March 9, 2016

Court Reverses Antiharassment Order Due to Neighbor's Easement Claim

Christopher Geiger and Marcellus and Lisa Buchheit own adjoining parcels of property on the north side of Lake Stevens.  Mr. Geiger owns and lives on lot 1, the upland parcel. The Buchheits own lot 2, which is located on the waterfront south of Mr. Geiger's parcel.  Lot 2 has a dock, boat ramp, and bulkhead, and the Buchheits plan to construct a house on it in the future.

Mr. Geiger began to use lot 2 without the Buchheits' permission.  When they accused him of trespassing, he claimed to have an easement over lot 2.  The Buchheits then sought and were granted an antiharassment order of protection that directed Mr. Geiger to stay off lot 2.  Mr. Geiger then appealed that order, arguing that the antiharassment statute may not be used to resolve disputes involving real property to which the other party has a claim.  The Washington Court of Appeals agreed, ruling that a recorded document submitted in support of the appeal gave rise to a "cognizable" claim to an easement over lot 2.  The Court decided that in this context a "cognizable claim" is one upon which relief can be granted if it possible that facts could be established that would support relief (a low standard).

The Court points out in its published opinion that the easement at issue is "carelessly drafted". The Court notes that the easement granted for the benefit of lot 1 is access over a strip of lot 1.  The commissioner who presided over the anitharassment petition was not convinced that Mr. Geiger had a valid easement over lot 2. In his words, the recorded document "is contradictory, it is internally inconsistent, and I cannot interpret it in this forum and in this context one way or the other."  This is an unfortunate example of why it is a good idea to retain the services of an attorney when it is time to draft a document that affects legal rights.  However, with the help of able legal counsel, Mr. Geiger was still able to advance a legal argument based on scrivener's error and reformation to support a claim to an easement over lot 2 under less than ideal circumstances.