Hamrick v. Ward – Case Brief Summary (Texas)

In Hamrick v. Ward, 446 S.W.3d 377 (Tex. 2014) the supreme court held that the easement-by-necessity doctrine -- and not the easement-by-prior-use doctrine -- must apply "to claims of landowners asserting implied easements for roadway access to their landlocked, previously unified parcel." Id. at 379; see id. at 382.

The supreme court described the facts of the case as follows. A landowner constructed a dirt road along the eastern edge of his 41.1 acre parcel of land in the 1930s. Id. at 379.

The landowner later severed the parcel into a two-acre parcel and a 39.1 acre parcel. Id. The landowner sold the two-acre parcel in the 1950s to a couple who used the dirt road to access their property. Id.

The 39.1 acre parcel was sold to a developer for construction of a subdivision in the 1990s. Id. The developer paved roads within the larger parcel and planned to construct a paved driveway to connect the two-acre parcel to one of the subdivision's newly paved roads. Id.

The county, however, refused the developer permission to connect the two-acre parcel to one of the newly paved roads because the two-acre parcel had not been platted. Id.

In response, the developer unilaterally filed a special restriction amendment to the subdivision's deed restrictions. Id.

The special restriction purported to create a prescriptive easement along the dirt road for the owner of the two-acre parcel to access her property. Id. at 379-80.

The developer then sold lots over which the dirt road ran to homebuyers, whom the court referred to collectively as "the Hamricks." Id. at 380.

Tom and Betsey Ward purchased the two-acre parcel of land in the 2000s. Id. They reinforced the dirt road with gravel and made use of the road to begin construction of a new home. Id.

The Hamricks sued to enjoin the Wards from using the dirt road. Id. The trial court granted a temporary injunction, which prevented the Wards from using the dirt road for construction of their home. Id.

As a result, the Wards platted their property and built a driveway to provide the Wards with access to one of the subdivision's newly paved roads. Id.

The Wards then completed construction of their home. Id. The Wards filed a counterclaim against the Hamricks arguing that they had an implied easement by prior use to use the dirt road; the Wards requested a declaratory judgment regarding their right to an easement. Id.

The trial court granted the Wards' motion for summary judgment after determining that the Wards had conclusively established the existence of an easement by prior use. Id.

The Hamricks appealed, and the court of appeals determined that the summary judgment evidence conclusively established beneficial use of the road prior to severance and the necessity of the road. See id.; Hamrick v. Ward, 359 S.W.3d 770, 776-79 (Tex. App.--Houston 14th Dist. 2011), rev'd, 446 S.W.3d 377 (Tex. 2014).

The court of appeals unanimously held that the Wards were required to prove necessity only at the time of severance, rather than continuing necessity. See Hamrick, 446 S.W.3d at 380; Hamrick, 359 S.W.3d at 777. The court of appeals remanded because it determined that a fact issue remained with respect to one of the Hamricks' asserted defenses. See Hamrick, 446 S.W.3d at 380; Hamrick, 359 S.W.3d at 785.

The Hamricks appealed to the Texas Supreme Court. They argued that the court of appeals erred by concluding that the Wards were required to demonstrate the necessity of the easement only at the time of severance. Hamrick, 446 S.W.3d at 381.

The Wards countered that the supreme court had never required continued necessity for easements by prior use. Id. The supreme court determined that the Wards could not prevail on an implied easement by prior use. Id.

It held that "the applicable doctrine for roadway access to previously unified, landlocked parcels is the necessity easement." Id.

The court remanded the case to the trial court because the Wards only pleaded theories of easement by prior use and easement by prescription. Id. at 385.

The court would not "foreclose the Wards from bringing a necessity easement claim in light of the court's clarification of the law." Id.

In reaching its decision, the supreme court stated:

To successfully assert an easement by necessity, the party claiming the easement must demonstrate: (1) unity of ownership of the alleged dominant and servient estates prior to severance; (2) the claimed access is a necessity and not a mere convenience; and (3) the necessity existed at the time the two estates were severed. . . . As this analysis makes clear, a party seeking a necessity easement must prove both a historical necessity (that the way was necessary at the time of severance) and a continuing, present necessity for the way in question. Id. at 382.

Additionally, a party seeking an easement by necessity must prove strict, rather than reasonable necessity. Id. at 379, 384.