Grant of equitable easement must be reversed where trespasser did not suffer greatly disproportionate hardship by having to remove patio furniture from neighbor’s land.
Lilli Shoen and Juliet Zacarias were neighbors with adjacent properties located on a hillside. Between the properties was a flatter patch of land of approximately 500 square feet, most of which belonged to Shoen. The patch was only accessible by a staircase located on Zacarias’ property that was built before Zacarias purchased her property. When Zacarias purchased her property she placed removable outdoor furniture on the patch, thinking it belonged to her. The prior owner of Shoen’s land told Zacarias that she could use the patch for as long as he owned the property. Some years after Shoen became owner of her property, she demanded Zacarias remove the furniture. Shoen sued Zacarias after Zacarias refused to comply. Zacarias asserted equitable easement as an affirmative defense. The court declared that Zacarias was entitled to an exclusive, 15 year equitable easement over the patch contingent upon a $5,000 payment to Shoen.
Reversed and remanded. One of the things that a trespasser seeking an equitable easement must prove is that he or she will suffer a “greatly disproportionate hardship from denial of the easement than the owner will from its grant.” Here, Zacarias’ hardship of having to spend less than $300 to remove her furniture from the patch is not greatly disproportionate to the hardship Shoen would suffer by losing use of land she owns. Thus, the court’s grant of an equitable easement must be reversed and remanded to resolve the parties’ remaining claims. Opinion by Justice Hoffstadt.