Block v. Drake, No. 23013.

CourtSupreme Court of South Dakota
Writing for the CourtGILBERTSON, Chief Justice.
Citation2004 SD 72,681 N.W.2d 460
PartiesDouglas J. BLOCK and Elaine M. Block, Plaintiffs and Appellees, v. Merlyn W. DRAKE and Bonnie L. Drake, Defendants and Appellants.
Decision Date26 May 2004
Docket NumberNo. 23013.

681 N.W.2d 460
2004 SD 72

Douglas J. BLOCK and Elaine M. Block, Plaintiffs and Appellees,
v.
Merlyn W. DRAKE and Bonnie L. Drake, Defendants and Appellants

No. 23013.

Supreme Court of South Dakota.

Considered on Briefs April 26, 2004.

Decided May 26, 2004.


681 N.W.2d 462
Jack Hieb of Richardson, Wyly, Wise, Sauck & Hieb, L.L.P., Aberdeen, South Dakota, Attorneys for plaintiffs and appellees

William E. Coester, Milbank, South Dakota, Attorneys for defendants and appellants.

GILBERTSON, Chief Justice.

[¶ 1.] Merlyn Drake and Bonnie Drake (Drakes) appeal from various rulings of the circuit court concerning an on-going real estate dispute with Douglas J. Block and Elaine M. Block (Blocks). For the reasons expressed herein, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court in part and remand in part.

FACTS AND PROCEDURE

[¶ 2.] This appeal revolves around a dispute between two neighbors owning property located near Enemy Swim Lake in Day County, South Dakota. At one point, Leo and Rose Fleischhaker (Fleischhakers) owned all the land at the heart of this dispute. In 1996, Fleischhakers sold a portion of their property known as Government Lot 7 (Lot 7) to the Blocks. Most of the Fleischhaker property directly abutting Enemy Swim Lake had been previously platted and sold to third parties. Drakes subsequently bought the remaining Fleischhaker property leaving them with land to the north, east and south of Lot 7. Both Blocks and Drakes also owned a lot which adjoined the lake.

[¶ 3.] After purchasing Lot 7, the Blocks made improvements to several already existing pasture trails on the property. Previously, Fleischhakers' had platted and recorded an easement across the property which allowed access to the lake lots. This easement has at all times remained private, and it has never been dedicated as a public road. In 1996, the Blocks wanted to improve the platted easement so they could obtain year-round access to their lake property. As a result of the topography, however, the path used by the lot owners did not correspond to the location of the easement on the plat.

[¶ 4.] The Blocks sought permission from the Drakes to improve a portion of the private road which ran across the Drakes' land in a northerly direction to Lot 7. Based on their assertion that any road improvement should be a cooperative project involving all the lot owners, the Drakes refused to grant permission to the Blocks. In response, the Blocks filed an action against the Drakes seeking court permission to build the access road outside of the recorded easement on the plat. A trial to the court was held in June of 1998. At the end of the case, the Blocks and Drakes entered into a stipulation agreement which formed the basis for the circuit court's judgment. Neither party appealed this judgment. Pursuant to the judgment, Drakes improved the road easements designated as Tracts "B" and "D" in 1998.

[¶ 5.] In the summer of 2002, the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe hired a registered land surveyor to ascertain the exact boundary of land it owned adjoining the property now in dispute. The surveyor determined that the location of the improved road easement on Tract "D" was actually on tribal land and not the Drake's land as the parties previously believed.

[¶ 6.] Eventually, a second dispute arose over access to Enemy Swim Lake on land owned by the Drakes north of Lot 7. The 1998 judgment had made reference to such access. After the 1998 judgment, the Drakes' platted and sold land which had

681 N.W.2d 463
traditionally provided this access to the lake. The Drakes' then constructed a new access path or road. However, they put a gate at the south end of this property and locked it thereby preventing the public from accessing the newly constructed access path by vehicle. The exact location of the gate cannot be ascertained from the record

[¶ 7.] In 2003, the Blocks sought to reopen the 1998 judgment by filing a pleading entitled "Motion to Hold Defendants in Contempt or for Alternative Relief" which requested:

1. The Drakes be held in contempt of court for failing to file an easement depicted as various tracts on the 1998 Judgment, and for failing to construct a road on their land depicted as Tract "D";

2. The Drakes grant an easement which allowed access to the south bank of Enemy Swim Lake for the purposes of ensuring the public would have unfettered access to that area.

The trial court generally ruled in favor of the Blocks but did not hold the Drakes in contempt. The court's order, however, made it clear that if the Drakes do not comply with its 2003 order, they will be held in contempt. The Drakes now appeal and raise three issues for our review:

1. Whether the trial court had jurisdiction to re-open the 1998 judgment.

2. Whether the trial court erred in ordering the relocation of the roadway designated as Tract "D".

3. Whether the trial court erred by requiring the Drakes to provide a public easement to Enemy Swim Lake and to unlock a gate currently blocking such public access by vehicle.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶ 8.] We review the trial court's findings of fact under the clearly erroneous standard. City of Deadwood v. Summit, Inc., 2000 SD 29, ¶ 9, 607 N.W.2d 22, 25. "Clear error is shown only when, after a review of all the evidence, `we are left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.'" New Era Mining Co. v. Dakota Placers, Inc., 1999 SD 153, ¶ 7, 603 N.W.2d 202, 204 (citation omitted). This Court reviews conclusions of law under the de novo standard with no deference afforded the trial court's decision. Summit, Inc., 2000 SD 29, ¶ 9, 607 N.W.2d at 25. Statutory interpretation and application are questions of law. Steinberg v. State Dept. of Military Affairs, 2000 SD 36, ¶ 6, 607 N.W.2d 596, 599.

[¶ 9.] A trial court's decision to reopen a judgment pursuant to SDCL 15-6-60(b) will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion. Pesicka v. Pesicka, 2000 SD 137, ¶ 18, 618 N.W.2d 725, 728.

ANALYSIS AND DECISION

[¶ 10.] 1. Whether the trial court had jurisdiction to re-open the 1998 judgment.

[¶ 11.] Drakes argue that since the 1998 judgment was final and never appealed by the Blocks, the trial court was without jurisdiction to reopen the case in 2003. SDCL 15-6-60(b) controls this issue and provides in relevant part:

On motion and upon such terms as are just, the court may relieve a party or his legal representative from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for the following reasons:
(1) Mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect;
(2) Newly discovered evidence which by due diligence could not have been discovered
681 N.W.2d 464
in time to move for a new trial under § 15-6-59(b);
(3) Fraud (whether heretofore denominated intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or other misconduct of an adverse party;
(4) The judgment is void;
(5) The judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged, or a prior judgment upon which it is based has been reversed or otherwise vacated, or it is no longer equitable that the judgment should have prospective application; or
(6) Any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment.

(emphasis added). The Drakes correctly point out that the first five criteria under this rule for re-opening do not apply here.1 Subsection (6) which allows a case to be reopened for "any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment" does apply, however. In response, the Drakes claim five years is not a "reasonable time." We disagree.

[¶ 12.] All parties to the 1998 litigation assumed the improved easement on Tract "D" was in compliance with that judgment until the 2002 survey by the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe. Furthermore, the dispute over the lake access did not exist until 2001 when the Drakes sold that portion of land which had previously provided the access contemplated by the 1998 judgment. Upon discovery of the survey problem, the Blocks promptly moved for a re-opening of the case.

[¶ 13.] "The purpose of Rule 60(b) is to preserve the delicate balance between the sanctity of final judgments and the incessant command of a court's conscience that justice be done in light of all the facts." Pesicka, 2000 SD 137, ¶ 17, 618 N.W.2d at 728 (citing Hrachovec v. Kaarup, 516 N.W.2d 309, 311 (S.D.1994)). We have held that "[r]elief under SDCL 15-6-60(b) is granted only upon a showing of exceptional...

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22 practice notes
  • Benson v. State, No. 23492.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • January 24, 2006
    ...Dakota Constitution. We reverse on Issue 3. [¶ 39.] Statutory interpretation is an issue of law to be reviewed de novo. Block v. Drake, 2004 SD 72, ¶ 8, 681 N.W.2d 460, 463 (citing Steinberg v. South Dakota Dept. of Military Affairs, 2000 SD 36, ¶ 6, 607 N.W.2d 596, 599). An appeal assertin......
  • State v. $1,010.00 in American Currency, No. 23878.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • September 6, 2006
    ...v. Chapman, 2006 SD 36, ¶ 10, 713 N.W.2d 572, 576 (citing State v. Anderson, 2005 SD 22, ¶ 19, 693 N.W.2d 675, 681 (quoting Block v. Drake, 2004 SD 72, ¶ 8, 681 N.W.2d 460, 463) (internal quotations omitted)). Statutes are to be construed to give effect to each statute and so as to have the......
  • Wise v. Brooks Const. Services, No. 23938.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • August 23, 2006
    ...questions of law." Lewis & Clark Rural Water System, Inc. v. Seeba, 2006 SD 7, ¶ 12, 709 N.W.2d 824, 830 (citing Block v. Drake, 2004 SD 72, ¶ 8, 681 N.W.2d 460, 463 (citation omitted)). This Court interprets statutes "to discover the true intent of the legislature in enacting......
  • Heinemeyer v. Heartland, No. 24717.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • November 12, 2008
    ...dependent upon the interpretation of statutes. "Statutory interpretation and application are questions of law." Block v. Drake, 2004 SD 72, ¶ 8, 681 N.W.2d 460, 463 (citing Steinberg v. State Dep't of Military and Veterans Affairs, 2000 SD 36, ¶ 6, 607 N.W.2d 596, 599). This Court......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
22 cases
  • Benson v. State, No. 23492.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • January 24, 2006
    ...Dakota Constitution. We reverse on Issue 3. [¶ 39.] Statutory interpretation is an issue of law to be reviewed de novo. Block v. Drake, 2004 SD 72, ¶ 8, 681 N.W.2d 460, 463 (citing Steinberg v. South Dakota Dept. of Military Affairs, 2000 SD 36, ¶ 6, 607 N.W.2d 596, 599). An appeal assertin......
  • State v. $1,010.00 in American Currency, No. 23878.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • September 6, 2006
    ...v. Chapman, 2006 SD 36, ¶ 10, 713 N.W.2d 572, 576 (citing State v. Anderson, 2005 SD 22, ¶ 19, 693 N.W.2d 675, 681 (quoting Block v. Drake, 2004 SD 72, ¶ 8, 681 N.W.2d 460, 463) (internal quotations omitted)). Statutes are to be construed to give effect to each statute and so as to have the......
  • Wise v. Brooks Const. Services, No. 23938.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • August 23, 2006
    ...questions of law." Lewis & Clark Rural Water System, Inc. v. Seeba, 2006 SD 7, ¶ 12, 709 N.W.2d 824, 830 (citing Block v. Drake, 2004 SD 72, ¶ 8, 681 N.W.2d 460, 463 (citation omitted)). This Court interprets statutes "to discover the true intent of the legislature in enacting......
  • Heinemeyer v. Heartland, No. 24717.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • November 12, 2008
    ...dependent upon the interpretation of statutes. "Statutory interpretation and application are questions of law." Block v. Drake, 2004 SD 72, ¶ 8, 681 N.W.2d 460, 463 (citing Steinberg v. State Dep't of Military and Veterans Affairs, 2000 SD 36, ¶ 6, 607 N.W.2d 596, 599). This Court......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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