Blackacre is a 5,000-acre tract of land that is rich in timber. The owner of Blackacre, O, operates the land as a tree farm. O harvests trees twice per year and sells the logs to a paper mill.
Within Blackacre is a network of unpaved trails. O uses the trails to move trucks and equipment around the property. The trails converge in the southeast corner of Blackacre to form a one-lane dirt road. The dirt road is strip of bare earth approximately 12 feet wide. The road is sufficiently hard-packed that weeds and grasses never grow on it. This dirt road runs for 300 yards, then intersects a paved, two-lane public highway that runs through this corner of Blackacre. During each harvest, O uses the dirt road to transport the logs to the two-lane highway, then to the paper mill. There are no other roads connecting Blackacre to any public roadway.
After O has owned and logged Blackacre for 10 years, O sells 30 contiguous acres of Blackacre to a buyer, B. The 30-acre parcel encompasses the entire length of the dirt road. O and B make no arrangements, either verbally or in writing, concerning O’s continued use of the dirt road. Nevertheless, O continues to haul logs using this road during O’s twice-yearly tree harvests, and B never objects.
Five years later, B sells the 30-acre tract to C. The dirt road is not specifically mentioned in the deed between B and C. Moreover, there are no discussions about the road between B and C, nor between C and O.
A few months after the sale to C, O arrives to at Blackacre to harvest trees, per O’s usual twice-yearly schedule. O finds that C has stretched a chain across the dirt road, blocking O’s access. When O confronts C, C forbids O to use the road, and tells O to build another road out of Blackacre. While it is possible for O to do so, it would take several weeks to survey the road, clear the trees, and prepare the new road’s surface. The project would cost $10,000.
O informs C that O has the right to the continued use of the existing dirt road. O also tells C that O wants to widen the road by eight feet, which will enable O to transport newer and larger trucks and other equipment.
The applicable statute of frauds requires that any agreement conveying an interest in land for more than one year must be in writing.
- After the sale to C, is O entitled to use the existing dirt road? Explain.
- If O were entitled to use the existing dirt road, would O be entitled to widen the road? Explain.