The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Bittle v. CAM-Colorado on June 7, 2012.
Adverse Possession—County—Indispensable Party—Public Roads—Implied Easement of Necessity—CRCP 59(a)—CRCP 15(b).
In this adverse possession action, defendant CAM-Colorado, LLC (CAM) appealed those parts of the judgment entered in favor of plaintiffs Dale and Patricia Bittle. The Bittles cross-appealed the district court’s order denying their post-trial CRCP 59(a) motion. The judgment was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded with directions.
The Bittles are a married couple who live on land that they also use for farming and grazing livestock. Their land abuts land owned by CAM, a coal company subsidiary. The Bittles initiated a claim for adverse possession, and CAM sought an easement of necessity across the Bittles’ land.
CAM contended that the district court erred in determining that Mesa County was an indispensable party that must be joined before it could determine whether the three roads on the Bittles’ property were public roads. However, the trial court was required to determine whether the roads were dedicated and accepted by the county and, if so, whether those roads had been vacated later or abandoned by the county. Therefore, Mesa County was an indispensable party, because in its absence, the declaration would not be binding on the county and complete relief could not be accorded between the parties.
CAM also contended that the district court erred in denying its request to recognize an implied easement of necessity on the land the Bittles adversely possessed. The person claiming an implied easement of necessity bears the burden of proving such an easement exists at the time the unity of ownership was severed. Here, the Bittles had possessed the land since at least 1977; the latest date by which the severance occurred was 1995. CAM had not pointed to any evidence in the record indicating that, at the time of severance in 1995, it or its predecessors in title were using their land in a manner that would necessitate access through the adversely possessed property. Instead, CAM’s expert stated at trial that the easement was mainly “for future purposes.” Further, evidence in the record proved that there were alternatives offering reasonable means of ingress and egress to CAM. Because CAM did not prove the requirements for an implied easement of necessity, the district court did not err in denying its request to recognize such an easement.
The Bittles contended that the district court abused its discretion in denying their CRCP 59(a) motion to amend the judgment to include a ruling on whether they had adversely possessed the property bordered by the Loma Drain referred to as parcel 4. The Bittles failed to include this claim in their complaint. However, they subsequently filed a timely CRCP 59(a) motion to amend the judgment pursuant to CRCP 15(b). Based on the opening statements, evidence presented, and closing arguments, the parcel 4 issue was actually and intentionally tried by both parties. The record also demonstrates that CAM never objected to the Bittles’ presenting evidence and argument regarding the parcel 4 issue. Accordingly, the court abused its discretion in denying the Bittles’ CRCP 59(a) motion.
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