Phillips & Jordan Investment Corp. v. Greun Madainn, Inc. (Lawyers Weekly No. 11-16-0243, 8 pp.) (Cheri Beasley, J.) Appealed from the Graham County Superior Court. (James U. Downs, J.) N.C. App. Unpub. Click here for the full text of the opinion.
Holding: Defendant landowner that alleged it had extinguished the adjoining property owner’s easement and right of way through adverse possession properly had its motion for directed verdict denied since there was conflicting evidence regarding disputed facts.
We affirm the denial of the defendant’s motion for directed verdict.
Plaintiffs and defendant own adjoining parcels of real property. By agreement dated March 31, 1976, defendants granted plaintiffs an express easement across defendants’ property.
The evidence was uncontroverted that defendants built a dam and pond that blocked the easement but that construction of the dam did not begin prior to March 13, 1986. To prevail on the adverse-possession claim, defendants needed to show adverse possession of the property covered by the easement for the length of the statutory period, 20 years. Because construction of the dam began less than 20 years prior to the commencement of this action, the issue at trial was whether defendants’ use of the land in question constituted adverse possession sufficient to satisfy the statutory period prior March 13, 1986.
On Feb. 21, 2006, plaintiffs filed a complaint and notice of lis pendens seeking to have their title quieted to an easement and right of way for a roadway crossing and encumbering defendants’ lands. Defendant filed a counterclaim alleging that it had extinguished plaintiffs’ easement and right of way through adverse possession.
Both parties filed motions for summary judgment. On May 24, 2007, summary judgment was granted in favor of plaintiffs.
On June 13, 2007, defendant appealed that order to this court. We affirmed the order granting summary judgment in part and reversed in part, remanding to the superior court for trial on the issue of whether defendants extinguished the easement by adverse possession for a period in excess of 20 years.
In superior court, the jury returned a verdict finding that defendants had not extinguished plaintiffs’ easement by adverse possession, and the trial court entered judgment thereon enjoining defendants from flooding, blocking or otherwise obstructing plaintiffs’ easement. This appeal followed.
Defendants argue that the trial court erred in denying their motion for a directed verdict made at the close of all the evidence. We disagree.
Here, the motion for directed verdict was properly denied because there was conflicting evidence regarding disputed facts. While it is uncontroverted that defendants satisfied all the requisite elements of adverse possession beginning with the construction of the dam in 1986, that construction began less than 20 years prior to the commencement of this action. Thus, we must consider whether defendants satisfied the elements for the remaining portion of the statutory period.
Defendants constructed a gate, comprised of two telephone poles connected by a cable or chain, which blocked the right of way easement beginning shortly after the property was purchased in 1976. Defendants argue this gate constitutes use of the land that was adverse, open and notorious, exclusive and constructed with intent to bar third parties from the land in question.
In contrast, plaintiffs presented five witnesses who testified either that they had never seen a chain or cable blocking the right of way, or that the chain or cable was up on some occasions but not continuously. These conflicting versions of events constitute disputed issues of material fact. The jury is properly tasked with resolution of this conflict. Accordingly, the motion for directed verdict was properly denied and we affirm.l