CHARLES STINSON, ET AL.
DAVID E. MENSEL, ET AL.
Session March 21, 2017
Appeal from the Chancery Court for Hickman County No.
12-CV-4872 Deanna B. Johnson, Judge
appeal involves a dispute between landowners over an easement
on Plaintiffs' property that allows the Defendants to use
the easement for ingress and egress to their homes.
Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that the Defendants unlawfully
bulldozed the easement, encroached onto Plaintiffs'
property, and used threats and intimidation to prevent the
Plaintiffs from coming on or using the non-exclusive
easement. Defendants counter-sued, alleging that the
Plaintiffs were actually the ones engaging in a campaign of
harassment, and that the Plaintiffs were preventing the
Defendants from the peace and enjoyment of the easement,
which they used as their driveway. Following a bench trial,
the trial court concluded that Plaintiffs were liable to
Defendants for nuisance, intentional infliction of emotional
distress, and invasion of privacy. The trial court also
enjoined the Plaintiffs from having any use of the easement.
Plaintiffs appealed. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and
partially vacate the injunction. Specifically, we affirm the
judgment of the trial court with respect to the nuisance
claim, reverse the judgment of the trial court with respect
to the intentional infliction of emotional distress and
invasion of privacy claims, and vacate the permanent
injunction against Plaintiffs to the extent that it prohibits
them from the lawful use of their property.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court Affirmed in part, Reversed in part, Vacated in part,
Covington Johnston, Franklin, Tennessee, for the appellants,
Charles Stinson, and Glenda Stinson.
Allston Vander Horst, Centerville, Tennessee, for the
appellees, David E. Mensel, Mary F. Mensel, Michael Sabol,
and Christine Sabol.
Brandon O. Gibson, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Kenny Armstrong,
BRANDON O. GIBSON, JUDGE.
Facts & Procedural History
Charles Stinson and his wife, Glenda Stinson (collectively
"the Stinsons") initiated this litigation against
their neighbors, Appellees, David E. Mensel and his wife Mary
F. Mensel (collectively "the Mensels") and Michael
Sabol and his wife, Christine Sabol (collectively "the
Sabols") on October 25, 2012. The Stinsons own land in
Hickman County, Tennessee and have a home on that land. The
Stinsons' land is subject to an easement, which is a
50-foot non-exclusive easement for utilities and for ingress
and egress to certain neighboring properties (the
"Easement"). The deed attached to the Stinsons'
complaint indicates that the Stinsons' property line is
the center line of the Easement. The Mensels and the Sabols
live on land accessed by the Easement and use a road built on
the Easement as the driveway to their homes. This
road/driveway within the Easement is known as Captain Spence
Ridge Road. The Stinsons do not actually use Captain Spence
Ridge Road as the driveway to their home. Captain Spence
Ridge Road was built so that it is in the center of the
Easement. The original width of Captain Spence Ridge Road was
approximately eight feet wide, but it has been widened over
the years. The widened road is still within the boundaries of
the Easement. Many of the landowners who use the Easement are
parties to a certain contract that governs their respective
responsibilities regarding the maintenance and improvements
to the road within the Easement (the "Driveway
Maintenance Agreement"). The Stinsons and their
predecessors in interest chose not to enter into the Driveway
controversy in this case appears to have begun in December
2008, when Mr. Stinson came to believe that the Sabols had
stolen some of his chickens that wandered over to the Sabol
property. Mrs. Sabol received a handwritten letter from Mr.
Stinson in her mailbox stating the following:
Your [sic] a theft [sic]. My checken [sic] have made it over
to your house. You never came and told me so you caught them
and keep [sic] them now I'm pisst [sic]. Your [sic] not a
good neighbor and your [sic] on my [s-t] list.
angry over the chicken incident, the Stinsons thereafter
began to harass the Sabols and the Mensels. The Stinsons'
behavior that followed ranged from petty to outright
dangerous. Mr. Stinson began to constantly put things in or
around Captain Spence Ridge Road and otherwise within the
Easement. He placed debris in the Easement on several
occasions, as well as fence posts that were apparently
designed to keep people from driving on the Easement. When
the Mensels attempted to put survey tape on the posts to warn
their houseguests of the presence of the posts, Mr. Stinson
promptly removed the tape. Mr. Stinson also dug a ditch in
the roadway that required drivers to drive more on the
Sabols' side of the road. Then, when a flood came in May
2010, the ditch forced unusually high water and mud down the
driveway, resulting in a considerable amount of erosion.
were also numerous altercations and screaming matches between
the Stinsons and the Defendants. The police were called on
several occasions. When the Mensels went to speak with Mr.
Stinson about removing the fence posts, Mr. Stinson said that
he had been to the courthouse and had taken steps to reduce
the size of the Easement. This was not true. During the
discussion, Mr. Stinson became loud, threatening and
intimidating. Mr. Stinson was often described during the
trial as aggressive and hostile. In 2009, Mr. Sabol was
clearing weeds on Captain Spence Ridge Road when Mr. Stinson
became angry and told him he could not remove the weeds. Mr.
Stinson then cut brush and left the brush on Captain Spence
Ridge Road. He subsequently erected a sign telling the Sabols
to stay on their side of the Easement. Those passing through
the Easement would routinely have to drive around the brush
put in place by Mr. Stinson in order to prevent it from
scraping their vehicles. Mr. Sabol frequently removed the
brush, and Mr. Stinson would replace it. On one occasion, Mr.
Mensel was working on the Easement when Mr. Stinson attempted
to call out to him and talk to him. Mr. Mensel was wearing
protective earmuffs and could not hear Mr. Stinson. Mr.
Stinson apparently thought Mr. Mensel was intentionally
ignoring him, so Mr. Stinson picked up a large rock and began
following Mr. Mensel down the road. The situation was
eventually diffused when Mr. Sabol stepped out into the road
so that Mr. Stinson could note his presence. Shortly
thereafter, Mrs. Stinson arrived at the Sabols' home and
began to verbally accost Mrs. Sabol.
chaos followed. Mr. Stinson continued his antics of throwing
brush onto the Easement, and at one point Mrs. Stinson went
so far as to throw her body in front of a bulldozer that the
Mensels had hired to grade the Easement. The police were
called again and again. These theatrics culminated in a
lawsuit filed by the Stinsons against the Mensels and Sabols.
On October 25, 2012, the Stinsons filed a complaint against
the Mensels and Sabols claiming that they had caused the
easement to be graded and bulldozed, encroached onto the
Stinsons' property, and made verbal threats and used
intimidation in order to prevent the Stinsons from coming
onto or using the easement. The Mensels and Sabols filed an
answer and counter-complaint on December 19, 2012. They
denied making any threats or intimidating the Stinsons and
alleged that the opposite was actually true.
case was tried before a judge sitting without a jury on
August 10 and 11, 2015. On January 6, 2016, the trial court
entered an extensive memorandum and order dismissing all of
the Stinsons' claims against the Sabols and Mensels and
holding the Stinsons liable to the Sabols and Mensels for
nuisance, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of
emotional distress. The court further enjoined the Stinsons
from forever "using, driving on, damaging, or
interfering with Captain Spence Ridge Road, or the
maintenance of the same, " and from harassing the
Mensels and Sabols. On February 5, 2016, the Stinsons filed a
motion to alter or amend the trial court's judgment,
alleging error in some of the court's factual and legal
conclusions, as well as asserting that the trial court was
"without authority to virtually divest the Plaintiffs
from the ability to use or be upon their property that is
part of the subject easement." The Mensels and Sabols
also filed a post-judgment motion to clarify and amend the
trial court's January 6, 2016 order, but only to
generally correct a misspelling and some other inadvertent
errors. On February 25, 2016, the trial court approved the
corrections suggested by the Mensels and Sabols and entered
an amended memorandum and order, which republished the
original order with the changes incorporated. On March 6,
2016 the trial court denied the Stinsons' motion to alter
or amend. The Stinsons timely appealed the trial court's
judgment to this Court.
Stinsons present the following issues, as slightly reworded,
for review on appeal:
1. Whether the trial court erred in finding the Stinsons
liable to the Mensels and Sabols for nuisance?
2. Whether the trial court erred in finding the Stinsons
committed the tort of invasion of privacy?
3. Whether the trial court erred in finding the Stinsons
committed the tort of intentional infliction of emotional
4. Whether the trial court erred in permanently enjoining the
Stinsons from coming onto, using, driving on, damaging, or
interfering with Captain Spence Ridge Road for the entire
50-foot width of the Easement, or the maintenance of the
Standard of Review
case was tried by the trial court without a jury. We
therefore review the trial court's findings of fact
de novo with a presumption of correctness unless the
evidence preponderates otherwise. Tenn. R. App. 13(d);
Armbrister v. Armbrister, 414 S.W.3d 685, 692 (Tenn.
2013). Also, because the trial court has the opportunity to
observe the demeanor of the witnesses and hear the in-court
testimony, we afford considerable deference to the trial
court's credibility determinations and the weight given
to oral testimony. Andrews v. Andrews, 344 S.W.3d
321, 339 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2010). We review the trial
court's conclusions of law de novo with no
presumption of correctness. Hyneman v. Hyneman, 152
S.W.3d 549, 553 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2003).