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RIDGWELL, ET AL. v. BRASCO BAY CORPORATION


RIDGWELL, ET AL. v.
BRASCO BAY CORPORATION


October 31, 1997

Record No. 961978

WILLIAM D. RIDGWELL, ET AL.

v.

BRASCO BAY CORPORATION

OPINION BY JUSTICE BARBARA MILANO KEENAN

FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF ALBEMARLE COUNTY

Joseph F. Spinella, Judge Designate

Present: Carrico, C.J., Compton, Lacy, Hassell, Keenan,
and Kinser, JJ., and Whiting, Senior Justice


The primary issue in this appeal is whether an owner of land
burdened by an easement is barred from placing a gate across the
right of way.

In 1994, William and Mary Ellen Ridgwell purchased about 30
acres of land bordering U.S. Route 250 in Albemarle County that
is subject to an easement held by Brasco Bay Corporation
(Brasco). The easement extends from Brasco’s property, across the
Ridgwells’ property, to U.S. Route 250. The easement was created
by a deed establishing a "right of way for ingress and
egress" which "shall be 50 feet in width and shall
follow the route as designated on plat of R.O. Snow and
Associates dated July 25, 1974, a copy of which plat is attached
hereto and made a part of this deed."

A paved road on the Ridgwells’ property leading from U.S.
Route 250 is partially located on the right of way. This paved
road provides the only means of access to the building in which
the Ridgwells conduct their garden and nursery business. As a
security measure, the Ridgwells placed a 36-foot-wide gate across
the paved road to limit vehicular access from U.S. Route 250 when
their business is closed. However, the gate also blocks Brasco’s
right of way to U.S. Route 250.

The Ridgwells lock the gate at all times when their business
is closed. They offered Brasco a key to the lock, but Brasco
declined the offer and demanded removal of the gate. The
Ridgwells refused to remove the gate.

Brasco filed a bill of complaint seeking, among other things,
a permanent injunction restraining the Ridgwells from interfering
with Brasco’s use of the right of way and requiring them to
remove the gate. Since Brasco intended to develop its property at
a future date, Brasco also requested the trial court to declare
that the right of way "was intended to provide an
unobstructed right of way and a right of way upon which a road
way could be built to State Department of Highway standards to be
included as a part of the State Highway System of Virginia."

At a bench trial, the court held that the Ridgwells were
required to remove the gate because the plat showed an
unobstructed right of way. The trial court also enjoined the
Ridgwells from interfering with Brasco’s use of the way. However,
the trial court declined to rule that the right of way was
intended to allow construction of a road that could be adopted as
part of the state highway system. The trial court held that such
a ruling would be premature because Brasco had not taken action
to develop the property and there was insufficient evidence
regarding the future use of the property.

On appeal, the Ridgwells concede that, since the present gate
is 36 feet wide, it obstructs Brasco’s full use of its 50-foot
right of way. However, the Ridgwells argue that Code
Sect. 33.1-202 allows them to place a gate greater than 50
feet wide across the right of way, and that the trial court erred
in permanently enjoining them from erecting such a gate.

In response, Brasco contends that the documents creating the
right of way establish that it was intended to be free from any
obstruction, including the 50-foot-wide gate proposed by the
Ridgwells. Brasco further asserts that, since the Ridgwells do
not have fences extending to each side of the right of way, they
cannot rely on Code Sect. 33.1-202 to erect a gate.

Brasco also assigns cross-error to the trial court’s refusal
to declare that the easement was intended to allow construction
of a road that could be adopted as part of the state highway
system. Brasco notes that the deed to the Ridgwell property
includes a road maintenance agreement which declares that Brasco,
as owner of the right of way, "shall have the right to
upgrade and dedicate the road to the State Highway System of
Virginia." Thus, Brasco argues, the trial court should have
confirmed Brasco’s right to build such a road to accommodate
future subdivision of its property.

We first consider the Ridgwells’ contention that Code Sect.
33.1-202 gives them the right to place a 50-foot-wide gate across
Brasco’s right of way. That section provides, in relevant part,
that

[a]ny person owning land over which another or others
have a private road or right-of-way may, except when it
is otherwise provided by contract, erect and maintain
gates across such roads or right-of-way at all points at
which fences extend to such roads on each side thereof.

Under this portion of the statute, the Ridgwells are barred as
a matter of law from placing a gate across Brasco’s right of way
only if they are subject to a contractual provision prohibiting
the installation of a gate.

We conclude that there is no such contractual restriction. In
examining the Ridgwells’ deed, we give effect to the plain
meaning of the language used by the parties. Amos v. Coffey,
228 Va. 88, 92, 320 S.E.2d 335, 337 (1984); Arbern Realty Co.
v. Swicegood
, 201 Va. 30, 34, 109 S.E.2d 108, 111 (1959). The
only mention of the easement in the deed is that a right of way
is provided "for ingress and egress" and "shall be
50 feet in width and shall follow the route as designated on [the
attached] plat." The plat appended to the deed shows the route
of the easement and does not indicate any restrictions that would
prohibit the placement of a gate across the easement. In
addition, there is no evidence that the Ridgwells and Brasco
executed any agreement limiting the Ridgwells’ right to place a
gate over the easement.

Although the Ridgwells are not prohibited by contract from
placing a gate across the easement, they have failed to comply
with the requirement in Code Sect. 33.1-202 that any gate
placed across an easement be attached to a fence on each side of
the right of way. Since the Ridgwells do not have fences that
extend to each side of the right of way, they have not
established a right under the statute to erect a gate. Therefore,
we will uphold the portion of the trial court’s injunction
requiring the Ridgwells to remove the existing gate because the
trial court reached the correct result, despite its use of the
wrong reason in obtaining that result. See Mathy v.
Commonwealth
, 253 Va. 356, 362, 483 S.E.2d 802, 805 (1997); Doswell
Ltd. Partnership v. Virginia Elec. & Power Co.
, 251 Va.
215, 225, 468 S.E.2d 84, 90 (1996); Richmond, Fredericksburg
& Potomac R.R. v. Metropolitan Washington Airports Auth.
,
251 Va. 201, 214, 468 S.E.2d 90, 98 (1996).

We next conclude that the trial court erred in permanently
enjoining the Ridgwells from building a gate across the right of
way. This portion of the trial court’s decree improperly denies
the Ridgwells the opportunity to build a fence that complies with
the requirements of Code Sect. 33.1-202.[1]

Finally, we find no merit in the cross-error assigned by
Brasco. Brasco did not present sufficient evidence from which the
trial court could determine whether Brasco has a right to build a
roadway to accommodate a subdivision of its property. A trial
court cannot enter a declaratory judgment based on future or
speculative facts, because to do so would constitute the
rendering of an advisory opinion. Blue Cross & Blue Shield
of Va. v. St. Mary’s Hosp. of Richmond, Inc.
, 245 Va. 24, 35,
426 S.E.2d 117, 123 (1993); Mosher Steel-Virginia, Inc. v.
Teig
, 229 Va. 95, 100, 327 S.E.2d 87, 91 (1985); City of
Fairfax v. Shanklin
, 205 Va. 227, 229, 135 S.E.2d 773, 775
(1964).

For these reasons, we will uphold the portion of the trial
court’s injunction requiring the Ridgwells to remove the
36-foot-wide gate, dissolve the permanent injunction preventing
them from erecting a gate in compliance with Code
Sect. 33.1-202, and enter final judgment in favor of Brasco.

Affirmed in part,

reversed in part,

and final judgment.

 

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1] The Ridgwells do not have a
right to maintain a locked gate once they can demonstrate they
have complied with the terms of the statute. Nothing in Code
Sect. 33.1-202 provides such a right. See Craig v.
Kennedy
, 202 Va. 654, 660, 119 S.E.2d 320, 324 (1961).

 

 

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