Supreme Court of Alaska (2022)
In Wayson v. Stevenson, 514 P.3d 1263 (Alaska 2022), the supreme court held that if a deed of easement allows for a right to use a roadway for any means that the landowner may deem “necessary or appropriate” without further restriction, the landowner may use the roadway easement for commercial use and make reasonable improvements to that roadway. (Id. at 1272, 1275–76). This case involves two neighbors: Wayson, whose property was subject to an easement road bisecting his land for ingress and egress, and Stevenson, who leased property and was entitled to use the roadway easement across Wayson’s property. (Id. at 1269). Stevenson used the easement road for commercial activity, including for glacier access and other aspects of his tourism business. (Id.) Wayson argued that the easement did not allow for Stevenson to use the easement for commercial activities. (Id. at 1272). Further, Wayson claimed that Stevenson’s road maintenance activities were widening the easement road impermissibly and damaging his property. (Id. at 1274). The supreme court affirmed the lower court, finding that Stevenson’s commercial activity and road maintenance were permitted within the scope of the easement. (Id. at 1273–75). The deed granted to the original owner of Stevenson’s property the right to use the roadway easement “without restriction” to ingress and egress as may be deemed “necessary and appropriate.” (Id. at 1272). The court held that the broad language in the deed meant it could not be reasonably read to allow only non-commercial use. (Id.). As for the road maintenance that marginally increased the width of the easement road, the court considered whether the deed specified the width of the easement road and whether Stevenson’s maintenance activities were reasonable and necessary to his enjoyment of the easement. (Id. at 1274). The court held that because the deed was silent regarding the width of the roadway, the court could supply “reasonable terms” and that the expansion of the roadway was acceptable and necessary for Stevenson’s enjoyment of the easement. (Id. at 1275). Similarly, the court held that Stevenson’s maintenance activities were reasonable for his enjoyment of the easement and were not harmful to Wayson. (Id.). Affirming the lower court’s decision, the supreme court held that if a deed of easement allows for the landowner to use that easement for any “necessary or appropriate means,” the landowner may use the land for commercial activities and make reasonable improvements to the land. (Id. 1272, 1275–76).