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Southern Star Central Gas Pipeline, Inc. v. Cunning

May 18, 2007

SOUTHERN STAR CENTRAL GAS PIPELINE, INC., APPELLANT,
v.
GORDON AND JENNIFER CUNNING, APPELLEES,
v.
MICHAEL RONNEBAUM, APPELLEE.



Appeal from Leavenworth District Court, DAVID J. KING, judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. When a district court makes findings of fact and conclusions of law, an appellate court reviews the findings of fact to determine whether they are supported by substantial competent evidence and whether they are sufficient to support the district court's conclusions of law. Where the findings are so supported, they will not be disturbed on appeal even though there may have been contrary evidence which, if believed, would have supported different findings. An appellate court does not weigh conflicting evidence, pass on credibility of witnesses, or redetermine questions of fact.

2. Once an easement is created, the owner of the land is the servient tenant and the easement holder is the dominant tenant. The owner of the servient tenement may make any use thereof which is consistent with or not calculated to interfere with the exercise of the easement granted. The character and extent of the rights created by a grant of easement is determined by construction of the language of the grant and by the extent of the use made of the dominant tenement at the time of the grant.

3. In Kansas, the law is well settled that where the width, length, and location of an easement for ingress and egress have been expressly set forth in the instrument, the easement is specific and definite. The expressed terms of the grant or reservation are controlling in such a case and considerations of what may be necessary or reasonable to a present use of the dominant estate are not controlling.

4. Generally, an obstruction or disturbance of an easement is anything which wrongfully interferes with the privilege to which the owner of the easement is entitled by making its use less convenient and beneficial than before. To constitute an actionable wrong it must, however, be of a material character such as will interfere with the reasonable enjoyment of the easement.

5. A litigant must object to inadequate findings of fact and conclusions of law in order to give the district court an opportunity to correct them. Where there has been no such objection, the district court is presumed to have found all facts necessary to support the judgment.

6. Under the facts of this case, the district court did not err in denying the plaintiff's request for injunctive relief to enforce its blanket pipeline easement across the defendants' property.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Malone, J.

Affirmed.

Before PIERRON, P.J., MALONE and BUSER, JJ.

Southern Star Central Gas Pipeline, Inc. (Southern Star), appeals the district court's decision denying its petition for possession, ejectment, and trespass based upon an alleged encroachment on Southern Star's pipeline easement across land owned by Gordon and Jennifer Cunning. Southern Star claims the district court erred by not enforcing Southern Star's easement rights and by not requiring the Cunnings to remove a garage which had been built near the pipeline. We disagree and affirm.

Southern Star owns and operates interstate natural gas pipelines and related facilities in five states, including Kansas. The Cunnings own property in Leavenworth County, Kansas (the property). In July 1959, Southern Star's predecessor was granted an easement across the property by the people who owned it at that time. The easement was recorded on July 11, 1959, in the Leavenworth County Register of Deeds office. In 1959 or 1960, Southern Star installed an 8-inch natural gas pipeline across the property, buried 36 inches below the surface. The pipeline has been in operation since installation.

Specifically, the easement conveyed to Southern Star a right-of-way on the property:

"to construct, reconstruct, renew, operate, maintain, inspect, alter, replace, repair, and remove a pipeline, and for the transportation of gas, oil, petroleum, or any of its products, water and other substances, and such drips, valves, fittings, meters and other equipment and appurtenances as may be necessary or convenient for such operations . . . together with the right of ingress and egress at convenient points for such purposes; together with all rights necessary for the convenient enjoyment of the privileges herein granted." (Emphasis added.)

Southern Star's easement is a blanket easement that does not have specified dimensions as it crosses the property. In other words, the easement does not specify that it covers a certain width on each side of the pipeline. The easement simply states that Southern Star is granted a right-of-way on the property sufficient to operate and maintain its ...


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