On May 21, 2012, the Sixth Circuit issued a decision of interest to the growing land conservation movement. The Court upheld the decision of the Eastern District of Kentucky finding that Larry and Marsha Sims violated a conservation easement that was part of a real estate purchase agreement with The Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy v. Sims, 09-5634/6070. In 2001, the Conservancy and the Sims entered into a real estate purchase agreement containing an easement that sought to maintain the natural condition of the property. In January 2005, a Conservancy representative alleged several violations of the easement. The Sixth Circuit agreed with the district court that the easement allowed “minor alterations to the land,” but not the “extensive re-grading” to a sinkhole that had taken place. The Court accordingly held that the Sims had to restore the land to its preexisting state and that they had to cough up $100,000 in attorney’s fees.
Judge Merritt filed a dissent arguing that nothing in the purchase agreement forbade the work to the land the Sims performed and that no one had demonstrated that the particular portion of the property at issue had historic or environmental value.