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Emerald Hills Homeowners' Ass'n v. Peters

Court of Appeals of Maryland

January 27, 2016

EMERALD HILLS HOMEOWNERS' ASSOCIATION, INC.
v.
WILLIAM E. PETERS, et ux

          Argued December 4, 2015

          Certiorari to the Court of Special Appeals (Circuit Court for Harford County). Case No.: 12-C-12-000722. Willaim O. Carr, JUDGE.

         ARGUED BY: Philip J. Kotschenreuther (Brown, Brown & Young, P.A. of Bel Air, MD) on brief FOR PETITIONER.

         ARGUED BY: Ray M. Shepard (The Shepard Law Firm, LLC of Glen Burnie, MD) on brief FOR RESPONDENTS.

         ARGUED BEFORE: Barbera, C.J., Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Harrell, Jr., Glenn T. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

Page 470

         [446 Md. 157] Adkins, J.

         Property disputes are a prominent aspect of our state's legal history. From Frederick Calvert, 6th Baron Baltimore, commissioning Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon to complete a survey to resolve a colonial boundary dispute, to the United States Supreme Court's adjudication of an interstate water dispute involving the Potomac River in 2003,[1] Maryland has long recognized the significance of the various rights that attach to property ownership. In this case, we are asked to settle a dispute over an easement--one of the most " complex and archaic bod[ies] of American property law." Susan F. French, Toward a Modern Law of Servitudes: Reweaving the Ancient Strands, 55 S. Cal. L.Rev. 1261, 1261-62 (1982).

         FACTS AND LEGAL PROCEEDINGS

         In 1969, a corporation controlled by Victor Posner acquired a 64-acre parcel of land located near Bel Air, Maryland from William and Margaret Sheppard. This property was next to " Greenridge," a residential community developed by Posner. In the deed of conveyance, the Sheppards retained title to a parcel of a little less than an acre, which the Court of Special Appeals and the parties refer to as " Parcel 765." Parcel 765 does not front on a public road, so the Sheppards reserved a non-exclusive right of way over a 50-foot wide and 100-foot long strip of land (the " Right

Page 471

of Way Parcel" ). The Right of [446 Md. 158] Way Parcel provides access to Southview Road, a public street in the Greenridge subdivision.

         In 2000, Posner obtained approval from Harford County to develop what is now called " Emerald Hills," a residential community adjacent to the Greenridge subdivision. Posner developed Emerald Hills in five phases and recorded a subdivision plat, which he signed, in the land records for each phase.[2] As part of the development process, Posner constructed Streamview Court, a 50-foot wide public street partially aligned with Southview Road in the adjacent Greenridge subdivision. Streamview Court ends in a cul-de-sac so its terminus does not line up precisely with the Right of Way Parcel or Parcel 765. The cul-de-sac, however, shares points of intersection with each parcel. The parties and Court of Special Appeals refer to this area between the two parcels and the cul-de-sac as the " Triangular Parcel."

         Parcel 765, the Right of Way Parcel, and the Triangular Parcel are depicted on one of the five Emerald Hills subdivision plats (the " Emerald Hills Subdivision Plat," " Subdivision Plat," or the " Plat" ). Part of the Plat is reproduced below.[3]

          [446 Md. 159] Image Omitted

          There are three relevant markings on the Plat: grey shading, forward slashes, and reversed slashes. The Right of Way Parcel and the Triangular Parcel are shaded in a grey tone. A note on the Plat indicates that this shading " denotes pedestrian and emergency vehicle right-of-way & drainage and utility easement." The Triangular Parcel is also marked with forward slashes, " ////." A note states that these slash marks " denote[] ingress & egress easement for access to Parcel 765." Finally, the Right of Way Parcel is marked with reversed slashes, " ****." The third

Page 472

note on the Plat states that the reversed slash marks " denote[] existing ingress and egress easement for Parcel 765 as per [the Sheppard Deed]." [4]

         The Plat also designates the Right of Way Parcel and Triangular Parcel as " Passive Open Space" areas.[5] The Plat was recorded in the land records of Harford County in 2000. In 2001, Posner, individually and on behalf of Posner, LLC, executed and recorded a Cross Easement Agreement (" Agreement" ). The Agreement recited that Posner was the owner [446 Md. 160] and developer of the Emerald Hills Subdivision and that Posner, LLC was the owner and developer of the Greenridge Subdivision. As a condition of preliminary plan approval for the Emerald Hills Subdivision, the Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning required that Posner and Posner, LLC create reciprocal easements to permit lot owners in both subdivisions to enjoy a common right to use and access the open space areas, including the " Passive Open Space" areas depicted on the Plat. The Cross Easement Agreement grants the owners of the lots in each subdivision reciprocal, but non-exclusive, rights of access and use of the recreational areas and passive open space areas designated on the Plat, as well as on the plats for other phases of the Greenridge and Emerald Hill Subdivisions.

         In 2006, title to the passive open spaces, including the Triangular Parcel and the Right of Way Parcel, in the Emerald Hills subdivision, was conveyed to the Emerald Hills Homeowners' Association (" the Association" ).[6] The deed conveying the property to the Association did not contain a metes and bounds or other description of the land conveyed. Instead, the deed referred to the Plat and the other Emerald Hills subdivision plats. Specifically, the deed stated that it passed title to " [a]ll that property referred to as 'Passive Open Space' . . . as shown on [the various Emerald Hills subdivision plats] and recorded among the Land Records of Harford County."

         In 2009, Mr. and Mrs. Peters purchased Parcel 765 from William Sheppard's estate " together with the rights, privileges, appurtenances and advantages thereto belonging or appertaining unto and to the proper use and benefit of [Mr. and Mrs. Peters]." Mr. and Mrs. Peters then applied for an access permit from Harford County for the installation of a paved driveway on the Triangular Parcel. The County approved [446 Md. 161] the application and Mr. and Mrs. Peters began construction of a driveway on the Triangular Parcel that would enable them to access Streamview Court.

         The Association filed suit seeking injunctive relief, compensatory damages, and a declaratory judgment that the Triangular Parcel was not subject to an easement for the benefit of Parcel 765. Mr. and Mrs. Peters filed an answer and a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. The Association then filed a cross-motion for summary judgment as to its claim for a declaratory judgment. The Circuit Court granted the Association's

Page 473

motion for summary judgment and declared that the Triangular Parcel was not subject to an easement for the benefit of Parcel 765.

         The Court of Special Appeals did not see it that way and it reversed. The intermediate appellate court ruled that the Plat established an express easement over the Triangular Parcel in favor of Parcel 765 and that the Cross Easement Agreement had no effect on this easement. The Association appealed and we granted its Petition for Writ of Certiorari. ...


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