Supreme Court of California - 676 P. 2d 584, 35 Cal. 3d 564
The court ruled that a valid prescriptive easement does not require compensation and it is improper to charge the easement owner for removing encroachments. The plaintiffs established a 25-foot wide prescriptive easement over the southern portion of the defendant's property by proving open, notorious, continuous, and adverse use for an uninterrupted period of five years. The court found substantial evidence supporting the establishment of a prescriptive easement over the westerly portion of the parcel, despite the defendant's argument. A court of equity may issue a mandatory injunction to protect and preserve an easement, including the removal of an obstruction already erected, even if the cost of removal is high, particularly if the encroaching structure was intentionally erected with knowledge of the claimed easement. The court has discretion to determine if such a remedy is appropriate, and willfulness on the part of the defendant in violating the restriction after warning by the complainant is a ground for equitable relief by mandatory injunction that is greatly stressed by the courts. The lower court erred in requiring compensation.
The concurring judge disagrees with the majority's reasoning for the law of prescriptive easements, but believes that any changes to the law should be made by the Legislature rather than the courts. The judge acknowledges that the Legislature has already modified the prescriptive easement doctrine with Civil Code section 1008, which allows property owners to prevent easement acquisition by posting a sign. The judge affirms the trial court's judgment and defers any further changes to the Legislature.
The dissenting judge argues that the majority's decision to deny compensation for a prescriptive easement is unjust and that the court has the power to invoke equitable doctrines of fairness. The judge suggests that the court's equitable powers should be used to impose a condition that fair market value be paid before a prescriptive easement is declared and protected. The court's power is not restricted, and it can impose a requirement that fair market value be paid by a trespasser who is granted a prescriptive easement. The court's decision to allow a prescriptive easement in this case is similar to eminent domain, and the fairness of this decision is questioned. The trial court needs to determine a fair amount of compensation that the plaintiffs should pay the defendant for taking their property, based on the property's market value, subtracting any damages that the plaintiff suffered.
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