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Katsoyannis v. Findlay

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division

March 16, 2016

JAMES S. FINDLAY and SUSAN E. SMALL, Defendants-Appellees and Cross-Appellants

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 10 CH 25907. Honorable Neil H. Cohen, Judge Presiding.

         For APPELLANTS/CROSS-APPELLEES, Larson & Associates, P.C., Chicago, IL (James A. Larson, of counsel).

         For APPELLEES/CROSS-APPELLANTS, Pro Se, James S. Findlay and Susan E. Small, Winnetka, IL.

         Lavin and Pucinski, Justices concurred in the judgment and opinion.



          [¶1] Plaintiffs and defendants are neighbors in a small subdivision in the Village of Winnetka. The subdivision consists of 10 parcels and is bounded on the east by a private beach that runs in front of the subdivision along Lake Michigan. Defendants own beach front property and thus have unfettered access to the beach year-round. Defendants' private beach is burdened by a 15 foot wide easement on the south end of the private beach in favor of certain subdivision parcels. The easement runs from the edge of the bluff on the west side of the beach east to Lake Michigan. Plaintiffs, whose properties front Sheridan Road and are not beach front properties, have access to the beach via the beach easement, but access is limited due to a gate installed by the Village in the mid-1990s that is locked overnight during warmer months and at all times otherwise. Plaintiffs commenced this action seeking a determination that they had a right, under various legal theories, to cross over defendants' property to access the beach so that they, like defendants, would have unrestricted access.

          [¶2] On summary judgment, the trial court found that although plaintiffs were entitled to reasonable access to the beach by virtue of an express easement that ran with their respective properties, they had not established either an express easement for ingress and egress over defendants' property or the existence of an easement by prescription. Plaintiffs' claim that an easement by necessity existed went to trial and the trial court, after plaintiffs' case-in-chief, entered judgment in favor of defendants on this claim as well, finding that at the time of the original conveyance, there existed a ready means of ingress and egress to the beach that did not entail crossing over defendants' property. We affirm these rulings.

          [¶3] Defendants also contended in the trial court that one of the plaintiffs did not have any rights to access the beach given the lack of any express easement in the chain of title. They appeal the trial court's summary judgment against them on this issue and, in addition, argue that the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to sanction plaintiffs under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 137 (eff. July 1, 2013). We affirm these rulings as well.

          [¶4] BACKGROUND

          [¶5] Plaintiffs-appellants are George and Kathryn Katsoyannis and the Nikki R. Alexander Revocable Trust (collectively, plaintiffs). Defendants-appellees are James Findlay and Susan Small. Each of the parties owns a home in the Winnetka Beach Estates subdivision. George and Kathryn purchased their property (Lot 8) in 1998; Nikki Alexander purchased her property (Lot 9) in 2005; and defendants purchased their property (Lot 5) in 2007. Each of the properties is improved with a single-family home. Shortly after defendants purchased Lot 5, they observed a woman crossing their property on her way to the beach and stopped her. The woman was George and Kathryn's daughter and it was at that point that plaintiffs claim to have learned that defendants disputed their ability to access the beach by traversing defendants' property.

          [¶6] In order to place the issues presented on appeal in context, it is necessary to trace the history of the subdivision from its inception. In October 1959, LaSalle National Bank submitted a plat[1] for the " Winnetka Beach Estates" subdivision to the Village of Winnetka. The Village approved the plat on November 3, 1959. The subdivision consists of 10 lots and is located on the shore of Lake Michigan bounded by Lake Michigan on the east, Sheridan Road on the west, Oak Street on the north, and Cherry Street on the south. At the time it submitted the plat, LaSalle owned Lots 4, 5, 8, 9 and 10. The subdivision includes beach front properties with direct access to a private beach, as well as nonbeach front properties, which front on Sheridan Road.

          [¶7] George and Kathryn's single family residence is located on Lot 8 at 495 Sheridan Road. Alexander's single family residence is located on Lot 9 at 467 Sheridan Road. Lots 8 and 9 do not abut Lake Michigan or Cherry Street. Lot 8 abuts Oak Street on the north and Lot 9 abuts a private interior road that intersects with Oak Street. Lot 9 is located between Lot 8 to its north and Lot 10 to its south. Defendants' single-family residence is located on Lot 5 at 455 Sheridan Road. Lot 5 is beach front property with a private beach and it abuts Cherry Street.

          [¶8] At the time the plat was approved, Cherry Street was open and provided unobstructed access to the private beach for subdivision residents and to a small public beach at the end of Cherry Street, which is bounded on either side by private beaches. In the mid-1990s, the Village erected a gate at the intersection of Cherry Street and Sheridan Road and locked the gate, preventing access to the beach between 9:30 p.m. and 6 a.m. from April through November and at all times during the winter months of December through March. Members of the public can access the public beach via Cherry Street (during permitted times) and can also access another small public beach from steps down the bluff from Oak Street. But perpendicular barriers prevent the public from walking across the private beach between the two public beaches lying to the south and north. Thus, when the Cherry Street gate is closed, no one, including subdivision residents who do not own beach front property, can access any portion of the private beach via Cherry Street. Members of the public can still access the public beach lying to the north by using the Oak Street stairs, but subdivision residents using those stairs would have to wade out into Lake Michigan, walk or swim around the barriers and walk across seven other private beach properties to reach the beach easement. When the gate is closed, the only means for plaintiffs to access the beach is over defendants' property.

          [¶9] The parties' dispute centers around the original conveyance of Lot 5 from LaSalle to Joseph and Nancy Davis on July 14, 1960, and the warranty deed (Davis deed) recorded on July 18, 1960. The Davis deed conveyed Lot 5, subject to the following restriction:

" (d) *** an easement over the South 15 feet of Lot 5 above described commencing at the toe of the bluff of said Lot 5, running eastwardly to the water line of Lake Michigan for reasonable beach privileges in favor of the owner and future owners of Lots 8, 9 and 10 in the Winnetka Beach Estates. Grantor reserves to itself, its successors and assigns, the easement herein set forth for said Lots 8, 9 and 10 and this conveyance is subject to said easement and the right of the Grantor to grant said easements in the conveyance of said Lots 8, 9 and 10." (Emphasis added.)

         We refer to the foregoing provision as the beach easement.

          [¶10] By the time LaSalle conveyed Lot 5 to the Davises, LaSalle had already conveyed Lot 8 to Norman and Vivian Jensen on March 18, 1960, and Lot 9 to William Cox, Jr., on March 29, 1960. On October 10, 1960, LaSalle granted the beach easement to the Jensens who recorded the easement on October 20, 1960. The Jensens later conveyed title to Lot 8 to Benjamin and Elizabeth Douglass.

          [¶11] Cox later conveyed title to Lot 9 to Alvaro Biagi, who transferred title to the Al Biagi Trust. There is no conveyance of the beach easement by LaSalle to Cox similar to that from LaSalle to the Jensens.

          [¶12] On November 16, 1998, the Douglasses conveyed title to Lot 8 to George and Kathryn. The deed conveyed Lot 8 and an easement over Lot 5 " for reasonable beach privileges as created by grant recorded on October 20, 1960."

          [¶13] On September 1, 2005, Alexander[2] acquired title to Lot 9 from the Al Biagi Trust. The deed also conveyed an " easement for reasonable beach privileges *** as reserved in the deed from LaSalle National Bank."

          [¶14] On March 15, 2007, defendants acquired Lot 5 by trustee's deed from the Northern Trust Company as executor of the estate of Jessie V. Stone. After acquiring Lot 5, defendants demolished the existing structure on the lot and in its place constructed a new single family residence. Defendants ...

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