BEFORE LEE, C.J., BARNES AND WESTBROOKS, JJ.

          LEE, C. JUDGE

         ¶1. This appeal arises from a dispute between adjoining landowners, William and Pamela Ryan, and David and Nancy Ray, concerning an easement created in 1995-prior to their interest or ownership in the properties at issue. We must determine whether the chancellor erred when she (1) found that the deed granting the easement was ambiguous and (2) resolved the ambiguity in favor of the Rays, finding a perpetual easement for ingress and egress over the Ryans' property. We affirm these findings as set forth below.

         FACTS

         ¶2. In 2011, the Ryans purchased their beachfront property in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, via a warranty deed from David and Mary Baria. The warranty deed specified that the conveyance was made subject to a "reserved easement for Ingress and Egress, on, over and across the following described property," referencing a driveway alongside their property next to an adjacent rear lot owned by the Rays. The Rays had purchased their property in 2003 via a warranty deed which conveyed rights to the easement driveway over the adjacent front lot now owned by the Ryans. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Rays' residence situated on their property. Subsequently, the Rays moved out of Mississippi but retained ownership of the lot and continued use of the driveway as needed for lawn care and other routine maintenance on the property.

         ¶3. Sometime in 2013, the Rays listed their property for sale. The Ryans, having built a home on their property since purchasing it in 2011, noticed the real estate sign on the adjacent back lot, purporting to offer for sale a portion of the Ryans' property. The Ryans had a title examination performed on their property which revealed an easement reserved in a 1995 warranty deed through their parcel for access to the adjacent back lot owned by the Rays. The 1995 warranty deed specifically "retain[ed] an easement for the purposes of ingress and egress on, over and across the above mentioned property to be used only for access to the chapel." The "chapel" was a colloquial term referencing a building that had been situated on a once larger, common parcel, which encompassed both the Ryan and the Ray properties and contained numerous structures. At all times since the 1995 warranty deed, the "chapel" building was used as a residence-not as a chapel used for religious services of any kind. The "chapel" residence was present when the Rays purchased their property in 2003 and was used as the Rays' home until it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

         ¶4. Both the Ray property and the Ryan property originated from a once single parcel owned by the Kingsley House and New Orleans Day Nursery, a New Orleans charity. In 1993, Edwin and Joy Hyde acquired the property by warranty deed. Accompanying the warranty deed to the Hydes was a survey that showed a number of structures on the property, including the "Old House," "Chapel," and multiple "Camp" and "Bath" houses. In 1995, the Hydes separated the property, conveying a beachfront parcel (the Ryan property) to N.B. and Audrey Tournillon. It was at this time that the Hydes created the 1995 easement "for the purposes of ingress and egress on, over and across the above-mentioned property to be used only for access to the chapel . . . ." When the Hydes created this easement, the building referred to as the "chapel" was actually used as a residence and not as a chapel for religious services. In fact, at no time since the 1995 warranty deed was the "chapel" ever used for any religious ceremonies, and at all relevant times it was used as a residence.

         ¶5. In 1997, the Hydes further subdivided the property and conveyed the property now owned by the Rays to Curtis Johnson via warranty deed. This deed conveyed to Johnson "an easement for ingress and egress, over and across the following described land . . . ." The easement in the 1997 warranty deed described the same property (the Ryan property) as described in the 1995 warranty deed. In 2003, Johnson conveyed the property to the Rays via warranty deed. This 2003 warranty deed purported to convey a fee simple interest in the property previously described as an easement in both the 1995 and 1997 warranty deeds.

         ¶6. Following the title examination which revealed the 1995 easement, the Ryans placed two physical barriers to block the driveway: one at the beginning of the Ryans' driveway (which they opened as needed only for their own use) and the other at the back of the driveway adjacent to the Rays' lot. The Ryans then filed a complaint to remove any cloud of title, arguing that the 2003 warranty deed from Johnson to the Rays attempted to convey a driveway used to access the Rays' property and that the driveway portion of land was actually an easement which had previously terminated when the chapel was destroyed. Additionally, the Ryans sought injunctive relief to prohibit the Rays or their agents from advertising marketable title to the portion of land in question. The Rays responded asserting a counterclaim for a declaratory judgment that a perpetual easement for ingress and egress had been created by one of the deeds, or in the alternative, that they had established an easement by prescription.

         ¶7. Following a trial, the chancellor found that the 1995 warranty deed containing the express easement contained a latent ambiguity because of its use of the term "chapel." The chancellor went on to resolve the ambiguity and further found that the easement was created with the intent to establish a perpetual easement for ingress and egress onto the Ray property. The chancellor also made ...


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