By: Rob Harris
Perch Hankin purchased Pennsylvania’s Fairways Golf Course on May 30, 1985. Mr. Hankin opted to subdivide and sell the land on which the tees for the fifth hole were located to a developer, who constructed a house, while permitting the land to continue to be used as the fifth hole teeing ground.
Fast forward twenty-five years, by which time both the golf course and the house had new owners. In November 2010, the homeowner, who initially had complained about golf balls striking her house shortly after her 2005 purchase of the home, decided to take matters into her own hands. She erected a temporary fence across the tee boxes that prevented golfers from accessing the fifth hole tee boxes.
The golf course owner and manager filed suit, demanding that the homeowner remove the fence. The trial court entered a preliminary injunction. Down came the fence. Tee shots once again were struck on the fifth hole.
Meanwhile, the homeowner filed a host of counterclaims against the course owner and manager, claiming that they had no legal right to use the land for the teeing area since the deed provided for no easement.
Off the case went to the jury, who was charged with deciding whether the course owner had obtained a “prescriptive” right to use the land by virtue of having done so continuously since 1985, or whether the homeowner was entitled to damages from the course’s wrongful use of her land.
Faced with these seemingly inconsistent assertions, the jury came back with its verdict, proclaiming both sides winners. The jury found the golf course, indeed, had acquired prescriptive rights to use the land AND that the homeowner was entitled to $105,000 in damages.
Determining it could not logically unravel the seeming contradiction, the trial court, throwing up its hands, ordered a new trial.
The court on appeal recently upheld this decision, directing that a new trial be held.