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Starling v. Lake Meade Property Owners Association, Inc.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

May 25, 2017

W. LOWELL STARLING AND NANCY STARLING, Appellees
v.
LAKE MEADE PROPERTY OWNERS ASSOCIATION, INC., Appellant

          ARGUED: September 14, 2016

         Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court at No. 1779 MDA 2014 dated August 11, 2015, Reconsideration Denied October 14, 2015, Reversing and Remanding the Order of the Adams County Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, at No. 2010-S-498 dated September 26, 2014.

          SAYLOR, C.J., BAER, TODD, DONOHUE, DOUGHERTY, WECHT, MUNDY, JJ.

          OPINION

          WECHT, JUSTICE

         In Pennsylvania, planned communities are sufficiently common that twenty years ago our General Assembly adopted a uniform act regulating aspects of their inception, organization, and management.[1] This case involves a dispute in one such community between property owners and their governing homeowners association. At issue is the ownership and use of certain undesignated property and the road that runs the length of a peninsula jutting into Lake Meade, the man-made lake at the heart of the community. We granted review in order to consider ownership and permissible uses of the road and the adjacent strip of undesignated, undeveloped property.

         I. Background

         Because this case reaches us following the Superior Court's reversal of the trial court's order granting summary judgment in favor of the Lake Meade Property Owners Association, Inc. ("the Association"), the following account of the facts is as alleged by homeowners W. Lowell and Nancy Starling ("the Starlings"), the non-moving parties relative to that determination, with all inferences drawn in their favor.[2] Thus, we begin with the facts as alleged in the Starlings' operative Second Amended Complaint ("the Complaint") and their answer and brief in opposition to the Association's motion for partial summary judgment.

         The Lake Meade Subdivision ("the Subdivision"), originally purchased, subdivided, and developed by Lake Meade Incorporated ("LMI"), is a gated community comprised of more than 1, 000 residential units surrounding Lake Meade in Adams County. The Association was incorporated on June 25, 1966. LMI recorded the Subdivision Plan ("the Plan") in the Office of the Recorder of Deeds of Adams County on January 20, 1967.[3] The Dedication describing the Plan provided that the "[p]rimary purpose of this plan is for the enjoyment of out of door recreation and will so provide for the owners of lots purchased a healthful atmosphere for themselves, their children and friends." See Association's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, Exh. E ("Dedication").

         By deed dated May 16, 1967, LMI transferred title in separate deeds to Lots 725 and 726 (collectively, "the Starling Tract") to W.F.O. Rosenmiller, III, and Elinor T. Rosenmiller.[4] The Starling Tract lies at the end of the aforesaid peninsula, which is accessed via Custer Drive, a dead-end road that terminates in a cul-de-sac at the northern end of the peninsula, which is bordered to the east by the Starling Tract, to the north by a narrow strip of contested land that descends to rip-rap[5] along the lakeshore, and to the west by a narrow strip of contested land along the western shore of the peninsula (we refer to the contested property along both the northern and western shores of the peninsula, collectively, as "the Disputed Property"). On the Plan, the Disputed Property is neither identified nor enumerated as one or more discrete lots, is not clearly bounded by any lines resembling the boundary lines used to denote individual properties in the Plan, and is not designated as a "recreational area" or for "lake access." However, since at least 2002, the Association has maintained a community bulletin board and garbage cans on the Disputed Property, encouraging the impression that the Disputed Property is intended for communal use, and during that span it has been used as such.

         On September 25, 1968, after it had sold most of the lots in the Plan, LMI deeded to the Association "ALL those roads, the dam, lake and basin, and [thirty-six specifically enumerated lots, ] all more particularly shown on the plans of lots titled Lake Meade Subdivision, duly recorded in the office of the Recorder of Deeds of Adams County." Complaint, Exh. D (Indenture, 9/25/1968, at 1) ("the 1968 Deed"). Notably, this conveyance made no direct reference to the Disputed Property.

         The Rosenmillers sold the Starling Tract to Louise I. Cookson in 1974; Cookson conveyed the Starling Tract to A. Bailey and Doris A. Wood in 1977. The Starlings purchased the Starling Tract from the Woods on August 12, 2002.[6] A few years later, the Starlings built a house and, in 2006, they moved into their new home. Beginning more or less immediately, the Starlings "regularly encountered problems with unidentified individuals and groups fishing, picnicking, sunbathing, lounging, socializing, parking and loitering on and around . . . Custer Drive and the [Disputed Property]." Complaint at 9 ¶51. These same individuals parked their cars on Custer Drive and the Disputed Property, littered the cul-de-sac, and damaged the Starlings' lawn.

         The Starlings began to complain to the Association in 2006. At first, the Association took steps to address the Starlings' concerns-for example, placing boulders and no trespassing signs around the cul-de-sac. However, the Association did not enforce the prohibition against trespassing and eventually removed the signs. Furthermore, it did not place such boulders along the western edge of Custer Drive.

         In 2007, following a meeting between the Starlings and officers of the Association, the Association's attorney sent the Starlings a letter in which he contended that the Association held a fee simple interest in the Disputed Property that was conveyed by LMI in the 1968 Deed. See id. Exh. M (Letter of John W. Phillips, Esq., to the Starlings, 2/15/2007, at 1). The Starlings' attorney responded that the Starlings had "a genuine claim to extend the eastern[7] property line of [their] Lot 725 completely across the right[-]of[-]way of Custer Drive to the water line of Lake Meade and that [their] lot essentially surrounds and encompasses the full end of the cul-de-sac of Custer Drive." Id., Exh. N (Letter of Jeffrey Ernico, Esq., to John Phillips, Esq., 4/26/2007, at 1).[8]

         A few months later, the Association hosted an Independence Day celebration on the Disputed Property. Numerous vehicles, including fire trucks, parked along Custer Drive, and the party stretched late into the evening. On August 8, 2007, Attorney Phillips sent a letter to the Starlings on behalf of the Association reporting on the board's "consensus . . . that the measures taken to date, which have included placing boulders in the right[-]of[-]way to discourage parking on the Starling[s'] property, moving the bulletin board further down the cul-de-sac, increasing monitoring of the area, and increasing safety patrols have had the desired effect" of ensuring that all activities on

          Custer Drive and the Disputed Property were "consistent with the uses allowed on other common areas." Id., Exh. Q (Letter of John Phillips, Esq., to Jeffrey Enrico, Esq., 8/8/2007, at 1). Acknowledging the ongoing disagreement, Attorney Phillips suggested that the Starlings initiate a quiet title action to settle the ownership question.

         The Starlings declined to file suit at that time, and discussions continued. The Association went on to host Independence Day parties on the Disputed Property in 2008 and 2009. In a 2009 Association newsletter, the Association promoted "[f]ishing [a]long Custer Drive, " explaining that "the narrow strip of land facing toward the Marina is owned by [the Association]. Everything on the other side of the street is private property. Please respect the owners." Id., Exh. U (Lake Meader, vol. 34 no. 4 (July 2009), at 2).

         In December 2009, the Starlings and the board again met, but failed to reach an agreement. Adopting a new tack, the Starlings transmitted an email to the board contending that a lawsuit commenced against the Association by Louise Cookson in 1976 ("the Cookson Litigation") had resulted in a binding 1977 decree establishing that the Disputed Property and Custer Drive north of the southern boundary of Lot 725 were part of the Starling Tract. The Starlings noted that the common pleas court in Cookson had described Lot 726 as being bounded by Lake Meade on three sides and Lot 725 as being bounded by Lake Meade to both the east and west. See id., Exh. L (Decree Nisi and Adjudication in Cookson v. Bd. of Dirs., Lake Meade Prop. Owners Ass'n, No. 5 Feb. Term 1976, at 1 (CCP Adams March 2, 1977) ("[Lots 725 and 726] are located on a part of the development [that] extends out into [Lake Meade] with Lot No. 726 being surrounded on three sides by the lake and Lot No. 725 being bounded on the east and west by the lake.")). The Association was unpersuaded.

         The Starlings then filed suit against the Association, alleging trespass (Count I), ejectment (Count II), and seeking a declaratory judgment (Count IV) to the effect that the Starlings own the Disputed Property-specifically, they asked that the court "enter an Order conclusively establishing the boundary line of [the] Starling Tract at [the] southern end of the Disputed Portion of the Starling Tract and further declaring that the entire Starling Tract belongs to the Starlings." Id. at 26.[9] The Starlings asserted that the Association had exercised wrongful possession of the Disputed Property, as evinced by the placement of Association's garbage cans and bulletin board. Additionally, the Starlings claimed nuisance (Count III), alleging that the Association intentionally and unreasonably "permitted, encouraged and sponsored trespass and nuisance activity" infringing on their property rights. Id. at 25 ¶154. Finally, the Starlings sought declaratory and injunctive relief (Count V) to establish "the appropriate use of the [Disputed Property] and the Starling Tract and the appropriate use of Custer Drive." Id. at 29 ¶177.

         After preliminary proceedings and discovery, the Association moved for partial summary judgment. It contended that the Starling Tract ended at Custer Drive's eastern edge. Thus, the Starlings had no claim to Custer Drive or the Disputed Property. The Association further averred that the Subdivision's Restrictions and Covenants did not preclude unit owners, their families, and their guests from "walking, biking, fishing, or socializing along [Custer Drive or the Disputed Property]." Association's Brief in Support of Its Motion for Partial Summary Judgment at 21.

         Regarding ownership, the Association observed that the Plan depicts courses and distances for the Starling Tract that measure from the eastern waterline to the eastern edge of Custer Drive. No corresponding east-west boundary lines transect the road or appear on the Disputed Property west of Custer Drive. As to Lot 726, no course or distance denotes where the northern boundary lay, but the Plan depicts a point of tangency between the waterline and the northern edge of the Custer Drive cul-de-sac. As well, note 2 on the lower right-hand corner of the Plan (appended to this Opinion) provides: "Water-line (500 ft. elev.) is waterfront property line on all waterfront lots." Thus, the Association contended, the boundary of Lot 726 is where the water-line becomes tangent to the cul-de-sac's northern edge; nothing in the Plan's depiction suggests that Lot 726 wraps around the northern edge of the peninsula to continue down the western side. Because the Plan is unambiguous, the Starlings' attempt to introduce extrinsic evidence in the form of the Cookson decision and post-recordation surveys, tax maps, and behavior was impermissible. Thus, the Association was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Counts I, II, and IV (trespass, ejectment, and the ownership claim), because each of those counts required the Starlings to establish a question of material fact regarding ownership or the right to possession of the Disputed Property, and the Starlings had failed to do either.

         Regarding the Starlings' claim for declaratory and injunctive relief as to the use of Custer Drive and the Disputed Property, the Association contended that the Starlings' reliance upon the Plan's Restrictions and Covenants was infirm. The Association asserted that the restriction providing that lots other than those designated as "business or commercial areas" "shall be used exclusively for residential purposes" did not encompass Custer Drive or the Disputed Property.[10] Id. at 22. Instead, the undesignated Disputed Property was free to be utilized in service of the outdoor recreation that was the stated purpose of the Subdivision. Furthermore, applying the Starlings' strict definition of "residential purposes" would effectively "exclude activities incidental to residential uses, such as walking, biking, fishing, and other forms of socialization." Id. at 23. The Association maintained that the restriction relied upon by the Starlings was designed simply to ensure that lots designated for residential use were not converted to commercial purposes. The Starlings also failed to identify any restrictive covenant limiting Custer Drive to "vehicular travel." Id. at 24. Furthermore, although it was enacted after the creation of the Subdivision, the Uniform Planned Community Act, see supra n.1, retroactively conferred upon the Association the power to "[r]egulate the use . . . of common elements" within the Subdivision. 68 Pa.C.S. § 5302(a)(6); see 68 Pa.C.S. § 5102(b) (providing for retroactive application to pre-enactment planned communities). Thus, the Association was free to allow authorized individuals and their vehicles to utilize Custer Drive for more than just vehicular travel and to use the Disputed Property for recreational purposes.

         The trial court granted the Association's motion. Regarding the ownership questions, the court noted that it must seek to "ascertain and effectuate the intentions of the parties at the time of the original subdivision." Trial Court Opinion ("T.C.O."), 1/15/2013, at 5 (citing Pa. Elec. Co. v. Waltman, 670 A.2d 1165, 1169 (Pa. Super. 1995)). Where, as in this case, a deed describes the land to be conveyed only by lot number in a subdivision plan, the plan is "an essential part of the deed, giving [it] the same force and effect as if the plan had been copied into the conveyance." Id. at 5-6 (citing Richardson v. McKeesport, 18 Pa. Super. 199, 204 (1901)); see Birmingham v. Anderson, 48 Pa. 253, 260 (1864) ("Where a map or plan is thus referred to [in a deed] it becomes a material and essential part of the conveyance, and is to have the same force and effect as if it was incorporated into or copied into the deed.").

         Turning to the Plan, the court recited the distances specified thereupon for the southern boundaries of Lots 721, 722, 723, 724, and 725, and underscored that those boundary lines extend from the eastern waterline only to the eastern edge of Custer Drive and no farther. Addressing Lot 726's lack of a measured northern boundary, the court recited the Plan's notation establishing that the waterline, at 500 feet elevation, "is [the] waterfront property line on all waterfront lots." Id. at 6; see Plan, Appendix note 2. Furthermore, "the northwest boundary of Lot 726 becomes tangent with [the Custer Drive cul-de-sac] at the 500[-]foot elevation water[-]line, " establishing an unambiguous boundary at the depicted point of tangency. T.C.O. at 6-7. Accordingly, the Plan could sustain neither the Starlings' theory that Lot 725's southern boundary traversed Custer Drive to the western shore nor their contention that Lot 726 wrapped around the northern edge of the cul-de-sac and incorporated any portion of the Disputed Property. Regarding the wrap-around theory, the trial court observed that the Starlings' contention would lead to the absurd result that the owner of Lot 1020, located at the southwestern corner of the peninsula, also would have a competing claim to the Disputed Property. That is to say, if a point of tangency combined with the absence of clear dimensions could not bound Lot 726, the same logic would suggest that the northeastern boundary of Lot 1020, unaffected by its own depicted point of tangency with Custer Drive, extends northward along the peninsula's westward shore to include the Disputed Property. Because the wrap-around theory would provide the owners of Lots 726 and 1020 with equally viable claims to the Disputed Property, such a theory could not reflect LMI's intent in designing the Plan.

         Although the trial court evidently believed that the Plan was unambiguous, [11] it nonetheless reviewed the parol evidence submitted by the Starlings in opposition to summary judgment. The trial court first rejected the Starlings' reliance upon an Adams County tax map that purportedly showed the boundary of Lot 726 reaching around the northern edge of Custer Drive, observing that the Starlings' payment of taxes on the Disputed Property, if any, [12] would not be competent evidence of ownership. T.C.O. at 8 (citing James v. Bream, 106 A. 722, 723 (Pa. 1919)[13]). Next, the trial court rejected the Starlings' reliance upon the April 1974 survey that was attached to the 1974 deed from the Rosenmillers to Cookson. Although the survey was attached to that conveyance, neither that deed nor any other in the succeeding chain of title referred to that survey in describing the Starling Tract. Rather, each deed in the chain of title described the Starling Tract solely by reference to the Plan. Regarding the Starlings' reliance upon the Cookson Litigation, the court carefully delineated the issues that were decided in that case, explaining that the only boundary in dispute was that between the eastern part of the cul-de-sac and the Starling Tract, which had no bearing on the Disputed Property. Thus, the passing description of the boundaries of the Starling Tract in Cookson were dicta of no binding effect.[14]

         Of particular relevance to our analysis, not least because it appears to have been the view adopted by the Superior Court, the trial court next considered the Starlings' argument that they must own the Disputed Property (and, ostensibly, Custer Drive) because the Association possesses only a right-of-way or easement[15] over Custer Drive, but no fee interest in the land beneath it. The Starlings argued that, by 1968, when LMI purported to convey to the Association, inter alia, all Subdivision roads, LMI no longer held a fee in those roads. Rather, upon its sale of many of the Subdivision's residential parcels, and in retaining the lots enumerated in the 1968 Deed, LMI effectively granted access easements to those purchasers as a matter of law and retained only such easements itself to the extent they attached to the properties it had retained until the 1968 Deed, somehow simultaneously converting its own fee interest in the Subdivision roads to no more than the same easement enjoyed by all holders of Subdivision parcels.[16] In rejecting this argument, the trial court found that, at the time of the 1968 Deed, LMI retained its fee interests in the Subdivision roads, and that the deed from LMI to the Association unambiguously reflected LMI's intention to convey the roads in fee to the Association.[17] Thus, the Association took fee simple ownership of the Subdivision roads subject only to the access easements of all Subdivision owners (including those who would come to own the residential lots that LMI conveyed to the Association in fee in the 1968 Deed).

         For the foregoing reasons, the trial court granted the Association's motion for partial summary judgment as to the Starlings' claims for trespass, ejectment, and declaratory judgment regarding ownership of Custer Drive and/or the Disputed Property. Because each count required a showing of ownership or the right to possession of the contested property, and because the Starlings had failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to either, those claims failed as a matter of law. See T.C.O. at 13 & nn.2 & 3 (citing Hartley v. Spencer, 75 Pa. Super. 449 (1920), for the proposition that one may recover for trespass only upon proof of ownership and possession or the right thereto of the land at the time of the trespass, and Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Long, 934 A.2d 76, 79 (Pa. Super. 2007), for the proposition that ejectment may only be had by one with the right to possess the property in question); see Soffer v. Beech, 409 A.2d 337, 340-41 (Pa. 1979) ("[T]he right to possession is the central element of [an action in ejectment], " which "has long been the general method for obtaining possession of real property. . . . [O]ur cases involving fee claimants speak only of the right to possession by one not presently in possession." (citations omitted)). In so ruling, the court determined that the Association retained a fee to Custer Drive and that the Starlings had no ownership or possessory interest in the Disputed Property outside the depicted point of tangency of the water-line and the northern edge of the cul-de-sac.

         With regard to the Starlings' claim for an injunction restricting the use of Custer Drive to "vehicular travel, "[18] the court noted that no Subdivision covenant so limited the use of that road. The trial court observed that, were it to limit use of Custer Drive to "vehicular purposes" in the sense ventured, "activities such as walking, running and biking would not be permitted." T.C.O. at 16. Indeed, were the Starlings to host a party, their own guests would not be allowed to park on Custer Drive, because parking is not "vehicular travel." Id. This would contravene what the court deemed the "main purpose of the Subdivision, . . . the enjoyment of outdoor activities." Id. at 16-17.

         With regard to the Starlings' claim for declaratory and injunctive relief precluding non-residential use of the Disputed Property, [19] the trial court found that the lack of designation of the Disputed Property for recreation or lake access was not conclusive in favor of the Starlings' claim. Rather, the Plan's stated "primary purpose" was to serve "the enjoyment of out of door recreation." Association's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, Exh. E. Furthermore, the "Dedication" section of the Plan specified that all lots not designated "water supply" or "commercial" would be "either recreational areas, lake access areas, or residential lots." Id. The Disputed Property not having been designated water supply, commercial, recreational, lake access, or residential, the trial court found that "any lawful use is permitted" on the Disputed Property. T.C.O. at 15. Finding no further controversy with respect to Count V, the court granted the Association summary judgment on Count V.

         Following the trial court's entry of partial summary judgment for the Association, the parties entered a consent order dismissing the Starlings' remaining nuisance count (Count III), and the Starlings agreed not to seek damages. This rendered the trial court's judgment final, and the Starlings appealed to the Superior Court.

         In a unanimous precedential opinion that largely adopted the Starlings' arguments, a three-judge panel of the Superior Court rejected the trial court's determination that the Association held a fee simple interest in Custer Drive. The Superior Court found it of "vast importance" that the Plan was recorded in 1967, the year before LMI deeded, inter alia, its interests in the Plan's roads to the Association. Starling v. Lake Meade Prop. Owners Ass'n, Inc., 121 A.3d 1021, 1028 (Pa. Super. 2015). It also was in 1967 that the Rosenmillers acquired the lots comprising the Starling Tract. The court correctly noted that, "when lots are sold as part of a recorded subdivision plan on which 'a street has been plotted by the grantor, the purchasers acquire property rights in the use of the street.'" Id. at 1028 (quoting Kao v. Haldeman, 728 A.2d 345, 347 (Pa. 1999)). This "easement of access" "is a property right appurtenant to the land [that] cannot be impaired or taken away without compensation." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted); see id. (quoting Restatement (3d) of Property-Servitudes § 2.13(1)) ("A description of the land conveyed that refers to a plat or map showing streets . . . implies creation of a servitude restricting use of the land shown on the map to the indicated areas." (Superior Court's emphasis omitted)).

         From this uncontroversial proposition, though, the Superior Court proceeded to an inference that is unprecedented in Pennsylvania law:

As of [the date of the 1968 Deed, LMI] did not own any road in fee interest absolute because it had . . . sold lots in the [S]ubdivision. As owner of certain unsold lots in 1968, [LMI] owned an easement in the platted roads shown on the [Plan] when it conveyed the roads to the Association. The grantor in a deed cannot convey title to property greater than that owned by the grantor. See Ecenbarger v. Lesoine, 438 A.2d 969 (Pa. Super. 1981) (where grantor did not own property in fee but was co-owner, grantor could not convey easement over section of property owned in common with other grantors without joinder of other property owners). [LMI] simply did not own a fee simple interest in the platted roads in the [Subdivision] in 1968, when it purported to grant such an interest to the Association. The trial court therefore erred, as a matter of law, in ruling that the 1968 [D]eed created a fee simple absolute interest to the Association to Custer Drive in the [Subdivision] and that, as fee simple owners, the Association could continue to use Custer Drive as it wished.
Indeed, the logical implications of a finding that the Association owns, in fee simple absolute, the platted roads in the subdivision are far-reaching and counter-intuitive. If the Association owned the roads in fee simple absolute, it could sell those roads and permit houses to be built on them. It could allow them to be used as parking lots. The Association could thereby prevent access by [Subdivision] property owners to their lots.

Id. at 1029 (citation modified; emphasis added).

         Thus, the Superior Court held that the trial court not only erred in entering summary judgment with regard to trespass, ejectment, and ownership of Custer Drive, but it also erred in denying declaratory and injunctive relief regarding the Association's usage of Custer Drive. It held that, because the Association has no greater right to the use of Custer Drive than is enjoyed by any holder of a Subdivision lot, the Association was entitled only to use Custer Drive for "vehicular and pedestrian ingress and egress."[20] Starling, 121 A.3d 1031. Thus, the Superior Court reversed the trial court's entry of judgment on Counts I, II, and on Count IV to the extent that it established the Association's ownership of Custer Drive, and it directed the trial court to enter judgment in the Starlings' favor on their prayer for injunctive relief regarding the use of Custer Drive.

         That left only the question of ownership and use of the Disputed Property. In this connection, the Superior Court found that the Plan was ambiguous. The court then reviewed the Starlings' parol evidence, every item of which post-dated the recordation of the Plan, and found that genuine issues of material fact remained regarding whether Lot 726 wrapped around the cul-de-sac to encompass some portion of the strip of land west of Custer Drive. Thus, the court specifically remanded for further fact-finding on the ownership question. With regard to use, the court was less clear, but its opinion at least suggested that the absence of an express Plan designation of the Disputed Property for common use precluded non-residential use such as that alleged by the Starlings. See id. at 1031 ("The fact that the Starlings do not own the triangular shaped piece of land, however, does not mean that the Association does own it and can allow people to use it for recreational purposes."), 1033 ("In sum, we remand for the grant of partial relief to the Starlings as to [C]ount [V] . . . and for entry of an injunction permanently enjoining use of the entirety of the platted Custer Drive and the entirety of its platted cul[-]de[-]sac to any use other than for ingress and egress.").

         Interestingly, in analyzing this consideration, the court appeared to understand the Starlings as seeking only the northwestern bulge opposite Lot 726, which the court referred to as "the triangular-shaped piece of land." Id. at 1024. However, based upon our review, the Starlings never restricted their claim in that fashion before the trial court, nor did they do so in their briefing to the Superior Court. Indeed, contrary to the Superior Court's claim, before that court the Starlings were less than clear about whether they sought ownership of the entire peninsula north of the southern boundary of Lot 725 or merely some indeterminate portion of the land to the north and west of Custer Drive, and in any event, nowhere did the Starlings so much as refer to any land as triangular. Thus, while the Superior Court correctly observed that the Starlings' Complaint never appeared to assert ownership of Custer Drive, the court was simply wrong to suggest that the Starlings never raised that argument in the trial court at all, see supra n.8, or that their arguments on appeal were so focused.[21]

         II. Analysis

         We granted allowance of appeal to consider three issues. Although the two issues we reach were stated in terms of the Superior Court's apparent determination that the fee to Custer Drive was surrendered by LMI (or effectively extinguished entirely) as soon as LMI sold the first Subdivision lot and the Superior Court's alleged conclusion that "extrinsic evidence can vary property boundaries on a recorded subdivision plan, "[22] the lower courts, and now we, find that the most sensible way to resolve these issues is to address ownership and use of Custer Drive and the Disputed Property as such, which implicate and are encompassed by the issues as stated. For clarity of analysis, we address both ownership questions first, then take up the question of use.

         A. Standard of Review

         Appellate review of summary judgment entails a question of law. Accordingly, we review the Superior Court's reversal of the trial court's order de novo, and we need not defer to either lower tribunal's determinations. See Summers v. Certainteed Corp., 997 A.2d 1152, 1159 (Pa. 2010). In reviewing the lower courts' rulings, we apply the ...


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