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R. C. Acres, Inc. v. Cambridge Faire Props., LLC

Court of Appeals of Georgia

March 30, 2015


Page 445

Easement. Forsyth Superior Court. Before Judge Bagley.

Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers, M. Diane Owens, Anandhi S. Rajan, Bradley S. Wolff, for R. C. Acres.

Patricia Whitney, pro se.

Vinay Bose, pro se.

Teague & Chambless, J. Stuart Teague, Keisha Martin Chambless, for Mommies Properties et al.


Page 446

Boggs, Judge.

These appeals arise from litigation involving the location and extent of an easement of access to real property, and alleged damages as a result of interference with the easement. In 2009, R. C. Acres, Inc. (" R. C." ) filed a complaint seeking to quiet title to an alleged easement of access to its land and for damages against Cambridge Faire [331 Ga.App. 763] Properties, LLC and Mommies Properties, LLC as owners of adjoining parcels. After numerous amendments and motions to join parties and to intervene, the case proceeded to trial in 2013 as to appellees Mommies Properties, LLC, Vinay Bose, and Patricia Whitney d/b/a Flowered Rock Farm (" the M. P. defendants" ) and Cambridge Faire LLC, Dewey White, and White Repair & Contracting Co. (" the Cambridge defendants" ), as well as other entities not parties to this appeal.[1]

In a bifurcated trial, the jury returned two detailed special verdicts. The first verdict marked the easement's original and ultimate locations, and the second awarded damages to R. C. against the Cambridge defendants for interference with its easement, but found in favor of the M. P. defendants.[2] Judgment was entered on the jury's verdicts, and the parties filed various post-trial motions. But before any rulings were made by the trial court, R. C. filed its notice of appeal. Mommies

Page 447

Properties and Bose also filed conditional cross-appeals of the trial court's order denying their motions for sanctions for the alleged spoliation of evidence.[3]

Because the trial court abused its discretion in limiting the jury's consideration of evidence showing earlier locations of the easement at issue, and further erred in ruling that the new Georgia Evidence Code limited cross-examination to the scope of direct, we reverse in part in Case No. A14A1688. We also vacate the judgment in part and remand for the trial court to conform that part of the judgment to the jury's verdict. But because the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motions for sanctions, we affirm in Case Nos. A14A1689 and A14A2102.

Case No. A14A1688

1. R. C. contends that in preparing the special verdict form for submission to the jury, the trial court improperly limited the jury's consideration of the easement to its original and its ultimate locations [331 Ga.App. 764] only. As a result, R. C. contends that the jury was unable to consider the award of damages with respect to intermediate locations of the easement with which it alleged that the defendants interfered.

" The form of a verdict and the submission of a special verdict are within the discretion of the trial court, and, absent an abuse of that discretion, the court's choice will not be overturned." (Citations, punctuation and footnote omitted.) Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's of London v. Rucker Constr., 285 Ga.App. 844, 851-852 (4) (648 S.E.2d 170) (2007); see also OCGA § 9-11-49. But the special verdict form must be " adequately crafted to elicit a decision on the issues before the court. [Cit.]" Glisson v. Glisson, 265 Ga. 239, 240 (4) (454 S.E.2d 508) (1995). Because some evidence was presented at trial that the easement was relocated by agreement of the parties to several different routes during the period in question, the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to submit this disputed question of fact to the jury, and we therefore must reverse.

A brief summary of the relevant evidence is necessary for consideration of this issue. At trial, R. C. presented testimony that it owns a parcel of property on the Chattahoochee River in Forsyth County. The parcel is landlocked, and was originally part of a larger tract of land with access to a nearby highway, owned by the Rives Corporation (" Rives" ) at the time R. C. acquired its parcel from Rives, but later divided into two tracts and conveyed to others. One tract was transferred to the White defendants; the other was developed as an equestrian property by an intermediate owner, Silver Creek Development, and eventually transferred to M. P. defendants Mommies Properties and Bose.[4]

At the time of the sale to R. C. in 1985, Rives granted " a sixty foot wide easement which runs parallel to the south boundary line" of the property. The deed did not describe the easement location in more detail; instead, it explicitly provided: " a relocated easement of ingress and egress will be obtained between the parties hereto, their respective heirs and assigns subsequent to the date of this conveyance." A Rives officer testified that this agreement was made so that the parties involved could later agree upon a mutually convenient location.

A major issue at trial was whether the easement was relocated by agreement between the parties or their predecessors in title. While the M. P. defendants contend the evidence showed that the easement [331 Ga.App. 765] was never relocated with respect to their property, citing portions of the record, R. C. points to evidence in the record, including surveys, deeds, and testimony, showing that the easement was relocated by agreement to an existing roadway on the property, known as " Woods Road" or " Old Woods Road." Testimony was presented that this route was used from ...

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