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Rittenberrys v. Pennells

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

March 26, 2015

GARRETT RITTENBERRY, ET AL.
v.
KEVIN PENNELL, ET AL.

Session Date December 02, 2014

Appeal from the Chancery Court for Sumner County No. 2011CV438 Tom E. Gray, Judge

Shawn R. Henry, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellants, Chris Burke and Lesa Hall.

Phillip C. Kelly and Gwynn K. Smith, Gallatin, Tennessee, for the appellees, Kevin Pennell and Lana Pennell.

Arnold B. Goldin, J. delivered the opinion of the Court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S. and Kenny Armstrong, J., joined.

OPINION

ARNOLD B. GOLDIN, JUDGE

I. Background and Procedural History

The boundary dispute issues that led to this appeal have been ongoing for quite some time now. At issue is the location of the Rittenberry property vis-à-vis the Rittenberrys' neighbors and Ridge Hill Road. The Rittenberry property is located in Sumner County, Tennessee, and is bounded to the east and south by the Pennell property. The Burke/Hall property is located to the west of the Rittenberry property. Ridge Hill Road is generally located south of the Rittenberry property and runs primarily east to west.

Previously, a dispute arose between the Rittenberrys and the Pennells regarding the Rittenberrys' use of a driveway that the Rittenberrys constructed to connect their house to Ridge Hill Road. In July 2008, after the Pennells objected to and interfered with the Rittenberrys' use of this driveway, the Rittenberrys initiated a declaratory judgment action seeking an order that would declare them lawful owners of the disputed strip of property along Ridge Hill Road. Rittenberry v. Pennell, No. M2010-01244-COA-R3-CV, 2011 WL 1661770, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 29, 2011) ("Rittenberry I "). The Rittenberrys' complaint alleged that the portion of Ridge Hill Road adjacent to their property had been designated a public road in 1992. The Pennells, on the other hand, asserted that Sumner County did not recognize the disputed portion of the road as a public road. Id. at *1-2. The Pennells further asserted that they paid taxes on that property, and they counterclaimed for a declaration that the Rittenberrys had no right to use the driveway. Id. at *2. After a trial on the matter, the trial court entered a final order in favor of the Rittenberrys. Id. at *7. The Pennells appealed and argued that the trial court erred in finding the portion of Ridge Hill Road facing the Rittenberry property to be a public county road. Id. On appeal, we determined that the trial court had not erred in crediting the opinion of a professional surveyor who testified for the Rittenberrys. Id. at *9. Nonetheless, we determined that the evidence preponderated against the trial court's finding that the disputed portion of the property was made a county road. Id. After stating the roadway in front of the Rittenberry property was a private drive, Judge Bennett commented as follows:

We recognize that the designation of the disputed roadway as a private drive creates a situation in which the lower tract of the Rittenberry property is essentially landlocked. The Rittenberrys are, however, entitled to an easement across the Pennell property to access the public roadway. Should the parties be unable to reach an agreement on the matter, the Rittenberrys may institute proceedings pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 54-14-101 et seq. to have a court declare an easement.

Id. Unfortunately, no agreement was reached concerning the Rittenberrys' desired rights of access, and the present litigation subsequently ensued.

On September 29, 2011, the Rittenberrys brought suit against the Pennells[1] by filing a complaint seeking an easement across the Pennells' property pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 54-14-101 et seq. The Rittenberrys alleged that their property was landlocked and that they had no access to a public road. They claimed that an easement across the Pennells' property would allow them access from their property to Ridge Hill Road. The Pennells answered the Rittenberrys' complaint by admitting that the Rittenberrys were landlocked and had no access to a public road, but the Pennells also noted that the Rittenberrys' property was bounded on the west by property owned by Burke/Hall. The Pennells contended that Burke/Hall should be added as defendants and alleged that access through the Burke/Hall property was a more convenient way to get to the Rittenberrys' property than going through the Pennells' property. The Rittenberrys subsequently filed an amended complaint adding Burke/Hall as defendants and seeking alternative relief by way of an easement across the Burke/Hall property.

Although the Pennells again admitted that the Rittenberrys' property was landlocked in response to the Rittenberrys' amended complaint, the Pennells later amended their answer to suggest that the Rittenberrys were not landlocked, but rather, that they had access to a public road. When Burke/Hall answered the Rittenberrys' amended complaint, they admitted that the Rittenberrys' property was landlocked but stated that it would be more convenient and logical for the Rittenberrys to gain access across the Pennells' property.

On October 24, 2012, the Pennells filed a motion for summary judgment. Their motion was supported by a memorandum of law and a statement of undisputed facts. By asserting that the Rittenberrys had direct access to the Rittenberry property off Ridge Hill Road's fifty-foot right-of-way, the Pennells claimed that the Rittenberrys did not need to resort to condemnation proceedings under Tennessee Code Annotated § 54-14-101 et seq. Although Mr. Rittenberry filed a response to the Pennells' motion for summary judgment stating that he agreed with the Pennells' statement of undisputed facts for purposes of ruling on the motion for summary judgment, Burke/Hall filed a response in opposition to the motion.[2] In support of their opposition to the Pennells' motion for summary judgment, Burke/Hall also filed a memorandum of law and a specific response to the Pennells' statement of ...


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