MCFADDEN, P. J., RICKMAN and MARKLE, JJ.
April 2014, JHJ Jodeco 65, LLC, and RCB Jodeco 35, LLC
(collectively, "JHJ") bought a parcel of land that
adjoins parcels owned by Emson Investment Properties, LLC
("Emson") in the Jodeco Road Village commercial
development ("the development"). After Emson
blocked access to a section of the parking lot, JHJ sued for
declaratory judgment and injunctive relief, asserting rights
to quasi-easements and implied easements across Emson's
property for use of the common infrastructure of the
development, including additional parking spaces, access for
ingress and egress, and the water, sewer and storm water
management systems. Following a bench trial, the trial court
entered final judgment in JHJ's favor.
now appeals, arguing that the trial court erred because (i)
JHJ was not entitled to quasi-easements and implied easements
as a matter of law; (ii) even if JHJ was so entitled, Emson
was a bona fide purchaser for value, and thus took title to
its property free and clear of such claims; and (iii) JHJ was
not entitled to equitable relief. For the reasons set forth
below, we agree and reverse the trial court's judgment.
On an appeal from an entry of judgment following a bench
trial, we apply a de novo standard of review to any questions
of law decided by the trial court, but will defer to any
factual findings made by that court if there is any evidence
to sustain them. Nevertheless, if the trial court makes a
finding of fact which is unsupported by the record, that
finding cannot be upheld, and any judgment based upon such a
finding must be reversed.
(Citation and punctuation omitted.) Denapoli v.
Owen, 341 Ga.App. 517, 518 (801 S.E.2d 314) (2017).
in this light, the record reveals that in 2003, Gadson
Woodall, as principal of Charrette Development Group, LLC
("CDG"), began assembling the individually owned
parcels, in excess of eleven acres of land in total, that
would become the development. In March 2005, CDG purchased
the initial tract of land, comprising approximately seven
acres fronting Jodeco Road in Henry County. This portion of
the property, referred to as the "Miller tract,"
encompassed the front parcel on which retail buildings A and
B were built, now owned by JHJ. The Miller tract also
included the rear parcel, as well as the land where retail
building C would be built, both parcels now owned by Emson.
The same day that CDG acquired the Miller tract, it conveyed
title to the rear parcel, as well as the land eventually
occupied by building C, to Jodeco Road Investments, LLC
("JRI"), another of Woodall's corporate
entities. Woodall testified that title to the
development was divided among separate corporate
entities because he could not obtain a single
source of financing for construction.
complete the footprint of the development, in April 2005, CDG
purchased the side tract, or the "Hulsey-Dukes-Cates
tract," an assemblage of five separate tracts comprising
approximately four acres. Emson now owns this tract.
testified that Henry County approved JRI's rezoning
request for a single development with a common
infrastructure, to be shared by the entire development.
However, it is undisputed that no cross-easements, covenants,
or restrictions regarding common use of the infrastructure
were ever recorded.
the initial loan secured by security deed on a portion of the
property, construction began on buildings A and B on the
front parcel in 2005. The rear parcel was also developed in
this phase, including the detention pond, water and sewer
lines, and other utility lines. Due to the high cost of the
infrastructure improvements, CDG required additional
financing to finish the interiors of buildings A and B, and
it obtained another loan from yet a different lender secured
by security deed on other tracts within the development. This
pattern of dividing up the development property for financing
purposes and obtaining loans from different lenders continued
until no further financing could be secured. One by one, the
loans went into default and, by 2009, all of the parcels
secured under the loans were individually foreclosed and sold
auction in June 2011, Emson purchased the tract where retail
buildings C and D are located. Because there was inadequate
parking for the retail buildings, Emson next purchased the
side tract in July 2011. And in December 2011, Emson
purchased the rear parcel of the development. In February
2013, in a separate action not before this Court, Hamilton
State Bank, the owner of the front parcel at the time,
brought suit against Emson asserting claims for access to
Emson's property for parking.
April 2014, JHJ purchased the front parcel from Hamilton
State Bank, despite its principal, John Hardy Jones, being
aware of the pending litigation with Emson and the inadequate
parking situation. . Relying only on zoning records, Jones
assumed that the parking lot in the rear parcel, which Emson
owns, was burdened to accommodate additional parking for the
businesses in retail buildings A and B on the front parcel.
Months after JHJ purchased the front parcel, Emson installed
a gate impeding access to the rear parcel and the parking
brought suit, seeking a declaration that it was entitled to
quasi-easements and implied easements across Emson's
property for use of the common infrastructure, including
additional parking spaces, access for ingress and egress, and
the water, sewer and storm water management systems. Emson
answered and brought counterclaims for ejectment, trespass,
nuisance, attorney fees and punitive damages. The parties
agreed to bifurcate the proceedings with JHJ's claims to
be resolved by bench trial, and Emson's remaining
counterclaims to be heard by a jury. Following a bench trial
on JHJ's claims, the trial court found that JHJ had
quasi-easements and implied easement across Emson's
property, and issued declarations and permanent injunctions
in JHJ's favor. This appeal followed.
an initial matter, JHJ argues that this appeal is premature
and subject to dismissal because Emson's counterclaims
remain pending below. We disagree. Declaratory judgments,
such as the trial court's judgment here, "shall have
the force and effect of a final judgment or decree and be
reviewable as such." OCGA § 9-4-2 (a). Regardless
of whether the trial court's judgment resolved all of
Emson's counterclaims, the trial court's order is
directly appealable pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act.
OCGA § 9-4-1 (a); Bldg. Block Enterprises, LLC v.
State Bank & Trust Co., 314 Ga.App. 147, 150 (1)
(723 S.E.2d 467) (2012) (declaratory ...