Sharp v. Downey

Decision Date10 March 2011
Docket NumberNo. 1642,2009.,Sept. Term,1642
Citation197 Md.App. 123,13 A.3d 1
PartiesNicholas SHARPv.Barry K. DOWNEY, et al.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland


Karen D. Amos, Ellicott City, MD, for appellant.Jeffrey P. Reilly (Miles & Stockbridge, PC, on the brief) Towson, MD, for appellee.Panel: HOLLANDER, MEREDITH, ZARNOCH, JJ.1HOLLANDER, J.

Nicholas Sharp, appellant, and Barry and Rhonda Downey, appellees, own adjacent tracts of land in Howard County. For almost eight years, the parties, as well as their predecessors in title and some of their neighbors, have been engaged in litigation as to various matters regarding the adjoining parcels. In 2007 and 2008, the Circuit Court for Howard County ordered the parties to submit their disputes to binding arbitration. Of relevance here, in an Arbitration Award (the “Award”) dated December 22, 2008 (issued January 6, 2009), the arbitrator rejected appellant's claim that he is entitled to an easement over a portion of appellees' land in order to reach a public road. That decision left appellant's parcel “landlocked.”

Dissatisfied with the Award, appellant unsuccessfully asked the Circuit Court for Howard County to vacate it. This appeal followed, in which appellant presents one issue: “Whether the circuit court erred in refusing to vacate the arbitrator's decision and award[.] For the reasons that follow, we shall reverse and remand.


The properties at issue are two adjacent, irregularly shaped lots in Woodbine, along the South Branch of the Patapsco River at the northern border of Howard County. Appellant's property is located at 400 Morgan Station Road. We shall refer to it as “Lot 2” or the “Sharp Lot.” Appellees' property is located at 410 Morgan Station Road. We shall refer to it as “Lot 1” or the “Downey Lot.”

Originally, the two lots were a single tract of land owned by Jack Ryan, Inc., the corporate alter ego of John E. Ryan (collectively, “Ryan”). On February 20, 1996, Ryan divided the tract by deed, creating Lot 1 and Lot 2. By a separate deed of even date, Ryan conveyed Lot 1 ( i.e., the Downey Lot) to Pamela Jekel, Inc.,3 and retained ownership of Lot 2 ( i.e., the Sharp Lot). Notably, the Downey Lot adjoins Morgan Station Road, while the Sharp Lot is (in the words of the arbitrator) “landlocked.” 4

On the same date as the conveyance of Lot 1, Ryan and Jekel executed two instruments relating to two separate easements concerning Lot 1 and Lot 2. One instrument, entitled “Declaration for Ingress and Egress Easement (Driveway) and Maintenance Agreement,” established an easement “over the existing jeep trail located on Lot 1” ( i.e., the Downey Lot). We shall refer to this agreement as the “Original Jeep Trail Agreement.” The other easement instrument, entitled “Declaration for Easement and Maintenance Agreement,” is referred to by the parties as the “Riverfront Easement.” All four instruments were recorded in the land records of Howard County on February 27, 1996.

According to the Original Jeep Trail Agreement, [t]he Easement shall be for the sole purpose of ingress and egress for foot and vehicular traffic and for no other purpose.” It noted that the jeep trail “is not described in a metes and bounds description,” but stated that the jeep trail was “shown on an unrecorded plat titled, Health Department Percolation Certification Plan, Project No. 423 (the Health Department Plan).5 The Original Jeep Trail Agreement also provided: “The beginning of the Easement at Morgan Station Road is at the driveway which is used in common with 430 Morgan Station Road and [the easement] ends at the northeast boundary of Lot 2.” Further, it stated that the easement was “perpetual” and “binding on the parties [and their] successors and assigns.” It also provided that, [i]n the event of disagreement between the owners of Lots 1 and 2 as to the use, repairs, maintenance of the Easement, or any other issue, the dispute shall be resolved in accordance with the American Arbitration Association rules and procedures....”

The Riverfront Easement granted to Jekel (and her successors in title) an easement over a narrow strip of riverfront property that was part of Lot 2, and which separated Lot 1 from the Patapsco River. In relevant part, it stated that “Ryan will not in anyway interfere with Jekel's use of the easement such as moving animals to the river or any other purpose.” The primary significance of the Riverfront Easement to the issues on appeal is that, as we shall explain, the arbitrator ultimately found that the jeep trail referenced in the Original Jeep Trail Agreement cut into, and then out of, the Riverfront Easement area as the jeep trail made its way between Lot 2 and Morgan Station Road.6

A little over a year after the conveyance of Lot 1, Ryan and Jekel executed and recorded another easement agreement (the “Second Jeep Trail Agreement”), which, like the Original Jeep Trail Agreement, was titled “Declaration for Ingress and Egress Easement (Driveway) and Maintenance Agreement.” It provided: “An easement is established over the existing jeep trails located on Lot 1.” Moreover, the Second Jeep Trail Agreement expressly stated that it “replaces absolutely and in its entirety” the Original Jeep Trail Agreement. Nevertheless, it largely tracked the language of the Original Jeep Trail Agreement, including the statements that the easement was “perpetual” and was for the purpose of “ingress and egress,” and the requirement that any disputes be resolved by arbitration. However, unlike the Original Jeep Trail Agreement, it did not explicitly describe the jeep trails as connecting to Morgan Station Road or to the Sharp Lot. The Second Jeep Trail Agreement again identified the jeep trails by reference to the Health Department Plan, but also by reference to a “new road approved by the State of Maryland Department of the Environment Water Management Administration, April 25, 1996, permit 94–NT–1072–1994468197 (the “MDE Permit”). 7 In 1997, Jekel conveyed Lot 1 (the Downey Lot) to Larry and Wendy Raskin. In turn, by a deed dated December 15, 2000, the Raskins conveyed Lot 1 to appellees.

On December 13, 2002, in the Circuit Court for Howard County, appellees filed a three-count “Complaint for Declaratory Judgment,” naming as defendants Jack Ryan, Inc., as well as John E. Ryan and Pamela Jekel Ryan individually, and seeking resolution of several disputes regarding the adjoining properties. Pertinent to this appeal,8 the second count of the Complaint alleged that Ryan had constructed a driveway on Lot 1 “located outside the easement area,” as described in the Second Jeep Trail Agreement. Therefore, appellees sought a judicial declaration that Ryan was “under an obligation to relocate the driveway serving the [Sharp Lot] to conform” to the Second Jeep Trail Agreement.

In the course of the litigation, appellees filed five amended complaints. On September 4, 2003, during the litigation, appellant purchased Lot 2 (the Sharp Lot) from Ryan. As a result, appellees added Sharp as a defendant to their suit. Appellant filed a counter complaint, as did other defendants (including Ryan, as well as the Breslins, a couple who owned another neighboring parcel and had been named as defendants by the Downeys with respect to claims not at issue here).9

Before Sharp purchased Lot 2 and entered the lawsuit, Ryan filed a Motion to Dismiss Count II and to Compel Arbitration.” Ryan cited the language of the Second Jeep Trail Agreement calling for resolution by arbitration of disagreements relative to “any ... issue” concerning the easement, and asked the court to dismiss the second count and to “order [appellees] to initiate the arbitration process.” Noting that appellees “indicated that they do not oppose the Motion,” the court granted Ryan's motion on May 15, 2003.

In the summer of 2003, Ryan and the Downeys began a binding arbitration proceeding to resolve the claims at issue in the Downeys' original “Count II.” After Sharp purchased Lot 2 from Ryan, he joined in that arbitration proceeding.

Subsequently, in July 2007, Ryan and Jekel and their associated entities were dismissed from the lawsuit by a joint stipulation that resolved all claims by and against them. By “Order” entered on September 11, 2007, the circuit court required Sharp and the Downeys to arbitrate in the pending arbitration proceeding their disputes relative to the “Second Jeep Trail Agreement.” On January 16, 2008, pursuant to an agreement by Sharp and the Downeys, the court entered an Order dismissing the remaining claims between them, and ordering Sharp and the Downeys to submit those claims (which are wholly separate from the issues on appeal) to the arbitrator. Later that month, the Downeys and the Breslins reached a settlement agreement resolving their disputes (which also are not relevant to this appeal). Accordingly, pursuant to joint motions of the parties, the circuit court entered orders dismissing all remaining claims relative to all remaining parties. On March 26, 2008, the circuit court entered an order directing the clerk to close the case.

The arbitration proceeding at issue here began in January 2008.10 The arbitrator heard testimony, received documentary exhibits, and conducted two site visits to the properties. Notably, the proceedings before the arbitrator were not transcribed.

On January 6, 2009, the arbitrator issued his Award, in which he recounted the history of the land transactions relative to the two lots. The arbitrator also explained that before Ryan divided his property into the Sharp Lot and the Downey Lot, he had begun “to improve the jeep trail without the necessary government permits regulating flood plain tidal and non-tidal waterways.” The arbitrator continued:

On July 9, 1994, Ryan was ordered to stop such activity. Ryan then filed a Joint Permit application with an attached plat that showed the Jeep...

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