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Mid-America Apartments, L.P. v. The Block at Church Street Owners Ass'n, Inc.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

December 19, 2017


          Heard in the Court of Appeals 11 January 2017.

         Appeal by Defendant from summary judgment entered 15 April 2016 by Judge Mark E. Klass in Mecklenburg County No. 15-CVS-9913 Superior Court.

          McAngus, Goudelock & Courie, PLLC, by Colin E. Scott and Jeffrey B. Kuykendal, for Defendant-Appellant.

          Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP, by Mark P. Henriques and Jackson R. Price, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          INMAN, Judge.

         This appeal concerns a private street subject to an express easement and later declared a fire lane by municipal authorities. We hold that the municipal law does not render the easement void as an illegal contract or contrary to public policy, even if the exercise of some easement rights may result in a parking fine.

         Defendant The Block at Church Street Owners Association, Inc., ("The Block") appeals from entry of summary judgment permanently enjoining it from interfering with the rights of Plaintiff Mid-America Apartments, L.P., ("Mid-America") under an express easement. The Block argues that: (1) the easement is a void illegal contract that the trial court cannot enforce by injunction; and (2) if the easement is valid, the permanent injunction impermissibly expands Mid-America's rights thereunder. After careful review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         The Block is a homeowner's association comprised of townhome (the "Townhomes") owners in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Townhomes governed by The Block are bordered by South Church Street, Lincoln Street, Winnifred Street, and West Bland Street. Opposite Lincoln Street from the Townhomes is a mixed-use retail and residential development currently owned by Mid-America ("1225 South Church"). The parties' respective interests and issues disputed in this appeal are depicted by the following simplified graphic:

         (Image Omitted)

         Before The Block came to own Lincoln Street, it was owned by The Boulevard at Church and Bland LLC, while 1225 South Church was owned by The Boulevard at 1225 South Church LLC (collectively, the "Boulevard Entities"). During the development of 1225 South Church, the Boulevard Entities and The Block entered into an "Access, Storm Water and Sanitary Sewer Easement Agreement" (the "Easement"), which established "a non-exclusive, perpetual easement . . . over, upon and across Lincoln Street, for the purposes of providing pedestrian and vehicular access [and] ingress and egress" in favor of 1225 South Church's owner. Three months later, The Block and the Boulevard Entities amended the Easement's Lincoln Street access provisions to add the following language:

The purpose of this Access Easement shall include, and this Access Easement shall allow for, service and delivery vehicles to be parked on Lincoln Street for such periods of time as are reasonably necessary (i) to provide customary services, including waste removal service, or (ii) to make deliveries, including moving services for any apartments, all for the benefit of the . . . [1225 South Church] Parcel.

         After amending the Easement, the Boulevard Entities permitted The Block to add striped parking spaces for its members on Lincoln Street adjacent to 1225 South Church, but left open a portion of the street as a loading area for tenants of 1225 South Church.

         By 2015, The Block had come to own Lincoln Street, Mid-America owned 1225 South Church, and the Boulevard Entities no longer had any interest in the properties. Thus, Mid-America was the beneficiary of the Easement and its access rights, encumbering The Block's property interest in Lincoln Street.

         In May of 2015, the president of The Block, Paul Podgorski ("Mr. Podgorski"), contacted Mid-America regarding leaky dumpsters and debris on Lincoln Street and speeding by motorists, which Mr. Podgorski attributed to Mid-America's tenants. Mr. Podgorski suggested renegotiating the Easement to avoid The Block temporarily prohibiting Mid-America's access to Lincoln Street. Mid-America replied, promising to remedy the leaky dumpster and debris problems but refusing to renegotiate the Easement and instead asserting that any limit to Mid-America's access to Lincoln Street would violate the Easement.

         Mr. Podgorski then asserted that The Block possessed the right to temporarily shut down Lincoln Street under the Easement and announced that The Block would be restriping existing parking spaces and would add additional striped spaces in the loading zone used by Mid-America's tenants. Mr. Podgorski also stated that The Block would be barring access to Lincoln Street for Mid-America's tenants for a business day and halting all ingress and egress from one of 1225 South Church's parking decks to perform the striping. He also threatened to file a materialman's lien on 1225 South Church in the event that Mid-America refused to cover fifty percent of the striping costs as "necessary repairs or maintenance" under the Easement.

         In response, Mid-America offered to provide The Block with assistance in securing favorable pricing for restriping the existing spaces and informed Mr. Podgorski that additional dumpster repairs and debris cleanup was underway. However, it also notified Mr. Podgorski that it would secure an injunction against The Block to protect its rights under the Easement in the event The Block removed Mid-America's loading zone and barred Mid-America's access to Lincoln Street for striping.

         Undeterred by a potential injunction, Mr. Podgorski responded once more, informing Mid-America that the striping would be limited to removing Mid-America's loading zone and insisting that the entire street and parking deck used by Mid-America's tenants would be closed for painting. Two business days later, on 26 May 2015, Mid-America filed suit seeking a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction, permanent injunctive relief, and monetary damages against The Block.

         The trial court entered a restraining order (the "Restraining Order") prohibiting The Block from striping the loading zone, restricting access to the parking deck or the portion of Lincoln Street subject to the Easement, threatening such restrictions, and interfering with Mid-America's use of the Easement. Mid-America then amended its complaint to pursue only permanent injunctive relief.

         On 31 August 2015, The Block submitted an affidavit from a Charlotte deputy fire marshal to the trial court stating that Lincoln Street was a fire apparatus access road and that neither The Block nor Mid-America, including tenants of 1225 South Church and The Block's members, could use Lincoln Street as parking or ...

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