Easement Dispute Could Be Heading To Trial

June 20, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Circuit Court Judge H. David Soet recently denied a pair of motions made by Proto-Cam Inc. in its easement case against 940 Monroe NW and Pioneer Inc., renovators of the Berkey & Gay Building.

Todd Dickinson, attorney for 940 Monroe and Pioneer, said a court date would likely be set soon and the case would go to trial if a settlement can’t be reached within a few weeks.

At issue is who owns the north half of Walbridge Street.

Proto-Cam claims that the developers repeatedly violated a right-of-way agreement it has for Walbridge, a closed street west of Ottawa Avenue NW, during renovation work on the building. The company at 1009 Ottawa Ave. NW uses Walbridge for shipments and deliveries, and claimed the developers’ use of the street blocked access and hurt its business financially.

Soet denied Proto-Cam’s request for a summary disposition of the case, as the judge refused to make a liability determination.

Doug Van Essen, representing Proto-Cam, told Soet the auto-parts supplier received the exclusive right-of-way to Walbridge from the Riverfront Fitness Center when it bought the building from Auto Die Inc. about six years ago. Van Essen said Riverfront willingly gave up its right to use the street as part of a zoning agreement made with the city, and he argued that the contract’s intent for exclusive use of the street by Proto-Cam should also apply to the developers.

“I think we cited five or six different cases [for support],” he told the judge, adding that Proto-Cam has the rights to Walbridge for as long as it remains in business.

But Dickinson argued that a northern stretch of Walbridge was not exclusive and that Proto-Cam doesn’t have title to it. He said that Riverfront awarded a 17-foot section of the street to Pioneer last year, which gave the developers the right to use it.

Dickinson also argued that an owner doesn’t necessarily give up the right to use a street after it gives someone else the right to use it. He added that the intent in the agreement between Riverfront and Proto-Cam shouldn’t apply in this case because his clients weren’t party to that contract.

“The kind of relief Proto-Cam is seeking cannot be granted here and does not support this issue,” he told Soet.

Soet also denied Proto-Cam’s second motion. Van Essen accused the developers of withholding documents during discovery and asked for sanctions against them for failing to turn over correspondence on quick-claim deeds and environmental information about the property.

Dickinson said this was the first time he heard that his clients hadn’t provided all the necessary documents ordered, and added that the information Van Essen cited was part of the record concerning the case.

Soet told Dickinson to produce those documents from the court record and give the papers to Van Essen. The judge, however, refused to sanction the defendants and assess costs to the developers.

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