Easement language authorizes road extension says 4th Court of Appeals.

Sundance at Stone Oak Association, Inc. v. Northeast Independent School District, 04-12-00610-CV (Tex. App. – San Antonio, November 13, 2013).

This is a trespass and takings claim for extending a roadway based on an easement. The Sundace Home Owner’s Association (“Sundance”) had a common area in the Stone Oak subdivision which bordered an ongoing extension of Hardy Oak Road. Northeast Independent School District  (“NEISD”) contends Hardy Oak Road was being extended to support the flow of traffic to and from a nearby elementary school. A portion of the street extension crosses the 6.448 acre tract currently owned by Sundance. NEISD contended an easement filed on October 9, 1986, (the Sitterle Easement) provides legal authority to build the extension of the road. Sundance filed a suit alleging trespass and an unlawful taking. NEISD filed a motion for summary judgment asserting Sundance’s claims fail as a matter of law because (1) the Sitterle Easement grants proper legal authorization; and (2) there is no evidence of damage. The trial court granted the MSJ and Sundance appealed.

The San Antonio Court of Appeals held that when considering the express easement’s terms, the parties’ intentions—as expressed in the grant—determine the scope of the easement. The court determined the wording of the easement allowed for the building of the road. The analysis is a good one to help determine the standard for analyzing easements and what can and cannot be done under the language. As to the trespass and takings claims, both causes of action require NEISD to commit the act without legal authority. Because the court “concluded NEISD had authority under the Sitterle Easement, NEISD’s entry onto the easement tract was not trespass, and does not constitute a taking.”  The MSJ order was affirmed.  While I agree with the result and the taking’s analysis, at least some mention should have been made regarding the fact sovereign immunity protects against trespass claims regardless of legal authority. However, NEISD won, so any complaint would be academic only.

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