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Schwab v. Timmons

Supreme Court of Wisconsin
589 N.W.2d 1 (1999)


Facts

The property of several adjoining landowners was bordered by a lake on the west and a bluff on the east. The bluff ranged from 37 to 60 feet tall. The federal government owned the property prior to 1854. The property was divided into lots 2, 3, and 4. At the time of the government’s conveyance of lot 4 in 1854, each lot had public-road access. The government subsequently conveyed lots 2 and 3, and all the lots were subdivided into parcels. Dorice McCormick and James and Katherine Schwab (landowners) owned the northernmost lots, located in lot 2. Situated below them were Timmons, the Lenzes, additional owners, and Hobler (neighbors) (defendants). Timmons’s and Lenzes’ properties were in lot 2, the additional owners’ properties were in lots 3 and 4, and Hobler’s property was in lot 4. A private road ran between the Hobler and Lenz properties. The landowners conveyed away the portions of their property with public-road access and then unsuccessfully sought to extend the private road and a public road. The landowners brought a declaratory-judgment action for an easement by necessity or implication that would give them the right to travel over the private road and to build a road over the Lenz and Timmons properties. The neighbors filed motions to dismiss. The circuit court dismissed the action. The court of appeals affirmed. On appeal, the landowners claimed that the court should either grant an easement by necessity or implication, or expand common law to recognize an easement by necessity when property is landlocked due to both geographical barriers and the actions of a common owner and grantor. The landowners also requested that the court apply a reasonable-use test to balance the parties’ competing interests.

Rule of Law

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Wilcox, J.)

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  • A “yes” or “no” answer to the question framed in the issue section;
  • A summary of the majority or plurality opinion, using the CREAC method; and
  • The procedural disposition (e.g. reversed and remanded, affirmed, etc.).

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