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Inc. v. Regency Lake, LLC

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

April 3, 2018

REGENCY LAKE OWNERS' ASSOCIATION, INC., and CHARLES HUFFMAN, Plaintiffs,
v.
REGENCY LAKE, LLC, COURTLAND PROPERTIES, INC., and JOSEPH MACMINN, Defendants.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 6 March 2018.

          Appeal by plaintiffs from order entered 31 March 2017 by Judge Jeffrey K. Carpenter in Iredell County Superior Court No. 16 CVS 259.

          Jones, Childers, Donaldson & Webb, PLLC, by Kevin C. Donaldson and C. Marshall Horsman, for plaintiff-appellees.

          Eisele Ashburn Greene & Chapman, PA, by Kathleen L. Vogel and Douglas G. Eisele, for defendant-appellants.

          TYSON, JUDGE.

         I. Background

         In July 1969 and October 1970, Rolling Homes, Inc. ("Rolling Homes") acquired two adjacent tracts of land situated in Davidson Township, Iredell County. The deeds are recorded in book 485, page 64, and book 494, page 192, respectively, in the Iredell County Registry. Rolling Homes developed the Regency Lake Village subdivision by dividing the two combined tracts into streets, lots, a playground and a lake access area (the "Access Area"). The subdivision plat for Regency Lake Village (the "Plat") was recorded in the Iredell County Registry at plat book 10, pages 59 and 59A.

         The Regency Lake Village Access Area includes a boat ramp for owners to access Lake Norman. The Access Area is bounded on the east by a lot, on the south by Lake Norman, on the west by a dam impounding a private lake, and on the north by a road.

         The first deed conveying a lot in Regency Lake Village was granted to Cecil B. Tucker and wife, Francis W. Tucker, in October 1970, after the Plat was recorded. The deed conveyed to the Tuckers makes reference to the Plat. After October 1970 and until early 1973, Rolling Homes conveyed several other lots in Regency Lake Village to numerous individuals. All of these deeds reference the Plat.

         Auto Storage Company acquired all of the remaining property in Regency Lake Village, which had not been previously conveyed by Rolling Homes, by a substitute trustee's deed in 1973. The deed to Auto Storage Company is recorded in book 536, page 499, of the Iredell County Registry. This deed also references the Plat.

         Defendants Regency Lake, LLC, Courtland Properties, Inc., and Joseph P. MacMinn (collectively, "Appellees") obtained title to the Access Area from Auto Storage Company by a quitclaim deed recorded in April 2001 in book 1258, page 1701 of the Iredell County Registry.

         In October 2015, Defendants recorded a plat, at plat book 64, page 19 of the Iredell County Registry, subdividing the Access Area into two separate lots with the intention that they would develop one lot, designated as Lot 1, for residential purposes, and reduce the size of the originally platted Access Area, designated as Lot 1A.

         Plaintiff Charles Huffman ("Huffman") is an owner of property located within Regency Lake Village and a member of Plaintiff Regency Lake Owners' Association (collectively, "Appellants"). On 2 February 2016, Appellants filed a verified complaint against Defendants seeking: (1) a declaratory judgment declaring Appellants and other purchasers and owners of lots described in the October 1970 plat have a private easement to the Access Area; (2) a motion for preliminary injunction to enjoin Defendants from altering the Access Area or preventing Appellants from entering and using the Access Area; and, (3) in the alternative, a declaration that there exists an easement to the Access Area for purchasers and owners of lots in Regency Lake Village.

         Defendants filed their answer to Appellants' complaint on 15 April 2016. The trial court entered a preliminary injunction on 31 May 2016, which ordered that Defendants "shall not perform any acts on the Access Area which would alter its current condition and shall not prevent the Plaintiffs from entering and using the Access Area pending further orders of this Court."

         The matter was heard on 20 March 2017. The parties waived the right to a jury trial and chose to proceed with a bench trial. Following the presentation of evidence and testimony of witnesses, but before a verdict was rendered, the trial court ex mero motu entered an order on 31 March 2017, which concluded that all necessary parties were not joined in the action, that all necessary parties should be joined, and that the matter should be re-heard after all of the necessary parties are joined. The trial court ordered that all "the remaining owners of property in Regency Lake Village Subdivision shall be joined as ...


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