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In Your Dreams, Inc. v. Raisin's Ranch, LLC

Court of Appeals of Georgia, First Division

June 11, 2019

IN YOUR DREAMS, INC. et al.
v.
RAISIN'S RANCH, LLC

          BARNES, P. J., MERCIER and BROWN, JJ.

          Brown, Judge.

         Raisin's Ranch, LLC, as an alleged assignee of Susan Purcell, brought this action for declaratory judgment against In Your Dreams, Inc. and Anita Ryan to resolve a dispute over the existence and use of an easement on property which belongs to Purcell and which adjoins property owned by Ryan.[1] Raisin's Ranch asserted that no valid easement existed to encumber Purcell's property. On cross-motions for partial summary judgment, the trial court granted Raisin's Ranch's motion and denied In Your Dreams and Ryan's motion, finding that no valid easement existed. In Your Dreams and Ryan now appeal the trial court's ruling granting Raisin's Ranch's motion. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the trial court's order.

On appeal, we review the trial court's grant of summary judgment de novo to determine whether the evidence of record, viewed in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, demonstrates any genuine issue of material fact. Summary judgment is proper only when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

(Citations and footnotes omitted.) Gilbert v. Fine, 288 Ga.App. 20, 21 (653 S.E.2d 775) (2007).

         So viewed, the evidence shows that in 1992, Ryan acquired a parcel of land by way of warranty deed. In conjunction with the deed, a plat depicting the property conveyed was recorded in the public record ("the 1992 Plat"). In 1997, Ryan recorded another plat ("the 1997 Plat"), depicting the property she owned at the time divided into three separate tracts referred to as "Tract A," "Tract A-1," and "Tract B." The 1997 Plat also depicts a "50 ACCESS ESMT TO TRACT A-1" which begins at the point where the boundary of Tract A and Tract B meets "Birmingham Road/Highway 372," and continues to the boundary of Tract A and Tract A-1 ("the Easement"). The Easement benefits Tracts A and A-1 and burdens Tract B. The 1997 Plat does not appear to relate to any transfer or conveyance of the property and is the first recorded document referencing the Easement on the property owned by Ryan.

         On November 13, 2000, Ryan conveyed to herself five lots within Tract B, as depicted in the 1997 Plat, via warranty deed. Over the next few years, Ryan conveyed these five lots to various individuals and to a limited liability company. On June 24, 2004, Ryan pledged Tracts A and A-1 as security for debt owed to Washington Mutual Bank, FA and executed a security deed which was recorded in the public record. The legal description of the property to be encumbered by the June 24, 2004 security deed references the 1997 Plat. No specific reference is made to the Easement depicted in the 1997 Plat.

         On November 16, 2004, Ryan further encumbered Tract A of her property in favor of Wachovia Bank, National Association by executing an "Open-End Deed to Secure Debt." The legal description of the property does not reference the 1997 Plat or the Easement, but references the 1992 Plat.[2]

         On July 14, 2006, Ryan executed a "Deed to Secure Debt, Assignment of Rents and Security Agreement" in favor of Power Lending, LLC ("2006 Power Lending Deed"). Pursuant to this agreement, Ryan pledged, as collateral, a portion of Tract B as described in the 1997 Plat. Power Lending subsequently assigned its rights in the July 14, 2006 deed to RBC Bank (USA).

         After Ryan defaulted on the underlying debt, RBC foreclosed on the property on August 2, 2011. Susan Purcell purchased the encumbered portion of Tract B ("the servient estate") from PNC Bank, successor by merger to RBC, by limited warranty deed and quitclaim deed on August 27, 2013. The legal descriptions therein do not reference any easement on the property, nor do they reference the 1997 Plat. Believing it to be a valid easement, Ryan and In Your Dreams continued to use the roadway on the servient estate as a means of accessing their property - Tracts A and A-1 as specified in the 1997 Plat ("the dominant estate"). Purcell manages Raisin's Ranch, LLC - the plaintiff in this declaratory judgment action - on the servient estate as a commercial enterprise.

         Raisin's Ranch filed a complaint seeking a declaratory judgment that a valid easement did not exist to encumber its alleged property. In Your Dreams and Ryan answered and brought counterclaims for continuing trespass and attorney fees. On cross-motions for partial summary judgment, the trial court granted partial summary judgment to Raisin's Ranch and denied that of Ryan and In Your Dreams. The trial court concluded that Ryan had failed to create an express easement, and alternatively that if she had successfully created the Easement, it was extinguished by the subsequent foreclosure of the servient estate. The trial court also found that no easement was created by either implication or necessity. In Your Dreams and Ryan now appeal the trial court's order, contending that the Easement was expressly created by the 1997 Plat, and alternatively, that an easement by implication or necessity was created.

         The Declaratory Judgment Act

gives superior courts the power to declare rights and other legal relations of any interested party in "cases of actual controversy" under OCGA § 9-4-2 (a) and "in any civil case in which it appears to the court that the ends of justice require that the declaration should be made." OCGA § 9-4-2 (b).

Leitch v. Fleming, 291 Ga. 669, 670 (732 S.E.2d 401) (2012). "There can be no justiciable controversy unless there are interested parties asserting adverse claims upon a state of facts which have accrued." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Bd. of Natural Res. v. Monroe County, 252 Ga.App. 555, 557 (1) (556 S.E.2d 834) (2001). And in order to show it is an "interested party" under the Declaratory Judgment Act, "a party must ...


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