CHARLESTON – Luther Ellison and Harold Wolfe thought they owned two thirds of a bridge they built across a neighbor's land to their land, but they learned otherwise when a new neighbor tore the bridge down.
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals unanimously decided Oct. 27 that Ellison and Wolfe could not compel neighbor Vips Alpizar to build them a new bridge.
The Justices agreed that when Alpizar bought the property from Georgia Brown, Alpizar had no reason to doubt that she bought the whole bridge.
Ellison and Wolfe had never cleared their deal with Georgia Brown. Their receipts carried the signature of husband Joe Brown, who did not own the property.
The Justices wrote that even if the receipts were accurate, they were irrelevant because Alpizar had no way to know they existed.
They wrote that Alpizar specifically asked Georgia Brown about the bridge. They wrote, "Mrs. Brown indicated that the bridge came with the purchase of the land and that Ms. Alpizar would be sole owner."
The Justices affirmed Monroe County Circuit Judge Robert Irons in ruling for Alpizar, though they accused him of thinking too deeply about it.
Ellison and Wolfe claimed an express easement and a prescriptive easement. Irons ruled that the express easement failed for lack of compliance with the statute of frauds and the receipts did not meet the requirements for a prescriptive easement.
The Justices wrote, "…we find neither analysis relevant as the facts of this case necessarily require us to focus on the relationship between the parties that are currently before this Court: Mr. Wolfe, Mr. Ellison and Ms. Alpizar."
They wrote that Georgia Brown was not a party before them.
Discarding Irons's easement analysis, they defined Alpizar as a "bona fide," or good faith, purchaser.
They quoted a 1988 decision that, "An appellate court is not limited to the legal grounds relied upon by the circuit court, but it may affirm or reverse a decision on any independently sufficient ground that has adequate support."
They wrote that the law imputes to a buyer the knowledge he or she would acquire through the exercise of ordinary diligence.
They quoted a 1968 decision binding a buyer "…where a reasonably careful inspection of the premises would disclose the existence of the easement, or where the grantee has knowledge of the facts sufficient to put a prudent buyer on inquiry."
William Akers of Princeton represented Alpizar, along with Barry Bruce and Thomas White of Lewisburg.
Harold Wolfe III, of Princeton, represented Ellison and Wolfe.