Texas Court Refuses To Write In A Width To A Pipeline Easement

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What to do with a Texas pipeline easement that doesn't define the width? In Premcor Pipeline Company v. Wingate they fought about it.
United States Real Estate and Construction
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What to do with a Texas pipeline easement that doesn't define the width? In Premcor Pipeline Company v. Wingate they fought about it.

The dispute began when Premcor wanted to run a pig through one of two pipelines on Premcor's 1954 pipeline easement. In doing so it would need access across the property of Wingate, successor to the easement grantor. Wingate objected and sued for trespass, alleging that Premcor's right is limited to the circumference of the actual pipelines in place (six and nine inches), and seeking injunctive relief preventing Premcor's access to the property.

Injunction hearing testimony was too voluminous and contradictory to recite here, as are the ins and outs of the right to injunctive relief. The trial court granted a declaratory judgment and permanent injunction for Wingate, defining the width of the easement as 20 feet.

Premcor appealed, asserting that the trial court erred by relying on parol evidence, by declaring the easement to have a fixed width of 20 feet, and imposing a permanent injunction prohibiting Premcor from using more land than the 20-foot width.

Reversed and remanded

The court of appeals reasoned that failure to define the width of a pipeline easement does not render the instrument ambiguous; thus the trial court erred in admitting parol evidence that contradicted, varied or added to the terms. The court's job was to interpret the easement as matter of law.

The Texas Supreme Court has recognized the existence of general easements that do not require a fixed width. Thus, courts are reluctant to write fixed widths into easements when the parties never agreed to a particular width.

Texas courts generally hold that a grant of general easement implies a grant of unlimited, reasonable use such as is reasonably necessary and convenient and as little burdensome as possible to the servient owner.

The trial court also erred in declaring that the easements are fixed to a permanent 20-foot width. Wingate purchased the properties knowing they were encumbered by the easements which he knew did not specify width. The easements granted Premcor the right to "to do whatever may be requisite for the enjoyment of the rights herein granted" including the right of ingress and egress. Wingate had notice of Premcor's right of ingress and egress.

Wingate is not without recourse because Premcor must utilize the land in a reasonable manner only to the extent that it is reasonably necessary and is as little burdensome as possible to the servient owner.

Expert fees were not recoverable

Incidentally, the court reversed trial court's award of expert fees to Wingate, concluding that costs of experts are incidental expenses in preparation for trial and not recoverable. The case was remanded for the trial court to determine what property Premcor would be entitled to use for the project in question.

Sounds like it's time to call it a day at the courthouse.

Dickie Betts, RIP.

You had your Allman Brothers Dickie ...

and your other Dickie.

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