from the Circuit Court of the 13th Judicial Circuit No.
14-CH-153, Grundy County, Illinois.Honorable Eugene P.
Daugherity, Judge, Presiding.
JUSTICE O'BRIEN delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Justices McDade and Schmidt concurred in the
judgment and opinion.
1 The plaintiff, Rainbow Council Boy Scouts of America,
sought equitable relief regarding access to a path that went
on to adjacent property owned by the defendants, Loretta,
Adam, Daniel, and Nicholas Holm. The plaintiff's petition
for a permanent injunction and a prescriptive easement was
granted, and the defendants appealed.
3 The plaintiff operated property for the Boy Scouts adjacent
to land owned by the defendants. At some point, the parties
started feuding over an unpaved access road, or path, that
crossed over onto the defendants' property. The plaintiff
filed a motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO),
alleging that the defendants had made the path impassable.
The trial court denied the TRO without prejudice and set the
case for a hearing on preliminary injunctive relief. After
that hearing, the trial court granted the plaintiff a
temporary injunction to maintain the status quo. The matter
was set for a hearing on the petition for a permanent
injunction and complaint for declaratory relief on the
grounds of prescriptive easement.
4 At the hearing for permanent relief, the parties stipulated
as to the property lines. They also stipulated that the
testimony of the witnesses called at the preliminary
injunction hearing would be the same, and the trial court
admitted the transcript of that hearing as an exhibit. At
issue was a dirt path used by the plaintiff for access from
its entrance on Winterbottom Road, over a dam, to the back
portion of the plaintiff's property. The path over the
dam was the means by which the plaintiff could cross from the
front to the back of its property, which was split by a lake.
Margaret Heard, the treasurer of the Deer Lake Dam
Association, had testified at the preliminary injunction
hearing that the plaintiff had written permission from the
Deer Lake Dam Association to cross back and forth across the
portion of the dam owned by the Dam Association. Joshua
Jansen, a district executive with the Rainbow Council Boy
Scouts of America, had testified at the preliminary
injunction hearing that the path in question was 10 to 12
feet wide and was used by the Boy Scouts to reach the back
side of the camp, both on foot and with all-terrain vehicles.
5 According to the survey that the parties stipulated was
accurate, a portion of the path crossed over onto the
defendants' property prior to reaching the dam. Daniel
Holm, one of the defendants who lived at the property,
testified that approximately 150 feet of the path crossed
over on to the defendants' property. Daniel testified
that the path had been there for many years, before the
plaintiff or the defendants owned their respective
properties, but he only knew of the plaintiff using it since
his grandfather died in 2011. Daniel testified that the
plaintiff could access the back of its property by driving
around to Whitetie Road, a distance of about five or six
miles. Daniel also testified that the Boy Scouts had been
trespassing on the defendants' driveway and that the
plaintiff was not acting to prevent the use of the driveway.
In support, a video was shown of a Boy Scout bus turning
around in the defendants' driveway and causing tire ruts,
which occurred after the preliminary injunction was entered.
The video also showed a heated exchange between an employee
of the plaintiff and one of the defendants. Daniel
acknowledged that the plaintiff had put up two signs along
Winterbottom Road directing people coming to the camp to
proceed to the end of the road, but people still turned into
6 Edward Karns, the chief executive officer of Rainbow
Council Boy Scouts of America, testified that the plaintiff
was using the path when he started working for the plaintiff
in 1988, but he thought the various paths had been there
since the 1960s. Karns testified that there was some access
to the back side of the plaintiff's property via Whitetie
Road, but it would require a six- or seven-mile drive around
the property and would not provide sufficient access for
emergency personnel to the back half of the plaintiff's
property. The only other option to reach the back side of the
property was to ferry boys across the lake in a row boat.
Karns testified that map applications directed traffic to the
camp to the defendants' driveway. To prevent people from
turning down the defendants' driveway, the plaintiff
contacted Google and other organizations to get the mapping
changed, with no luck. The plaintiff had also put up signs on
Winterbottom Road directing traffic to the camp to the end of
the road. The plaintiff also sent out maps to the troops
coming to the camp.
7 The trial court granted the permanent injunction,
concluding that the plaintiff had a clearly ascertainable
legal right, a prescriptive easement, to use the path over
the dam to access the property that was separated by the dam,
the defendants were interfering with that right, and that
constituted an irreparable injury because it deprived the
plaintiff of the peaceable enjoyment of their property. The
trial court concluded that there was no evidence of unclean
hands or a lack of good faith that would preclude injunctive
relief. The trial court also concluded that the plaintiff had
a prescriptive right to use the path, so whether there was
other access available to the plaintiff was irrelevant to
that use, but even if relevant, necessity had been
established due to the virtue of possible emergency access
and the economic burden of establishing an alternate roadway.
The defendants appealed.
9 The defendants argue that a lack of necessity, the clean
hands doctrine, and the balancing of the hardships barred the
issuance of the permanent injunction allowing the plaintiff
to use the path on the defendants' property and enjoining
the defendants from interfering with that use. The plaintiff
contends that the trial court's factual conclusions were
not against the manifest weight of the evidence and its grant
of a permanent injunction was not an abuse of discretion.
10 An easement is a nonpossessory interest in another
person's land. Nationwide Financial, LP v.
Pobuda, 2014 IL 116717, ¶ 28. To establish an
easement by prescription, the claimant must prove the use of
the land for at least 20 years was adverse, exclusive,
continuous, uninterrupted, and under a claim of right
inconsistent with that of the true owner. Id. ¶
27. The party claiming the easement bears the burden of
proving distinctly and clearly all the elements of the
easement. Brandhorst v. Johnson, 2014 IL App (4th)
130923, ¶ 68. Whether those elements have been proven
involve questions of fact, so we will affirm the trial
court's ruling regarding a prescriptive easement unless
it was against the manifest weight of the evidence.
Id. ¶ 69.
11 The trial court found that the plaintiff had established
that it had a prescriptive easement over that portion of the
path that passed onto the defendants' land between the
plaintiff's land and the land over the dam owned by the
Deer Lake Dam Association. The plaintiff had been repeatedly
using the path since at least 1988 under a claim of right,
without permission from the defendants. Although the
plaintiff was not the only party to use the path, its right
to do so did not depend on a like right in others, so it was
exclusive. See Nationwide Financial, LP, 2014 IL
116717, ¶ 33 (exclusivity does not mean that no one used
the easement other than the claimant of the easement; it only
means that the claimant's right does not depend on a like