374 P.3d 755 (Okla. 2016), 113313, Logan County Conservation District v. Pleasant Oaks Homeowners Association

Docket Nº113313
Citation374 P.3d 755, 2016 OK 65
Opinion JudgeGURICH, J.
Party NameLOGAN COUNTY CONSERVATION DISTRICT, An Oklahoma conservation district, Petitioner/Appellee, v. PLEASANT OAKS HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION, PHYLLIS JEAN CROWDER and JOHN HERMAN WHITE, JR., Respondents/Appellants, and PLEASANT OAKS LAKE ASSOCIATION INC.; PLEASANT OAKS HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION; PHYLLIS CROWDER; JOHN HERMAN WHITE, JR.; DALE BROOMFIELD; SUSAN B
AttorneyStephen L. McCaleb, Derryberry & Naifeh, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Appellants Phyllis Jean Crowder and John Herman White, Jr. Lou Keel, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Appellant Pleasant Oaks Lake Association, Inc., Kelly F. Monaghan and Lori Gilliard, Holloway & Monaghan, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Appellee Logan...
Judge PanelGURICH, J. ALL JUSTICES CONCUR.
Case DateJune 07, 2016
CourtSupreme Court of Oklahoma

Page 755

374 P.3d 755 (Okla. 2016)

2016 OK 65

LOGAN COUNTY CONSERVATION DISTRICT, An Oklahoma conservation district, Petitioner/Appellee,

v.

PLEASANT OAKS HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION, PHYLLIS JEAN CROWDER and JOHN HERMAN WHITE, JR., Respondents/Appellants,

and

PLEASANT OAKS LAKE ASSOCIATION INC.; PLEASANT OAKS HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION; PHYLLIS CROWDER; JOHN HERMAN WHITE, JR.; DALE BROOMFIELD; SUSAN BROOMFIELD; MICHAEL BRADLEY BROOMFIELD; EARL B. ENGLAND; KATHY K. ENGLAND; NORBERT K. WENGER; MICHAEL D. FAIRLESS; WANDA E. FAIRLESS; QUAYYUM QAISAR JALIL AND TASNIM RAZIA BEGUN REVOCABLE TRUST DATED OCTOBER 12, 2005; DONOVAN R. UNDERWOOD; MARION WALTON; LEON WALTON; CHARLES C. LINHARDT; JENNIFER D. LINHARDT; GEORGE SCOTT WELLS; MARILYN ELKINS WELLS; ED BETCHAN; ERICKA BETCHAN; WILLIAM JACK SKAGGS; WINONA L. SKAGGS REVOCABLE TRUST; ERWIN DALE LEAVERTON; THELMA J. LEAVERTON; WILLIAM LOUIS KEEL; DANNY CLINE; THOMAS EUGENE PLUNKETT; CARLA R. PLUNKETT; JAY W. BARNETT; TASA C. BARNETT, Respondents

No. 113313

Supreme Court of Oklahoma

June 7, 2016

Page 756

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 757

APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF LOGAN COUNTY, STATE OF OKLAHOMA, HONORABLE PHILLIP C. CORLEY.

TRIAL COURT'S JOURNAL ENTRY OF JUDGMENT IS AFFIRMED.

SYLLABUS

[¶0] Homeowners and Homeowners Association appealed from a judgment finding Conservation District was authorized to enter properties to perform rehabilitation work on a floodwater control structure. Construction of the dam was originally completed in 1973. In approximately 2006, the dam was reclassified as a greater safety risk, necessitating rehabilitation work. Easements authorized the Conservation District to construct, operate, maintain, and inspect the dam. Plain language in the deeds creating the easements included a right to ensure the dam's structural integrity through a rehabilitation project.

Stephen L. McCaleb, Derryberry & Naifeh, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Appellants Phyllis Jean Crowder and John Herman White, Jr.

Lou Keel, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Appellant Pleasant Oaks Lake Association, Inc., Kelly F. Monaghan and Lori Gilliard, Holloway & Monaghan, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Appellee Logan County Conservation District.

GURICH, J. ALL JUSTICES CONCUR.

OPINION

Page 758

GURICH, J.

Factual Background & Procedural History

[¶1] Cottonwood Creek watershed is an area covering approximately 379 square miles in parts of Logan, Oklahoma, Canadian and Kingfisher Counties. The area was prone to flooding, and in March of 1962, Logan County Soil and Water Conservation District No. 9 (LCSWCD), Cottonwood Creek Water and Soil Conservancy District No. 11 (CCWSCD), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), prepared a plan to alleviate dangers associated with uncontrolled water flow. Proposed structural measures under the plan included construction of fifty-eight floodwater retarding structures designed to detain water, store sediment deposits, and enhance the state's water supply. One of the structures included in the work plan was Floodwater Retarding Structure No. 54 (FWRS 54).

[¶2] On September 24, 1962, D.C. Fitzwater and Odessa Ann Fitzwater granted an easement (Fitzwater Easement) to CCWSCD and LCSWCD, which read, in part: [F]or the purpose of:

For or in connection with the construction, operation, maintenance and inspection of the following described works of improvement to be located on the above described land; for the flowage of any waters in, over, upon or through such works of improvement; and for the permanent storage and temporary detention, either or both, of any waters that are impounded, stored or detained by such works of improvement:

a. floodwater retarding structure No. 54[.]

1. In the event construction of the above described works of improvement is not commenced within 120 months from the date hereof, the rights and privileges herein granted shall at once revert to and become the property of this Grantor, his heirs and assigns.

2. This easement includes the right of ingress and egress at any time over and upon the above described land of the Grantor and any other land of the Grantor adjoining said land for the purpose of construction, the checking of operations, and the inspection and maintenance of the structure.

3. There is reserved to the Grantor, his heirs and assigns, the rights and privileges to use the above described land at any time, in any manner and for any purpose that does not interfere with construction, operation, maintenance and inspection of the structure.

. . . .

5. The Grantee is responsible for operating and maintaining the above described works of improvement.

. . . .

The Fitzwater Easement covered the N.W. 1/4 of Section 36, Township 15 North, Range 3 West. Additional easements were obtained

Page 759

from several landowners in the area for the purpose of water storage (Impoundment Easements). The Impoundment Easements encompassed the same tract of land and authorized the following usage: [F]or the purpose of:

For the permanent storage and temporary detention, either or both, of any waters that are impounded, stored or detained by those certain works of improvement which are described and are to be located as follows:

a. floodwater retarding structure No. 54[.]

Aside from geographical boundaries, neither the Fitzwater nor Impoundment deeds contained mandatory design specifications for FWRS 54.1 Logan County Conservation District (LCCD) was created in 1971, and became the successive owner of the easements.

[¶3] Construction of FWRS 54 was finalized in November of 1973. At the time of its completion, FWRS 54 was classified as a significant hazard class (b) dam, which indicates uncontrolled flooding could cause significant damage to agriculture and infrastructure.

[¶4] In 1977, LCSWCD executed a deed returning part of the Fitzwater and Impoundment Easements to the current servient estate holders.2 Several homes have since been built around what is referred to by local residents as Pleasant Oaks Lake. The impounded water created by FWRS 54 is approximately 22-acres. Local residents built a common recreational ground and concrete boat ramp.

[¶5] Changes in safety criteria and the development of houses downstream compelled the USDA and Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) to recast FWRS 54 as a high hazard class (c) dam.3 This new classification was based on changes in safety criteria, the development of 26 houses downstream, and the potential for loss of life following a structural failure. In March of 2006, the USDA issued a written proposal calling for the rehabilitation of FWRS 54. The USDA watershed plan suggested multiple repairs and improvements to FWRS 54, including: (1) removal of the existing principal spillway tower; (2) construction of a new principal spillway tower; (3) replacement of the existing principal spillway outlet; (4) replacement of the existing principal spillway conduit; (5) installation of an impact basin at the pipe outlet; (6) construction of an outlet channel; (7) construction of a vegetated wave berm; (8) and extension of the auxiliary spillway with a slope change in the exit channel. In approximately February 2008, LCCD tendered a written application to the OWRB seeking authorization to perform rehabilitation work on FWRS 54 as recommended by the 2006 USDA work plan. OWRB approved the application on March 11, 2008.

[¶6] On March 25, 2011, LCCD filed a petition with the District Court of Logan County, seeking a declaratory judgment allowing it to perform rehabilitation work on FWRS 54. The petition alleged the Fitzwater and Impoundment Easements vested LCCD with the right to complete the rehabilitation project. Property owners Phyllis Jean Crowder and John Herman White, Jr. answered and claimed that the proposed work did not fall within the scope of the original easements. Accordingly, Crowder and White maintained the rehabilitation project would lead to an improper taking of their land. Pleasant Oaks Lake Association (POLA) and individual homeowners also answered, alleging the project would constitute a taking requiring payment of compensation.

[¶7] On April 11, 2012, LCCD filed a motion seeking summary judgment. The motion asserted

Page 760

LCCD was authorized to perform work on FWRS 54 based upon the unambiguous language contained in deeds establishing the Fitzwater and Impoundment Easements. LCCD maintained that the intended purpose of the easements, and the terms " construction, operation, maintenance and inspection," authorize the district to rehabilitate FWRS 54. Consequently, LCCD claimed there could be no taking of private property entitling Respondents to compensation. LCCD's motion included a sworn affidavit from a professional engineer to demonstrate all rehabilitation efforts would take place entirely within the area described in the Fitzwater and Impoundment Easements.4 Respondents filed a joint objection to LCCD's motion and contemporaneously requested summary judgment be issued in their favor. POLA and the homeowners argued the terms " operation and maintenance" contained in the deeds were not synonymous with the proposed rehabilitation of FWRS 54. However, the objection did not include any evidentiary material to refute LCCD's allegations of material facts. The sole attachments to the motion were a trial court order and a subsequent opinion from the Court of Civil Appeals from an unrelated case.5 These decisions found a similar rehabilitation proposal in Sequoyah County was broader in scope than permitted by the original easement. On October 31, 2012, the trial judge denied both summary judgments.

[¶8] POLA and individual homeowners renewed their motions for summary judgment on March 14, 2014. In their...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP