We granted leave to determine whether the trial court erred in granting defendants' motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict because plaintiffs' claim of express easement failed to satisfy the requirements of the statute of frauds. We affirm the decision of the trial court because we find that the plaintiffs failed to establish a claim as a matter of law.
Diane Smith and Thomas Faber were coowners of six contiguous lots in the city of Detroit.
Forge went to the architectural firm of Land S.E.A. Corporation to have the building plans prepared.
Leonard Smith submitted two applications to the city of Detroit for building permits. In these applications, he identified the location of the project as lots 22 through 24. The application also referred to the plans.
The project was also the subject of a zoning board of appeals decision and order. There was no indication in the record about who filed the application with the zoning board. The order named Leonard and Diane Smith as the owners and included lot 21 in the legal description of the property. The
Forge opened his business, known as the PX Bar and Grill, in December 1987.
In June, 1991, the tune-up franchise went out of business. The lease was assigned to defendants Joseph Ascione, Jerry Ascione, and Harry Kief for the purpose of operating a car repair business. As part of the leaseassignment agreement, the landlords agreed to provide parking curb blocks to prevent Forge's customers from parking on lot 21.
After the blocks were installed, plaintiffs filed suit against Leonard Smith, Diane Smith, Thomas Faber, Harry Kief, Joseph Ascione, and Jerry Ascione, seeking declaratory relief to enforce easement rights to lot 21, damages for breach of the easement, and for innocent misrepresentation.
A four-day jury trial was conducted in June, 1993.
The defendants brought a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict
The plaintiff appealed to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed two to one. In an unpublished per curiam opinion, issued September 17, 1996 (Docket No. 177588), the majority found that there were contradictory standards of review for judgment notwithstanding the verdict motions. Because the Court found that the trial court decision was proper under either standard, the majority found it unnecessary to determine which was the proper standard.
The Court of Appeals agreed that the statute of frauds barred enforcement of any agreement between the parties as a matter of law. The Court held that no easement rights were created because the lease did not grant plaintiffs any right to use lot 21, and the building plans were not approved by the landlords in writing as required by the lease. The Court agreed with the trial court that Leonard Smith's apparent approval of the plans was not binding on Diane Smith and Thomas Faber because there was no writing
In addressing the innocent misrepresentation claim, the Court of Appeals found that the trial court reached the right result for the wrong reason. The Court agreed that the claim of innocent misrepresentation is a viable claim. However, the facts of the case precluded the granting of any relief. Any statements made by Leonard Smith were insufficient to bind the owners. The Court further held that plaintiffs could not reasonably rely on an oral grant of an easement without a writing authorizing the making of the grant. Lastly, the Court found that a promise regarding the future could not form the basis of a misrepresentation claim.
We granted leave to appeal. 456 Mich. 902, 572 N.W.2d 12 (1997).
The issue in this case is whether the trial court correctly granted defendants' motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, finding that the statute of frauds barred plaintiffs' claimed easement interest. Resolution of the issue will turn upon application of the facts to well-settled law.
As a threshold matter, we reiterate that
Questions of law are subject to review de novo.
The statute of frauds provisions applicable to the case at bar provide:
An easement is an interest in land that is subject to the statute of frauds.
All owners of jointly held property must sign a contract conveying an interest in the property; the absence of a signature by a co-owner renders the contract void.
Rather than apply fixed rules for compliance with the statute of frauds, this Court has adopted a case-by-case approach. In Opdyke Investment Co. v. Norris Grain Co.,
Plaintiff contends that an express easement was granted on the basis of the signed lease, the construction agreement, the building plans, and the oral representations of the owners through Leonard Smith.
The lease contract, the only document signed by the owners of the property, does not grant any sort of property interest in lot 21. The only property interest granted in that document is a clear and unambiguous leasehold interest in lots 22, 23 and 24.
Where one writing references another instrument for additional contract terms, the two writings should be read together.
The building contract entered into between Leonard Smith and Norman Forge does incorporate the terms of the building plans by reference. The contract clearly "refers for some of its terms to an extraneous document...."
However, the building contract is insufficient to bind the owners of record, Diane Smith and Thomas Faber, to whatever conveyances are made by the building plans. As an initial matter, the building contract is not signed by either Faber or Diane Smith.
Plaintiffs' claim that the owners of record are bound by the acts of their agent, Leonard Smith, similarly fails. M.C.L. § 566.106; M.S.A. § 26.906 clearly requires that authority to convey an interest in land be in writing. Contracts conveying an interest in land made by an agent having no written authority are invalid under the statute of frauds
Even if the building plans were found to be incorporated by reference to the lease the plans do not evince any intent to grant an easement. As noted above, there must be language manifesting a clear intent to create a servitude. Where the intent to create an easement is not clear, the issue is to be resolved in favor of use of the land free of an easement.
Likewise, the recording of the decision of the Detroit Board of Zoning Appeals did not work to create an easement.
Plaintiffs submit that, even if there are insufficient grounds to establish an express
A license grants permission to be on the land of the licensor without granting any permanent interest in the realty.
While licenses are generally revocable at will, a license coupled with an interest is not.
The theory of easement by express grant was the only theory presented to the jury and the only theory preserved for review. Moreover, we hold that, under the facts of this case, no easement interest was created by operation of law.
Lastly, the plaintiffs claim that the trial court erroneously dismissed their innocent misrepresentation claim, holding that innocent misrepresentation was not a basis for a claim of damages. While the basis for the trial court's decision was error, we agree with the Court of Appeals that the right result was reached.
A claim of innocent misrepresentation is shown where a party detrimentally relies on a false representation in such a manner that the injury inures to the benefit of the party making the misrepresentation. While it is unnecessary to prove that the person making the representation had knowledge that the statements were false, it is necessary to show privity of contract.
According to the first amended complaint, the misrepresentations consisted of Leonard Smith telling the plaintiffs that use of lot 21 would be open and available for use by Forge as a parking area, and as a means of ingress and egress from the plaintiffs' business during the term of the twenty-five year lease.
Plaintiff Forge is in privity of contract with defendant Leonard Smith, by the construction contract, and with defendants Diane Smith and Thomas Faber, by the lease. However, the representations were made by Leonard Smith only. These statements were not sufficient to bind Faber and
Because we find that plaintiffs' easement claim fails as a matter of law, we affirm the decision of the trial court.
MALLETT, C.J., and BRICKLEY, WEAVER, and MARILYN J. KELLY, JJ., concurred with BOYLE, J.
TAYLOR, J., not participating.
MICHAEL F. CAVANAGH, Justice.
I concur in the result only.