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Holt v. Cantrell

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

April 27, 2017

ROGER L. HOLT
v.
JIMMY CANTRELL, ET AL.

          Session March 24, 2017

         Appeal from the Chancery Court for Bradley County No. 2014-CV-105 Jerri S. Bryant, Chancellor

         This appeal concerns access to real property ("the lake property") owned by Roger L. Holt ("Holt"). Holt sued Jimmy Cantrell, [1] Shirley Carroll and Tommy Cantrell ("Defendants") in the Chancery Court for Bradley County ("the Trial Court") alleging that he was entitled to access his property by means of a road bed ("the Disputed Road Bed") on Defendants' property ("the Cantrell property"). Holt advanced three alternative theories: that he was entitled to a prescriptive easement; that he was entitled to an easement by necessity; and that the Disputed Road Bed is a public road by implication. After a hearing, the Trial Court rejected all three of Holt's theories and dismissed his complaint. Holt appealed to this Court. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Affirmed; Case Remanded

          H. Franklin Chancey, Cleveland, Tennessee, for the appellant, Roger Holt.

          Travis D. Henry, Cleveland, Tennessee, for the appellees, Shirley Carroll and Tommy Cantrell.

          D. Michael Swiney, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Andy D. Bennett and Thomas R. Frierson, II, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          D. MICHAEL SWINEY, CHIEF JUDGE

         Background

         The Disputed Road Bed is on a strip of land around 10 feet wide and 100 feet long running across the southern part of the Cantrell property in Bradley County. The Disputed Road Bed has been used previously for access to a rental home and to property known as the Johnson family property, which was landlocked. Holt owns 6.2 acres of property adjoining the Cantrell's property to the north with both situated along Patterson Road (formerly Lane). Holt's grandfather Marvin McClure purchased the property in 1964, and it has since passed down to Holt. The 6.2 acre property originally was part of a much larger tract of land owned by Holt's grandparents. Marvin McClure dug a lake and constructed an 80 square foot cabin on the property. The lake was stocked with fish. There also is a crude dam on the property. Holt, his family and friends frequented the lake property a number of times from the 1960s onwards. In the 2000s, family illnesses prevented the Holts from hosting recreational events on the lake property. Holt and other guests used the lake property for, among other things, fishing, camping, and church activities.

         The Disputed Road Bed is one means of entering Holt's property. Another entrance is directly off the public road at an upper gate. In 1999, defendant Shirley Carroll placed a telephone pole across the Disputed Road Bed to keep out trespassers. In 2012, a gate was installed. Holt asserts that entry via the upper gate is insufficient because of the location of the lake and the harshness of the terrain on that side of the lake, hence this lawsuit seeking access through the Disputed Road Bed on the Cantrell's property.

         In May 2014, Holt filed his complaint in the Trial Court. Holt, in successive amended complaints, advanced three theories: (1) that he is entitled to a prescriptive easement; (2) he acquired an easement by necessity; and, (3) the Disputed Road Bed is a public road by implication. This case was tried over the course of two days in August 2016, with a heavy emphasis at trial over how often the Holts and their guests made use of the Disputed Road Bed.

         At trial, Holt produced photographs of Holt guests attending recreational events by the lake in different time periods. James Hamilton, a cousin of Holt, testified that in the '80s and '90s, he and others "pretty much lived" on the lake, and would stay "all summer." Don Sizemore, a Holt family friend who visited the lake, testified that in the '70s and '80s there was "cooking and stuff like that or gospel singing sometimes." Richard Elliston, another Holt family friend, testified: "During the summers of - I'm sure during the summer of 1979 and also maybe a time or two during the summer of 1980 we would camp on that property." Holt's mother and sister testified to use of the Disputed Road Bed.

         Holt himself testified to the background of the lake property and Disputed Road Bed as follows:

Q. Mr. Holt, you currently [are] the owner of the property that's at issue in this case?
A. Yes.
Q. Who was Marvin McClure?
A. My grandfather.
Q. Now, the deed reference that I saw indicates that he purchased this property in 1964. How old are you? When were you born?
A. '62.
Q. As a youngster, did you have occasions to be on this property?
A. Yes.
Q. Tell us about your earliest memories of that.
A. I can kind of remember when they dug the house. I always went fishing there, camped out, parties.
Q. Okay. Now, all through the 1960s, you'd have been six, seven, eight years old.
A. Yes.
Q. Were you out there in that period of time?
A. Yes.
Q. How frequently would your family be out there?
A. Every week.
Q. Now, do you live far away from this property?
A. No.
Q. As the crow flies, can you give an estimate to how far away it would be?
A. Less than a mile.
Q. Okay. What about through the 1970s, how often were you out there?
A. Every week.
Q. Now, on this property - what's on it, first of all?
A. A lake and a cabin.
Q. Do you know when the cabin was constructed?
A. I would guess in the later '60s.
Q. Now, what was this cabin utilized for?
A. Had a family live in it for a couple of years, and we've used it for overnight camp-outs and parties. Had a stove and --
Q. Is there utilities to it?
A. Yes.
Q. Public utilities?
A. Yes.
Q. Plumbing?
A. Not in the cabin, but there is a septic tank on the property.
Q. You said camping, how would you camp out there?
A. Campers, tents.
Q. So, both kinds?
A. Yes.
Q. Now, were you out there during the '80s?
A. Yes.
Q. Was there any change in the frequency with which you'd be out there?
A. No.
Q. Now, was it just utilized by family members?
A. No.
Q. Who else would go out ...

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