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Simmons v. Berkeley Electric Cooperative, Inc.

Supreme Court of South Carolina

November 2, 2016

Roosevelt Simmons, Petitioner,
v.
Berkeley Electric Cooperative, Inc. and St. John's Water Company, Inc., Respondents. Appellate Case No. 2013-001477

          Heard October 20, 2015

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS.

         Appeal From Charleston County Mikell R. Scarborough, Master-in-Equity.

         AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART, AND REMANDED

          Edward A. Bertele, of Charleston, for Petitioner.

          John B. Williams and J. Jay Hulst, both of Williams & Hulst, L.L.C., of Moncks Corner; Gaines W. Smith and Jeffrey C. Moore, both of Legare, Hare & Smith, of Charleston, all for Respondents.

          BEATTY, ACTING CHIEF JUSTICE

         In this property dispute concerning utility easements, we granted Roosevelt Simmons' petition for a writ of certiorari to review the Court of Appeals' decision in Simmons v. Berkeley Electric Cooperative, 404 S.C. 172, 744 S.E.2d 580 (Ct. App. 2013). Simmons asserts the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the master-in-equity's grant of summary judgment in favor of St. John's Water Company, Inc. ("St. John's Water") on the basis that it had established a prescriptive easement. Simmons further asserts the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the master's grant of summary judgment in favor of Berkeley Electric Cooperative, Inc. ("Berkeley Electric") on the grounds that it had been granted an express easement and that it had established a prescriptive easement to maintain the power lines in their current configuration. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

         I. Factual/Procedural History

         In 2003, Simmons acquired title to two parcels of land, TMS # 283-00-00-498 ("Tract 498") and TMS # 282-00-00-135 ("Tract 135"). Both parcels are undeveloped, wooded, and located along Kitford Road on Johns Island. The parcels are separated by an abandoned railroad right-of-way and were previously part of a larger tract owned by two of Simmons' predecessors-in-title, Edward Heyward and E.C. Brown. In 1956, Heyward granted an easement to Berkeley Electric to construct and maintain transmission lines over what is now Tract 498 and Tract 135. In 1972, Brown granted an easement to Berkeley Electric to construct and maintain distribution lines over Tract 498.

         In 1977, Charleston County issued an encroachment permit authorizing St. John's Water to install a water main along Kitford Road pursuant to an accompanying map that illustrated the water main's approved location. St. John's Water finished construction on the water main in 1978. In 2005, Simmons discovered a water meter under bushes on Tract 135. Simmons subsequently contacted St. John's Water, which informed Simmons that it would not move the water main because it believed it had an easement giving it the right to use the property. St. John's Water based its belief on the encroachment permit and its understanding that the water main had been in its current location for more than twenty years. Pursuant to a request by Simmons, St. John's Water "blue-flagged" the property. The blue flags showed the water main crossing both Tract 135 and Tract 498.[1]

         In 2008, Simmons commenced this action against Berkeley Electric and St. John's Water alleging trespass and unjust enrichment. Specifically, Simmons alleged Berkeley Electric and St. John's Water trespassed on his property by constructing, placing, and maintaining unauthorized power and water lines. In doing so, Simmons claimed Berkeley Electric and St. John's Water had been "furnished with a non-gratuitous and valuable benefit without paying for its reasonable value." Simmons also sought a declaration that neither utility company had property interests or rights to his property.

         Both Berkeley Electric and St. John's Water moved for summary judgment. After presiding over the summary judgment hearings, the master granted both motions for summary judgment. With respect to Berkeley Electric, the master determined any transmission and distribution lines over Simmons' property were permitted under the 1956 and 1972 easements. To the extent the lines were not within the scope of the express easements, the master found Berkeley Electric established a prescriptive easement to the lines in their current configuration. As to St. John's Water, the master determined the encroachment permit served as an express easement granting St. John's Water the right to use Simmons' property to construct the water main. To the extent that the water main was not covered under the express easement, the master held St. John's Water established a prescriptive easement to maintain the water main in its current configuration. Simmons appealed.

         The Court of Appeals affirmed the master's grant of summary judgment in favor of Berkeley Electric, finding Berkeley Electric did not exceed the scope of the express easements. Simmons, 404 S.C. at 179-80, 744 S.E.2d at 584-85. In addition, the Court of Appeals affirmed the master's finding that Berkeley Electric established a prescriptive easement for the power lines in their current configuration. Id. at 181-82, 744 S.E.2d at 585-86. As to St. John's Water, the Court of Appeals affirmed the master's grant of summary judgment in favor of St. John's Water on the basis that it established a prescriptive easement, but reversed the master's finding that it had an express easement after determining Charleston County lacked the authority to grant a right to use property owned by another. Id. at 183-85, 744 S.E.2d at 586-87. The Court of Appeals remanded the action to the master for a determination of whether there are additional water lines under Simmons' property. Id. at 185, 744 S.E.2d at 587. We granted Simmons' petition for a writ of certiorari following the Court of Appeals' denial of his petition for rehearing.

         II. Standard of Review

         When reviewing the grant of a summary judgment motion, this Court applies the same standard that governs the trial court under Rule 56(c), SCRCP, which provides that summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fleming v. Rose, 350 S.C. 488, 493, 567 S.E.2d 857, 860 (2002); Rule 56(c), SCRCP. "When determining if any triable issues of fact exist, the evidence and all reasonable inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." Fleming, 350 S.C. at 493-94, 567 S.E.2d at 860.

         III. ...


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