Gribble v. Bostian, COA 20-412

Docket NºNo. COA 20-412
Citation864 S.E.2d 370, 279 N.C.App. 17
Case DateAugust 17, 2021
CourtCourt of Appeal of North Carolina (US)

279 N.C.App. 17
864 S.E.2d 370

Glenda K. GRIBBLE, Plaintiff,
v.
Charles D. BOSTIAN, Jr. and wife Alma Jean Bostian, Defendants.

No. COA 20-412

Court of Appeals of North Carolina.

Filed August 17, 2021


Hartsell & Williams, PA, by Austin "Dutch" Entwistle III, for the Plaintiff-Appellant.

Shelby, Pethel, and Hudson, P.A., Salisbury, by John T. Hudson, for the Defendants-Appellees.

DILLON, Judge.

864 S.E.2d 372

¶ 1 Plaintiff and Defendants own adjoining tracts of land, which are the subjects of this action. Specifically, Plaintiff owns the tract labeled as Tract 1 on the map below; Defendants own Tract 2. Plaintiff's tract abuts a public road, while Defendants’ tract does not. The issues in this case are whether Defendants have easement rights over Plaintiff's tract to access the public road and, if so, where is the location of said easement on Plaintiff's tract. The matter was tried without a jury. The background contained herein reflects the findings as made by the trial judge. The map below is provided for a better understanding of the trial court's findings.

¶ 2 Prior to 1991, the tracts below labeled as Tract 1, Tract 2, and the Cromer Tract were all part of a single tract owned by Plaintiff's father, Glenn Smith. The tract labeled as the "Bostian Family Land" was owned by various members of the family of Defendant Charles D. Bostian. By 1991, Mr. Bostian took title to a portion of the Bostian Family Land adjacent to Tract 2.

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¶ 3 The "dirt path" as depicted on the map running through Tract 1 identifies the approximate location of a dirt path that Mr. Smith used for decades to access the rear portion (the area labeled "Tract 2") of his property.

¶ 4 In 1991, Mr. Smith conveyed to Mr. Bostian by deed (the "1991 Deed") the rear portion of his large tract, specifically the area labeled as Tract 2. The 1991 Deed also contained language granting Mr. Bostian an easement across Mr. Smith's remaining land (labeled as Tract 1) at a location to be agreed upon by Mr. Bostian and Mr. Smith, as follows:

Together with a right-of-way thirty (30) feet in width running from Deal Road to this property, the exact location of said right-of-way to be agreed upon between the parties or their successors and assigns.

¶ 5 Over the next fourteen years, between 1991 and 2005, Mr. Smith and Mr. Bostian never agreed in writing where the easement referenced in the 1991 Deed would be located. The trial court did not make any findings as to whether Mr. Smith and Mr. Bostian expressly orally agreed as to the easement location. (The evidence was conflicting as to whether they had orally agreed that the dirt path would serve as the easement.) In any event, Mr. Bostian began and continued to utilize the dirt path to access Tract 2 from Deal Road. Mr. Smith acquiesced to Mr. Bostian's use of the dirt path, never complaining

864 S.E.2d 373

or objecting. There is no evidence that Defendants ever used any other portion of Tract 1 as an easement to access Tract 2. Further, there was no evidence offered by either party that the easement was at a location on Tract 1 other than along the dirt path.

¶ 6 In 2005, Mr. Smith died. Plaintiff inherited Tract 1, the tract where the dirt path is located, from her father Mr. Smith.1 Plaintiff desired to sell Tract 1 but learned that potential buyers were deterred by the existence of a dirt path running through the middle of that tract. One day after her father's funeral, Plaintiff placed posts to block the dirt path. These posts were quickly removed after Defendants complained, claiming to have easement rights in the dirt path.

¶ 7 At some later point, Defendants’ daughter-in-law, who is not a party to this appeal, came to own a portion of Tract 2, specifically the area on Tract 2 labeled with the slanting lines.

¶ 8 In 2018, Plaintiff commenced this matter to resolve the easement dispute. Following a bench trial, the trial court entered its Amended Order, determining that Plaintiff's Tract 1 is burdened by an appurtenant easement in favor of Tract 2.2 However, the trial court did not determine that the easement was located along the existing dirt path. Rather, the trial court determined that the location of the easement would be along Tract 1's boundary with the Cromer Tract, in the area labeled by the x's ("xxxxx") on the above map, notwithstanding that no party ever advocated for this location nor was there any evidence that Defendants or anyone ever used this location to access Tract 1. Plaintiff and Defendants each noticed an appeal.

I. Standard of Review

¶ 9 The standard of review from a bench trial is whether there exists competent evidence to support the trial court's findings of fact and whether the findings support the conclusions of law and ensuing judgment. In re L.M.T. , 367 N.C. 165, 168, 752 S.E.2d 453, 455 (2013). Since the trial judge acts as the factfinder, the trial court resolves any conflicts in the evidence; any findings made by the trial judge are binding on appeal if supported by competent evidence. Williams v. Pilot Life Ins. Co. , 288 N.C. 338, 342, 218 S.E.2d 368, 371 (1975). "Conclusions of law drawn by the trial judge from the findings of fact are reviewable de novo on appeal." Humphries v. Jacksonville , 300 N.C. 186, 187, 265 S.E.2d 189, 190 (1980).

II. Analysis

¶ 10 For the reasons stated below, we conclude that the trial court's findings support the portion of its Amended Order determining that Defendants have easement rights across Plaintiff's tract to access the tract conveyed to Mr. Bostian in 1991. However, we further conclude that the trial court's findings do not support the portion of its Amended Order determining the location of the easement to be along the edge of Tract 1....

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