Bahr v. Imus

Decision Date11 June 2009
Docket NumberNo. 20070933-CA.,20070933-CA.
PartiesRob BAHR, Sherri Bahr, and Ione Senn, Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. Jim IMUS and Melodee Imus, Defendants and Appellees.
CourtUtah Court of Appeals

Jared L. Bramwell and Steven M. Kelly, Draper, for Appellants.

Robert J. Dale and Christian D. Austin, Salt Lake City, for Appellees.

Before Judges GREENWOOD, THORNE, and McHUGH.


GREENWOOD, Presiding Judge:

¶ 1 Plaintiffs Rob and Sherri Bahr and Ione Senn (collectively the Bahrs) appeal the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants Jim and Melodee Imus establishing the boundary line between the Bahrs' and Imuses' properties based on a theory of boundary by estoppel. Specifically, the Bahrs argue that summary judgment was inappropriate because there are material facts in dispute and the Imuses are not entitled to judgment as a matter of law. We affirm.


¶ 2 The Imuses purchased their home in 1983. Later that year, the Imuses consulted with their neighbors, the Wymans, who lived in the adjacent home directly west of the Imuses, about constructing a boundary fence (the fence) between their properties. The Wymans were unable to contribute financially, but agreed to the fence construction. Although the Imuses appear to have carried the financial burden of the fence project, the Wymans assisted with the measurements for placement of the fence on the boundary line and with the manual labor necessary to build the fence. Neither party knew, nor did they obtain a survey to determine, the exact boundary between their respective properties. There were, however, stakes and marking pins utilized by the Imuses and the Wymans. They worked together to measure and establish a boundary line, along which they ultimately built the fence. The Imuses and the Wymans treated the fence as the boundary between their properties thenceforth, and the Imuses subsequently installed "improvements, landscaping, and irrigations systems on their side of the fence."1 Shortly thereafter, the Wymans sold their property to Joe Carlisle, who also treated the fence as the boundary line until he sold the property to the Bahrs in December 1988.

¶ 3 Some time in 2003, a dispute arose between the Bahrs and the Imuses regarding a Russian Olive tree growing on the Imuses' side of the fence. This dispute led to deterioration of the parties' relationship. Soon thereafter, the Bahrs complained to city officials and commissioned a survey of their property. This survey revealed that the fence deviated from the true property line and encroached upon the Bahrs' property from a few inches at the front of the property to nearly five feet at the rear, creating a pie-shaped parcel of land (Disputed Property) over which this dispute centers. Based largely on this survey, the Bahrs sued the Imuses praying for relief based upon several separate legal theories including trespass, private nuisance, and quiet title.2 After discovery was conducted, the Imuses filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that, based on the undisputed material facts, they are entitled to ownership of the Disputed Property because the boundary was established either by agreement or acquiescence, or in the alternative, that the Bahrs should now be estopped from challenging the boundary.3 The Bahrs responded, arguing that summary judgment was not appropriate because there are material facts in dispute and the Imuses are not legally entitled to a judgment based upon any of their asserted legal theories.

¶ 4 The trial court determined that the material facts are undisputed and that equity requires that the Bahrs be estopped from now disputing the boundary. Accordingly, the trial court granted the Imuses' motion for summary judgment based on equitable estoppel. This appeal followed.


¶ 5 The sole issue on appeal is whether the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the Imuses based on an equitable estoppel theory.4 We "review[ ] a trial court's legal conclusions and ultimate grant or denial of summary judgment for correctness . . . view[ing] the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Orvis v. Johnson, 2008 UT 2, ¶ 6, 177 P.3d 600 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). And, although "[t]he doctrine of equitable estoppel is simply stated, . . . it is applicable to a wide variety of factual and legal situations. . . . Therefore, we properly grant the trial court's decision [thereon] a fair degree of deference." Department of Human Servs. ex rel. Parker v. Irizarry, 945 P.2d 676, 678 (Utah 1997).


¶ 6 Granting a party's request for summary judgment is appropriate where "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Utah R. Civ. P. 56(c). Additionally, "Utah law does not allow a summary judgment movant to merely point out a lack of evidence in the nonmoving party's case, but instead requires a movant to affirmatively provide factual evidence establishing that there is no genuine issue of material fact." Orvis, 2008 UT 2, ¶ 16, 177 P.3d 600. Utah case law establishes that "[t]he elements of equitable estoppel are `(i) a . . . failure to act [that is] inconsistent with a claim later asserted; (ii) reasonable action . . . taken . . . on the basis of the . . . failure to act; and (iii) injury . . . would result from allowing [a repudiation of] such . . . failure to act.'" Dahl Inv. Co. v. Hughes, 2004 UT App 391, ¶ 14, 101 P.3d 830 (alterations and omissions in original) (quoting CECO Corp. v. Concrete Specialists, Inc., 772 P.2d 967, 969-70 (Utah 1989)); see also Black's Law Dictionary 571 (7th ed.1999) (defining equitable estoppel as "[a] defensive doctrine preventing one party from taking unfair advantage of another when, through false language or conduct, the person to be estopped has induced another person to act in a certain way, with the result that the other person has been injured in some way" (emphasis added)). The Bahrs also cite Peterson v. Johnson, 84 Utah 89, 34 P.2d 697 (1934), and argue that in the boundary dispute context, Utah law requires a party asserting equitable estoppel to show that they have made permanent improvements to the property in dispute. To adequately evaluate this contention, we examine Peterson more closely.

¶ 7 In Peterson, the supreme court addressed a boundary dispute between two adjacent property owners in rural Utah regarding ownership of approximately one acre of land situated between their respective properties. See id. at 697. At the heart of the dispute in Peterson was a fence separating the properties that had allegedly long-established the boundary line. See id. In dicta and without elaboration, the supreme court stated that equitable estoppel did not support the defendant's claim: "So far as is made to appear, no permanent improvements were placed on the land in question and hence defendant is not in a position to invoke the doctrine of equitable estoppel in aid of his claim." Id. at 698. In support of this statement, the Peterson court cited Tripp v. Bagley, 74 Utah 57, 276 P. 912 (1928). Like Peterson, Tripp also involved a rural property dispute in which one party claimed legal or equitable ownership of the disputed parcel situated along the boundary line between the respective properties. See generally Tripp, 74 Utah 57, 276 P. 912. The Tripp court determined that equitable estoppel was not appropriate because (1) the party defending title had received rents and profits from and had paid all taxes on the disputed property, and (2) the party asserting estoppel could not have believed that the fence was on the true boundary line and "ha[d] made no improvements" on the disputed property. Id. at 918.

¶ 8 We do not read these cases to require permanent improvements in order to resolve a residential boundary dispute by equitable estoppel. Neither of these cases expressly defined the elements of equitable estoppel. Further, later cases do not cite Peterson and do not include permanent improvements in the required elements of equitable estoppel.5 Instead, they address whether the party asserting estoppel would suffer real injury if the true boundary line were now enforced. Cf. Dahl Inv. Co., 2004 UT App 391, ¶ 15, 101 P.3d 830 (affirming, with no reference to "permanent improvements," district court's determination that equitable estoppel applied to a portion of the boundary line upon which the asserting party had constructed a driveway, but not to the portion upon which the asserting party had done nothing, because forcing the asserting party "to abandon or remove the driveway would constitute an injury"). We therefore conclude that permanent improvements are not a separate element of equitable estoppel, but are required only insofar as they assist the court in evaluating the "reasonable action" and "injury" elements.

¶ 9 The Bahrs further argue that additional "nuanced requirements" must also be met to establish equitable estoppel, elements that the trial court erred in not considering. More specifically, the Bahrs argue that (1) application of equitable estoppel is disfavored generally, and contrary to public policy in the instant case; (2) wrongdoing or fraud is required of the Bahrs for equitable estoppel to be appropriate; and (3) a certain level of knowledge on the part of both parties is required.6 For reasons explained more fully below, we disagree with the Bahrs regarding the necessity of these "nuanced requirements."

¶ 10 First, the Bahrs argue that application of the doctrine of equitable estoppel is generally disfavored, especially in the context of resolving boundary disputes, because it is contrary to the Utah Statute of Frauds and Utah recording statutes. The Bahrs cite no binding authority in support of this argument. The Bahrs argue that because Utah law expressly requires...

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4 cases
  • Bahr v. Imus
    • United States
    • Utah Supreme Court
    • April 1, 2011
    ...Imuses would be injured if the boundary established was not upheld. ¶ 11 The Bahrs appealed, and the court of appeals affirmed. Bahr v. Imus, 2009 UT App 155, ¶ 17, 211 P.3d 987. In so doing, the court of appeals indicated that it was giving a “ ‘fair degree of deference’ ” because boundary......
    • United States
    • Utah Court of Appeals
    • August 5, 2010
    ...on their boundary by acquiescence claim does not mean that their separate claim for equitable estoppel is moot. See generally Bahr v. Imus, 2009 UT App 155, ¶¶ 6, 10, 211 P.3d 987 (establishing that an equitable estoppel claim could be maintained in a boundary dispute if the elements of equ......
  • McFarland v. McFarland
    • United States
    • Utah Court of Appeals
    • June 4, 2021
    ...and its elements); Veysey v. Veysey , 2014 UT App 264, ¶ 16, 339 P.3d 131 (discussing the doctrine of laches and its elements); Bahr v. Imus , 2009 UT App 155, ¶ 6, 211 P.3d 987 (discussing the doctrine of equitable estoppel and its elements). We express no opinion as to the applicability o......
  • Bahr v. Imas, 20090646.
    • United States
    • Utah Supreme Court
    • November 23, 2009
    ...P.3d 837 BAHR v. IMAS. No. 20090646. Supreme Court of Utah. November 23, 2009. Appeal from 211 P.3d 987. Petition for certiorari ...

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