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Snow v. Smith ex rel. Stoudenmire

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

March 2, 2016

Elizabeth L. Snow (f/k/a Elizabeth S. Bell), Mark S. Campitella, Chrissie E. Campitella, Henry D. Gehlken, Sr., Vivian S. Gehlken, Kenneth W. Kelly and Anita B. Kelly, Stephen F. Linder, Sr., Jackie Bower Linder, and Kathryn A. McDaniel, Appellants,
v.
Judson P. Smith, Christy Brabham Bell, Charles S. Coleman, Jr., J. Thomas Coleman, Jacob C. Coleman, Valiska C. Freeman, George Arthur Stoudenmire, George Arthur Stoudenmire as trustee for the benefit of William E. Stoudenmire, Linda B. Stoudenmire, Stacey S. Dershaw f/k/a Stacy Mitchell Stoudenmire and Laura Brittany Stoudenmire, and Trust " B" Created By U/W Everett L. Stoudenmire and Valiska F. Coleman, Respondents

         Heard September 16, 2015.

Page 243

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 244

          Appeal From Lexington County James O. Spence, Master-in-Equity. Appellate Case No. 2013-002727.

         Thomas Bailey Smith, of Smith Law Firm, PA, of Mount Pleasant, for Appellants.

         Harry Clayton Walker, Jr. and Thomas E. Andrews, III, both of Walker & Reibold, LLC, of Columbia, for Respondents.

         KONDUROS, J. FEW, C.J., and LOCKEMY, J., concur.

          OPINION

Page 245

          KONDUROS, J.:

          In this easement action, a group of homeowners contend the master-in-equity erred in finding (1) their easement was limited to ingress and egress and (2) the restrictive covenants do not apply to the Lake Access Lot. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

         FACTS/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Charles S. Coleman, Sr. and E.L. Stoudenmire (Developers) developed Hilton Place subdivision in 1983. The Restrictions were filed on October 12, 1983. The Restrictions stated, " No lot or property conveyed hereunder shall be used for any other than private residential purposes of one family, except by and with written consent and approval of Grantors." Additionally, they stated, " No building, barn, outbuilding, fence, garage or structure of any kind or alterations or additions thereto shall be erected, placed or made on any lot hereby conveyed; no residence containing less than 1,200 square feet of living space shall be erected on any lot . . . ." The Restrictions also provided any lot or property conveyed could only be used for " private residential purposes of one family, except by and with written consent and approval of the Grantors." The Restrictions banned any " noxious or offensive activity" on the lots and anything that " becomes an annoyance or nuisance to the neighborhood." They likewise barred any " condition or situation" on any of the lots that was " a nuisance or otherwise detract[ed] from the desirability of the neighborhood as a residential section." Further, the Restrictions provided " [t]hese covenants, conditions and restrictions are for the benefit of the Grantors who may change or modify the terms contained herein at any time." The Restrictions also stated they were " imposed upon all those lots shown on a plat . . . dated September 19, 1983" (1983 Plat). The 1983 Plat shows several numbered lots and a lot with no number described as " Lake Access" (Lake Access Lot). The Developers never formed a homeowners' association although a group of homeowners attempted to form one at one point.

         When Elizabeth Snow (f/k/a Elizabeth S. Bell) bought her lot in 1990, the deed stated, " Also conveyed her[e]with is an easement for the use and enjoyment by the lot owner and the lot owner[']s immediate family to the Lake Access Lot shown on the recorded subdivision lot, said easement to be appurtenant to the land her[e]in conveyed." Additionally,

Page 246

her purchase contract stated, " Lake Access Lot is available for purchaser's use at time of closing." Henry D. Gehlken, Sr. and Vivian Gehlken's deed stated the conveyance included " a non-exclusive access to the water of Lake Murray through the lake access as shown on [the 1983 P]lat[,] which shall run with the land." Other homeowners' deeds make no mention of lake or water access but do indicate they are subject to all easements of record.

         A Confirmatory Amendment to the Restrictions was filed on February 5, 1999. It indicated the Restrictions only applied to the numbered lots. It also stated, " Nothing contained herein shall be construed to impose any covenants, conditions or restrictions on any other property shown on the aforesaid plat." The Amendment further provided, " In the event this amendment conflicts with any other provisions of the Restrictions . . . this amendment shall supersede and govern."

         In July 2010, the heirs[1] of the Developers deeded the Lake Access Lot to Judson P. Smith and Christy Brabham Bell (n/k/a Jennifer Christy Brabham) for $25,000. Smith and Bell built a dock, gazebo, fire pit, deck, and storage building containing a toilet[2] on the Lot. They also widened and lengthened the boat ramp.

         Several homeowners[3] brought suit against Smith and Bell as well as the Heirs (collectively, Respondents) for declaratory judgments and breach of covenants. They also sought as to the Heirs to set aside the conveyance of the Lake Access Lot due to fraud, negligence, and breach of fiduciary duty.

         At trial, Snow testified she interpreted her sales contract and deed as allowing her to use the entire Lake Access Lot at any time. Snow believed the outhouse on the Lake Access Lot negatively affected her property value because " it is an outhouse.

         It's a bathroom outside." She thought the outhouse diminished the value of her property by $25,000. She acknowledged the Lake Access Lot now being maintained instead of overgrown as it previously had been helped her property value. However, she stated her home value had decreased $19,000 since she refinanced her home in 2006.

         Another owner, Stephen Linder, testified the outhouse decreased his property value by $10,000 to $25,000. He believed it was " a detriment to the neighborhood" " [b]ecause it's an outhouse where people go to the bathroom outside." Linder further indicated he could hear noise when Smith and Bell occasionally had parties on the Lot.

         Kathryn Ann McDaniel, also a homeowner, testified once when she believed Smith and Bell were having a party, she had noticed an odor coming from the Lake Access Lot that smelled like an outhouse. She believed her property value had decreased by at least $20,000. She stated she had arrived at that figure " I guess ...


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