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Franklin v. Johnston

Court of Appeals of Iowa

June 5, 2019

GENE L. FRANKLIN and CONNIE JOHNSON, EXECUTORS OF THE FAE BLACK ESTATE; GENE L. FRANKLIN, CONNIE JOHNSON, CURTIS L. FRANKLIN, JULIE PEDRICK, BRUCE FRANKLIN, and GREOGRY S. FRANKLIN, Plaintiffs-Appellees/Cross-Appellants,
v.
MICHAEL JOHNSTON, ELIZABETH JOHNSTON, STEVE JOHNSTON, and JUDITH YEAGER, Defendants-Appellants/Cross-Appellees, and KASONDRA JOHNSTON and JAMES YEAGER, Defendants.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Van Buren County, Randy S. DeGeest, Judge.

         The defendants appeal the district court's ruling of a prescriptive easement. The plaintiffs cross-appeal the district court's dimensions of said easement.

          Lucas C. Helling (until withdrawal) and Vanessa M. Y. Willman (until withdrawal) of Foss, Kuiken & Cochran, P.C., Fairfield, for appellants.

          Michael C. Vance of Vance Law Office, Mt. Pleasant, for appellees.

          Considered by Vogel, C.J., and Vaitheswaran and Potterfield, JJ.

          Vogel, Chief Judge.

         Michael (Mike) Johnston, Elizabeth Johnston, Steve Johnston, and Judith Yeager (the Johnstons) appeal, and Gene Franklin and Connie Johnson (the Franklins) cross-appeal, the district court's ruling following a remand from our court. See Franklin v. Johnston, No. 15-2047, 2017 WL 1086205, at *13-14 (Iowa Ct. App. Mar. 22, 2017). The Johnstons and the Franklins are owners of adjacent property. After years of litigation, both at the district court and appellate court levels, the parties again appeal, asserting the district court's ruling on the Johnstons' dock and shoreline area was incorrect. The Johnstons assert they should have been granted fee simple ownership of the disputed area rather than a prescriptive easement, and the Franklins claim the district court should have included restrictions for the size and location of the dock and the width of the shoreline. We affirm the district court's grant of a prescriptive easement but order the boundaries of the easement area be limited to the dimensions requested by the Franklins.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         Otto and Pauline Estle, the Johnstons' predecessors in title, decided to construct a lake, and their neighbors, James and Fae Franklin, granted them a "perpetual easement" to overflow onto their land. The agreement was executed in April 1962 with James and Fae Franklin granting

a perpetual easement for the right to occasion overflow by water from the land of the [Estles] to and on and over the lands of [James and Fae Franklin] such as would be occasioned by the construction of a dam not to exceed forty (40) feet in height in a ditch located on the land of the [Estles] which ditch traverses the property of [James and Fae Franklin], and [the Estles] are hereby granted the perpetual right to erect and maintain such dam and thereby occasion an overflow of water onto and over such portion of [James and Fae Franklin's] land as may be occasioned by the construction of said dam . . . .

         The agreement goes on to stipulate each parties' rights and restrictions. The Estles' and the Franklins' successors in interest are the current parties to this action-the plaintiffs-appellees, the Franklins, and the defendants-appellants, the Johnstons.[1]

         The Franklins brought suit in May 2013, after the Johnstons prohibited them from using any part of the lake covering the Johnstons' land. Trial was held on September 15, 16, 17, 20, and 22, 2015. On November 5, 2015, the district court made several findings, but pertinent to this appeal were findings that both parties may use the entire lake for fishing and any other lawful purpose and that the boundary line was the fence on the north side of the lake. The Johnstons appealed to our court, and the Franklins cross-appealed.

         In the March 2017 opinion, our court stated,

We . . . agree with the district court's conclusion that the Franklins have proven a prescriptive easement to use the entire lake. We affirm the district court's rejection of the Johnstons' claim of a boundary by acquiescence through and on the south side of the lake due to the lack of clear evidence to support the claim . . . .
. . . . However, we remand this matter to the district court so that it may expand its decision with respect to the shoreline and dock near Mike Johnston's property. On remand the parties may offer to the district court evidence and legal argument to support their claim for the proper designation of this property. However, Mike Johnston's use of ...

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