Blackburn v. Habitat Development Co.

Citation57 S.W.3d 378
Decision Date22 October 2001
Docket Number23805
PartiesKathy Jo Blackburn, et al., Respondents, v. Habitat Development Company, et al., Appellants. 23805 Missouri Court of Appeals Southern District
CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)

Appeal From: Circuit Court of Camden County, Hon. Carl D. Gum, Jr., Special Judge

Counsel for Appellant: Gardiner B. Davis

Counsel for Respondent: James D. Sickal and John E. Curran

Opinion Summary: None

Shrum, P.J. and Montgomery, J., concur.

Robert S. Barney, Chief Judge

Habitat Development Company, ("HDC") and Paul Willman and Sue Willman ("Appellants") appeal from a declaratory judgment of the Circuit Court of Camden County in favor of Kathie Jo and Steven Blackburn, Melba Simons, Christopher and Kelly Myers, Steven and Ashley Norman, Richard and Cassie Hill, Sally June Taylor, Michael and Janine Vogel, and Pete and Betty Jo Gore ("Respondents"). In its judgment, the trial court granted Respondents rights to use, construct and maintain a common boat dock and attendant slips in a lakefront lot located in Shadow Woods Subdivision in Camden County ("Lot 14"), fronting the Lake of the Ozarks. The trial court also ordered the transfer of title to Lot 14 from HDC to Respondents, as tenants in common, and further gave recognition to an easement "across all of Lot 14" in favor of Respondents.1

HDC was incorporated as a real estate development and construction corporation whose stock was owned by Harold and Sally Taylor. They were also HDC's sole directors and officers. In 1985 Harold and Sally Taylor dissolved their marriage and Harold Taylor became the sole owner of the shares of stock of HDC. He continued as its chief executive officer and agent until his demise. HDC operated from approximately 1978 to October of 1993, when Harold Taylor died.2

One of HDC's developments was Osage Beach Harbor Subdivision ("OBHS"), adjacent to the Lake of the Ozarks ("lake"), near Osage Beach, Missouri. Included in the subdivision were various lakefront lots as well as non-lakefront, "upper tier" lots. The upper-tier lots were designated as Block A, Block B, and Block C. One of the lakefront lots was Lot 14.

In May of 1980, HBC divided Block B into 12 numbered lots and renamed Block B as the Shadow Woods Subdivision ("Shadow Woods"). Blocks A and C were not divided into numbered lots. Between December of 1980 and July of l988, HDC conveyed all of the lots in Shadow Woods to Respondents and to other parties who have not appealed the judgment.

In February of 1984, HBC recorded a "Dedication" which read as follows:

Comes now Habitat Development Company, a Missouri corporation, hereinafter "Dedicator", and dedicates Lot 14 of Osage Beach Harbor Subdivision, a subdivision of Camden County, Missouri, according to the plat thereof on file and of record in the Office of the Recorder of Deeds, Camden County, Missouri, to the use of the owners of the following blocks or portions thereof in Osage Beach Harbor Subdivision:

Block A

Block B and

Block C

for the nonexclusive use for access to the Lake of the Ozarks. This use specifically excludes the right to attach boat docks, boat houses or floating structures to or locate same in front thereof. Dedicator and its successors and assigns reserve the right to use said Lot 14 in a manner in which does not substantially interfere with the use of the owners as herein dedicated, and reserve the right to dedicate similar uses of said lot to other owners of property in Osage Beach Harbor Subdivision or resubdivisions thereof. Dedicator, its successors and assigns reserve the exclusive right to attach a boat dock to and to locate a boat dock in front of said lot.

During the course of trial, Respondent, Sally Taylor, a former co-owner of HDC with Harold Taylor, testified that in selling the Shadow Woods lots the marketing strategy of HDC was to promise to provide a community boat dock on Lot 14 in order to make the lots competitive with other land developments near Shadow Woods. Over Appellants' objections various Respondents testified that Harold Taylor, as agent for HDC, made representations to them that HDC intended to build a community boat dock on Lot 14 in the future and that the dock was to be used for the benefit of the various lot owners in the subdivision. Several Respondents testified that Harold Taylor had informed them they could construct the dock themselves as long as boat slips were placed on Lot 14 two at a time so that the dock could be expanded, and that these slips could be constructed for about $2,500.00.3 Several Respondents also testified that Mr. Taylor repeated these representations to them after they had purchased their lots. The Respondents generally testified that they relied on these statements in purchasing their lots or parcels and that they paid more for their properties because they believed that there would be a community boat dock in the future and that they would not have purchased their lots otherwise. While several owners testified that they used Lot 14 to access the lake, no dock or dock slip was ever constructed by any of the lot owners. There was evidence, however, of some lot owners clearing brush and other debris from Lot 14 to improve access to Lot 14.

Harold Taylor owned Lot 15 located adjacent to Lot 14 and resided in a home there. After his death, Sue Willman became president of HDC. Shortly thereafter access to Lot 14 was blocked and Respondents were unable to access the lake through Lot 14. Subsequently, Respondents filed suit against Appellants asking the trial court for its declaration of their rights regarding the right to use, construct and maintain a community boat dock with individual slips adjacent to Lot 14, together with other affirmative relief.

In its declaratory judgment, inter alia, the court: (1) adjudged that the "Dedication" created "an easement for access to [the lake] across all of Lot 14 in favor of all owners of lots and parcels within Blocks A, B and C of [OSBH] . . .", and that "each and every lot owner within Blocks A, B and C is an assignee and successor in interest to HDC . . . and . . . [has] the right to own a boat slip in a community dock attached to Lot 14 . . . on the waters of [the lake];" (2) ordered HDC "or its statutory trustees, to convey all current lot owners of [Shadow Woods] as tenants in common all of Lot 14 for the common use and benefit of said [Respondents]" including, but not limited to, the "construction and placement of a boat dock with individual slips purchased by [Respondents], on the [lake], and attached to Lot 14;" (3) found that "[HDC] has no right to convey Lot 14 of [OSBHS], or in any way interfere with the use of said lot by [Respondents] and the lot owners of [Shadow Woods];" and (4) determined that "declaration of restrictions applicable to Shadow Woods, being the [OSBH] restrictions . . . clearly [set] forth that [Respondents] are to have the right to use a common boat dock which, according to the representations made by [HDC and Mr. Taylor] was to be located adjoining and/or adjacent to said Lot 14 and accessible to [Respondents] from Lot 14." This appeal followed. I.

In Point One, Appellants maintain that the trial court erred in allowing parol evidence to expand the terms of the "Dedication" granted by HDC. They argue that by clear and unambiguous language the "Dedication" under review gave Respondents only limited "lake access" rights and excluded any rights to build a boat dock, and that HDC reserved unto itself the sole right to build a boat dock and boat slips on Lot 14.

In their second point, Appellants attack the trial court's grant of an easement or license to Respondents to build a boat dock on Lot 14 under a theory of promissory estoppel. Appellants maintain there is no basis for the application of the promissory estoppel doctrine when deeds evidenced the parties' intentions; that the deeds were silent regarding any promise to Respondents which granted them the right to build and maintain a boat dock and boat slips on Lot 14. They asserted that all verbal promises were extinguished by and merged into the respective deeds under the doctrine of merger. Accordingly, they argue that parol evidence was inadmissible to alter/expand the terms of the respective deeds.

In their fourth point, Appellants premise trial court error based on its divesting HDC of the fee simple title to Lot 14 and granting Respondents, as tenants in common, the fee simple title to Lot 14.4 They argue that the controversy was limited to Respondents' rights to a license or easement to build a boat dock on Lot 14, that title to Lot 14 was never in dispute, and that it was not necessary to convey Respondents a fee simple title in order to grant Respondents an easement or license relating to Lot 14.

In Point Five, Appellants maintain the trial court erred in failing to apply the parol evidence rule in determining that "Restrictions" applicable to OSBHS gave Respondents the "right to use a common boat dock." They maintain that the "Restrictions" were merely restrictions on the use of any community dock that might be built, did not create any grant, right or interest in any community dock and that the trial court's ruling unlawfully altered and expanded the clear language of the "Restrictions."

"When reviewing a declaratory judgment, our standard of review is the same as in any other court tried case." Cronin v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 958 S.W.2d 583, 584 (Mo.App. 1997). Accordingly, review of this action is as set forth in Rule 84.13(d), Missouri Court Rules (2001). Smith v. Woodard, 15 S.W.3d 768, 771 (Mo.App. 2000). The judgment will be affirmed unless it is against the weight of the evidence, there is insufficient evidence to support it, or it erroneously declares or applies the law. Id. "[T]his [C]ourt views the evidence and permissible inferences drawn therefrom in a light most favorable to the judgment." Id.; Klinckman v. Pharris, 969 S.W.2d 769, 770 (Mo.App. 1998). This Court should defer to the trial court in judging the...

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