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WASHINGTON METRO. AREA TRANSIT v. GEORGETOWN UNIV.

December 31, 2001

WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, PLAINTIFF,
V.
GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Roberts, District Judge.

  MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority ("WMATA"), brought this action seeking declaratory relief, an injunction and damages against defendant Georgetown University ("Georgetown"). Plaintiff alleges that defendant is trespassing on certain land owned by plaintiff, in violation of a property deed now over a century old. Plaintiff filed an application for a preliminary injunction, and both parties moved for summary judgment.*fn1 Because the plain, unambiguous language of the deed grants defendant the right to undertake the activity at issue, plaintiffs application for a preliminary injunction will be denied, plaintiffs motion for summary judgment will be denied and defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff WMATA owns property in the District of Columbia designated as Lot 822, Square 1321 (the "Riders' Fund Land"). WMATA obtained this property pursuant to an April 9, 1997 Order of Conveyance entered by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The Riders' Fund Land is adjacent to certain property owned by Georgetown. A paved, private right-of-way known as Fowler's Road runs in a north-south direction from Georgetown's property to the north and crosses the eastern part of the Riders' Fund Land. Fowler's Road divides the Riders' Fund Land into two parcels: the western parcel is designated as "Parcel Two," and the eastern parcel is designated as "Parcel Three." Georgetown uses and maintains Fowler's Road, which connects Georgetown's campus with Canal Road. (Compl. ¶¶ 5-8; Answer ¶¶ 5-8.)

An August 10, 1895 deed, as amended by a February 14, 1900 deed (collectively, the "deed") determines the rights of the parties with respect to the location and use of Fowler's Road. The deed conveyed the Riders' Fund Land from William J. Fowler and Barbara Fowler to the Washington and Great Falls Electric Railway Company ("Railway Company"). WMATA is the successor-in-interest to the rights of the Railway Company. Georgetown is successor-in-interest to the rights of William J. Fowler and Barbara Fowler. (Compl. ¶¶ 9-11 & Ex. B; Answer ¶¶ 9-11.) The Fowlers reserved certain rights as to the Riders' Fund Land, and these rights now belong to Georgetown as successor-in-interest. These rights, as stated in the deed, include:

the perpetual right to pass and repass over any and all parts of the aforesaid `Parcels Numbers Two and Three', to and from and between the lands lying on either side thereof[;]
the absolute right to locate and dedicate, at any time in the future one or more public streets or highways across the said `Parcel Number Two (2)' of a width of not less than sixty (60) feet nor more than one hundred and twenty (120) feet each [as long as it does not interfere with the Railway Company's running of railroad cars or the Railway Company's successor-in-interest's operation or maintenance of any road subsequently built by the Railway Company; and]*fn2
[the right to have a] private right of way leading from the public road known as the Canal Road . . . shall remain a private right of way as it is at present, and the right to free, uninterrupted and unobstructed use of the same as a highway, subject to the erection and maintenance of a bridge by [the Railway Company] across the same, is hereby expressly reserved unto the said William Fowler, his heirs and assigns forever, it being understood and agreed that the width of said private right of way is and shall continue always to be not less that [sic] twelve (12) feet in width where it passes across the land herein conveyed to the [Railway Company].

(Compl.Ex. B.) Fowler's Road is the "private right of way" referenced in the deed. (Compl. ¶ 13; Answer ¶ 13.)

On March 23, 2000, Georgetown wrote to WMATA and inquired about purchasing or leasing Parcel Three of the Riders' Fund Land. Georgetown wanted to use a portion of Parcel Three to accommodate a construction project on the university campus. The parties, however, could not reach an agreement to sell or lease Parcel Three. (Compl. ¶¶ 15-17 & Ex. D; Answer ¶¶ 15-17.)

In July 2000, the parties met to discuss Georgetown's proposal to "reconfigure part of [Fowler Road] . . . to allow appropriate access into the new Southwest Quadrangle project and the rest of the campus." (Compl.Ex. E.) Part of Georgetown's proposed reconfiguration would occur on WMATA-owned portions of Parcel Two and Parcel Three, and Georgetown would use its access rights under the deed to do the reconfiguration. (Id.) The proposed reconfiguration consists of widening parts of Fowler's Road from its current width of twenty-two feet to a new width of thirty-six feet (a fourteen foot increase). (Compl. Ex. F; Def.'s Mem. at Ex. 1 (Brangman Aff. ¶ 10).) Georgetown's proposed reconfiguration only widens the existing Fowler's Road, and there is no evidence that Georgetown has proposed to "relocate" the right-of-way. (Compl.Exs.E-F, H.)

The parties met again in September 2000, at which time WMATA informed Georgetown that Georgetown "has no legal right to unilaterally relocate an easement." (Compl.Ex. G.) WMATA requested that Georgetown notify WMATA of any construction that Georgetown planned to undertake within the easement area. Accordingly, on November 13, 2000, Georgetown informed WMATA that Georgetown would be undertaking "site grading and curb and gutter work within the easement area" and construction to complete a retaining wall that terminates at the easement area. (Compl.Ex. H.) Georgetown informed WMATA that the construction would be completed within "the coming weeks" after November 13, 2000, and that any WMATA property disturbed by the construction would be "restored to its previous condition prior to the start of [Georgetown's] work." (Id.)

Sometime during or near March 2001, Georgetown sought WMATA's permission to destroy an abandoned concrete bridge abutment on WMATA's land at no expense to WMATA. WMATA gave Georgetown permission, and Georgetown spent $10,000 to remove the structure. After Georgetown completed this project, on March 22, 2001, plaintiff filed a Complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief and an application for a preliminary injunction against Georgetown's proposed widening of Fowler's Road. (See ...


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