William McNaughton entered into an easement agreement with Jeanine and Stanley Chartier allowing a small part of a road to pass through his property. The road was used to access the Chartiers’ business on their property located adjacent to McNaughton’s. The agreement provided that it was a “’private’ easement granted for the use and benefit of the parties . . . and [was] not to be construed as an easement for the use and benefit of the general public.” When the Chartiers later sold their business and property, litigation regarding the easement ensued. Specifically, the City of Lawton argued McNaughton had dedicated the paved portion of the easement to the City.
The district court agreed, holding that because the public had used the easement as the parties had agreed and McNaughton had never attempted to restrict the use of the concrete portion of the easement area, he had dedicated the disputed area to the city and his rights and interests in the portion had been extinguished. The court of appeals found otherwise and reversed.
The Supreme Court agreed with the court of appeals, finding McNaughton had not dedicated any portion of the easement to the city. The language of the agreement between the parties plainly and unambiguously established the easement was private easement for the Chartiers’ benefit and not a dedication of property rights to the City or the public at large. Moreover, after entering into the easement, McNaughton continued to express his intent that he was not public dedicating it. On three occasions the City had asked McNaughton to dedicate the easement and he refused each time. The Court said that while the general public used the easement to access Chartiers’ business, this dis not establish any intent of dedication. Under this rational, McNaughton would have been required to violate the terms of the easement agreement and disallow the permissive use of the easement and subject himself to suit merely to disestablish an intent to publicly dedicate the easement. Such an outcome is irrational and further supports the general rule that permissive use does not give rise to a public dedication.
McNaughton v. Chartier, et. al., No. 19-1681 (Iowa, June 24, 2022).