Respect Everyone’s Rights And Everyone’s Right
by Ron Davis
An Atlanta shopping center has found itself in the midst of a land-use squabble between two adjacent property owners.
Both property owners claim the right to use a small tract of land that provides an entrance to and exit from the shopping center. One property owner, SunTrust Bank, directs drive-in-teller customers to cross the tract after transacting banking business. Because the second property owner has a fee-simple title to the tract, however, he thinks he has the right to park cars on his property in such a way that bank customers are prevented from taking an easy exit. So exiting bank customers recently must cross shopping center property because of the blockage.
SunTrust consequently sued the second property owner, contending that the previous owner of the disputed tract granted the bank an easement. The second property owner concedes that SunTrust has an easement right, but argues that it also has a right to the placement of parked cars.
In fact, both are apparently correct in their claims. And the shopping center property offers a way to satisfy each party. Georgia’s courts have ruled that the tract may be used for parking in common with the adjacent shopping center. Therefore, the owner of the disputed tract may place parked cars wherever he chooses. But the owner must respect SunTrust’s easement across the tract.
Explained the judges, "We find no ambiguity in this reservation of rights. The property owner can rearrange buildings, walkways, and parking and thereby force the bank to rearrange its point of egress across the tract and onto the mall parking lot, so long as the easement is maintained.... Accordingly, the owner of the tract now has the right to force a change in the location of the easement but cannot disturb the easement right." (SunTrust Bank v. Fletcher, 548 S.E.2d 630 [Ga.App. 2001])
Decision: April 2001
Published: August 2001