BILLY BUTLER, ET AL.
MALVIN CARVIN PITTS, JR., ET AL.
Session June 29, 2017
from the Chancery Court for Haywood County No. 2014-CH-46
George R. Ellis, Chancellor
the second appeal of this easement case. Appellants, the
servient land owners, appeal the trial court's award of a
monetary judgment in favor of Appellees, the owners of the
dominant estate. On remand, the parties agreed to have the
trial court determine the precise location of the easement,
but the trial court refused to hear the issue, and also
refused to allow Appellants to make an offer of proof. We
vacate the damage award due to the trial court's failure
to make sufficient findings. We also conclude that the trial
court erred by refusing to determine the location of the
easement. Vacated and remanded.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court is Vacated and Remanded
S. Haywood, Jr., Brownsville, Tennessee, and Christopher N.
Davis, Alamo, Tennessee, for the appellants, Malvin Carvin
Pitts, Jr., Malvin Carvin Pitts, III, and Marcia Lee Pitts.
Mann and Joshua B. Shearon, Brownsville, Tennessee, for the
appellees, Stephen Leath and Billy Butler.
Armstrong, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Brandon O. Gibson, J.,
Factual and Procedural History
the second appeal of this case. Members of the James family,
parties in the previous appeal, owned several tracts of
farmland in rural Haywood County. Butler v. Pitts,
No. W2015-01124-COA-R3-CV, 2016 WL 561078, at *1 (Tenn. Ct.
App. Feb. 12, 2016) ("Butler I"). The
Appellees, in the current appeal, are members of a group of
hunters who leased a portion of the James' land for
hunting purposes. In 2004, the hunters purchased the land
they had been leasing from the James family. In addition to
conveying forty-three acres to the hunters, the James family
granted the hunters a thirty-foot easement for ingress and
egress over an adjacent tract of land they owned. This
easement was recorded on March 1, 2004, in the office of the
Haywood County Register of Deeds; it provides:
For good and valuable consideration, receipt of which, is
hereby acknowledged, we, William James and Ewell James do
hereby grant unto Billy Butler, Stephen Leath, Kenneth
McBride and Cecil Clint Dixon a thirty (30) foot easement for
ingress and egress to a 43-acre tract known in the property
assessor's office of Haywood County, Tennessee as Map 20,
Parcel 38 over and across presently existing roadway as shown
in a yellow ink on the map attached hereto.
2013, approximately nine years after the easement was
recorded, Malvin Carvin Pitts, Jr., Marcia Lee Pitts, and
Malvin Carvin Pitts, III, (together, "Appellants")
purchased, from the James family, the property that was
subject to the hunters' easement. Prior to their
purchase, Appellants had leased and actively farmed the same
land for a number of years. Appellants hired a closing
attorney to perform a title examination and to draft the
deed. Although, as noted above, the hunters' easement was
recorded, Appellants' closing attorney did not reference
the recorded easement in the warranty deed conveying the land
to Appellants. Appellants' deed, recorded on January 29,
2014, contains the following language:
We covenant with the said Malvin Carvin Pitts, Jr., Marcia
Lee Pitts and Malvin Carvin Pitts, III, that we are lawfully
seized and possessed of said real estate; that we have a good
and lawful right to sell and convey the same; that the same
is unencumbered; and that we will forever warrant and defend
the title thereto against the lawful claims of all persons
months after their purchase, Appellants made substantive
changes to the existing easement, blocking the hunters'
ingress and egress to their property. Consequently, on July
8, 2014, the hunters filed a complaint against the
Appellants, alleging that the Appellants "intentionally
removed the culvert at the end of the easement where it
adjoined the county road, plowed up the road and planted
soybeans on the roadway easement." The hunters further
alleged that Appellants' actions had denied them use of
the easement. The hunters asked the trial court to order the
Appellants to reopen the easement and to restore it to its
original condition. Additionally, they asked for damages,
both compensatory and punitive, ...