Williams v. Fagnani

This case is before the Supreme Court a second time. The first case, Williams v. Fagnani, 175 P.3d 38 (Alaska 2008), held that Williams was entitled to an implied roadway easement over property owned by Fagnani. On remand the Superior Court ruled that Fagnani was entitled to maintain a locked gate across the roadway, so long as Williams was advised of the combination. Williams appealed this issue.

The Court extensively reviews the law of locked gates. It concludes that locked gates amount to a significant burden an a rural homeowner’s right of access, especially in the ice and darkness of an Alaska winter. It may deter guests, visitors, delivery and service providers, and emergency vehicles. For these reasons, gates must serve a  substantial benefit to the servient land. Typical examples of benefits found sufficient are to prevent livestock from straying, to prevent valuable property form being stolen or vandalized (usually in light of a history of such conduct), or to protect personal safety. Even where reasons of substance justify maintaining a gate, they may be outweighed by the inconvenience suffered by the owner of the dominant estate.

The Court held that the record on appeal is insufficient to determine whether the Superior Court struck an appropriate balance in permitting Fagnani to maintain a closed and locked gate across the roadway easement. The judgment of the Superior Court is vacated insofar as it permits Fagnani to maintain a closed and locked gate across the roadway easement. On remand the Superior Court is to determine whether the gate is an unreasonable interference with William’s use of the easement.

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