Chester v. Wild Idaho Adventures RV Park, LLC, 48363

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho
Writing for the CourtZAHN, J.
PartiesJOE and NANCY CHESTER, Husband and Wife; JOE D. AND NANCY L. CHESTER FAMILY TRUST, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. WILD IDAHO ADVENTURES RV PARK, LLC, Defendant-Respondent.
Docket Number48363
Decision Date31 October 2022

JOE and NANCY CHESTER, Husband and Wife; JOE D. AND NANCY L. CHESTER FAMILY TRUST, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.

WILD IDAHO ADVENTURES RV PARK, LLC, Defendant-Respondent.

No. 48363

Supreme Court of Idaho

October 31, 2022


Appeal from the District Court of the Seventh Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Custer County. Steven Boyce, District Judge.

The order of the district court is affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings.

Sawtooth Law Offices, PLLC, Boise, for Appellant. David P. Claiborne argued.

Smith Woolf Anderson & Wilkinson, PLLC, Idaho Falls, for Respondent. Marty R. Anderson argued.

ZAHN, J.

This case concerns the scope of a statutory ditch right-of-way, whether a prescriptive easement can be obtained for overspray from an irrigation pivot, and whether a license agreement may bind succeeding property owners. For the reasons below, we affirm in part, reverse in part and remand the case for further proceedings.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

1. History of the property

Prior to 1971, Ray and Gladys Laverty owned all the property that is the subject of this matter. Over time the Lavertys conveyed three portions of the property to others. During the litigation, the parties referred to those properties as parcels 1, 2, and 3. Parcel 1 is currently owned by an individual not involved in these proceedings. Between 1971 and 1981, the Lavertys

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conveyed parcels 2 and 3 to Aldo Bevilaqua. Bevilaqua later conveyed the parcels to Dolly Smith, who later conveyed the parcels to Wild Idaho, the current owner.

The Lavertys eventually deeded their remaining property to their daughter, Nancy Chester, including the land bordering Bevilaqua's property on the east side. Nancy, in turn, transferred an interest in the property to her husband, Joe Chester. In 1999, Nancy and Joe deeded their respective interests in the property to the Joe D. and Nancy L. Chester Family Trust.

The location of the respective properties is identified on a Google Earth image submitted to the district court in connection with these proceedings. This Court modified the image to transfer markings from other exhibits to identify boundaries and the location of other items relevant to this appeal. The image thus consists of an exhibit submitted in the case, to which we have added additional information from other exhibits to depict the location of parcels and items discussed in this opinion.

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(Image Omitted)

2. The ditches and subsequent development of the properties

Historically, the Lavertys flood irrigated their property. However, in the fall of 1999 a pivot irrigation system was constructed on the land now owned by the Chesters. The pivot was designed to intentionally spray water onto parcels 2 and 3 to maximize the irrigation coverage on the Chesters' property. Irrigation water for that pivot (and for flood irrigation before it) is delivered to the Chesters' property from the Gini canal through a series of ditches. The Gini canal is located on one side of Highway 93, and the Chesters' property is on the other. A small lateral ditch branches off the Gini canal, crosses under Highway 93, and then emerges on the east side of the highway within parcel 1. Shortly after entering parcel 1, the ditch branches into two channels-the "North ditch" and the "South ditch." Those ditches then enter parcels 2 and 3, Wild Idaho's property. All told, there was approximately 310 feet of open ditch on Wild Idaho's property.

Parcels 2 and 3 are subject to a ditch easement provided for in a deed executed between the Lavertys and Bevilaqua in 1986 (the "Confirmation Deed"). The Lavertys and Bevilaqua executed and recorded the Confirmation Deed to correct defects in the legal descriptions of the parcels conveyed to Bevilaqua. Relevant to these proceedings, the confirmation deed provided that the Lavertys and their successors in interest

Sav[ed] and Reserve[ed] . . . the right to continue the use and maintenance of those certain ditches and ditch rights of way upon or running across the described property. Grantee may, however, install pipe or culverts in place of any of the existing ditches so long as the pipe or culvert is at least 18 inches in width and installed in a satisfactory manner so as to not impede water flow through the ditches

There is no dispute that the Chesters are the Lavertys' successors in interest with respect to the ditch easement discussed in the Confirmation Deed.

As concerns Bevilaqua's use of parcels 2 and 3, during the time he owned the property he made several improvements, including constructing a shop building roughly six feet from the centerline of the South ditch and installing a septic system. An eight-inch diameter sewer line, ostensibly placed by Bevilaqua, crosses the South ditch before connecting to the septic system. The sewer line crossing the South ditch services the entirety of Wild Idaho's RV park.

In 2009, Dolly Smith, another former owner of parcels 2 and 3, installed a ten-inch diameter culvert in a portion of the North ditch. The Chesters disagreed with the size of the pipe and executed and recorded a license agreement with Smith to govern the installation of a new culvert. Nancy testified that "[t]he reason this license agreement was drawn up is because we asked [the]

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Smiths to remove the pipe and they could install an 18-inch one, and we did not want any further questions or disagreements about what size the [pipe] had to be in the ditch."

The license agreement incorporates multiple attachments, including a hand-annotated map of the property. Pursuant to the agreement, the licensee has the right to modify the Chester's ditch, and "encroach upon" the ditch easement, as provided for in Exhibit C to the agreement. Exhibit C, in turn, states that the purpose of the license agreement is to "permit the Licensee to . . . [i]nstall culvert pipes in Chester's [sic] ditch in the locations shown on Exhibit B." Exhibit B is a satellite image of the property with hand-drawn lines showing the course of the ditches, the portions of the ditches currently piped through culverts, and the section of the North ditch proposed to be buried in a culvert under the license agreement. The proposed location of the culvert licensed by the agreement appears to be a short portion of the North ditch just before it reaches the boundary with the Chesters' property. The license agreement also states that

[t]he covenants, conditions, and agreement herein contained shall constitute covenants to run with, and running with, all of the lands of the Licensee . . . and shall be binding on each of the parties hereto and on all parties and all persons claiming under them or either of them, and the advantages hereof shall inure to the benefit of each of the parties hereto and their respective successors and assigns.

3. Disputes between the Chesters and Wild Idaho

In October 2016, Wild Idaho purchased parcels 2 and 3. The relationship between Wild Idaho's owner, Kyle Arneson, and the Chesters quickly soured. Various disputes between the parties led to Arneson restricting the Chesters' access to Wild Idaho's property in the spring of 2017. In August 2017, the Chesters had their attorney send a demand letter to Wild Idaho. The letter related to three issues between the parties: (1) the Chesters claimed they had an access easement through Wild Idaho's property via a gate in a boundary fence separating Wild Idaho's and the Chesters' property; (2) the Chesters claimed that Wild Idaho had placed encroachments within their ditch easement that needed to be removed; and (3) that Arneson had negligently damaged the boundary fence by plowing snow on it and keeping pigs next to the fence. In the spring of 2018, the Chesters replaced the entire boundary fence between their property and Wild Idaho's at a cost of $7,506.20 and sent a demand letter to Wild Idaho requesting reimbursement for one half of the cost of the new fence. Wild Idaho refused the demand. The Chesters subsequently filed suit against Wild Idaho.

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B. Procedural History

The Chesters' complaint raised four counts: (1) reimbursement of fence replacement costs; (2) quiet title to an access easement; (3) quiet title to a ditch easement; and (4) negligence for damaging the banks of the Chesters' ditches. Wild Idaho answered and counterclaimed, asserting claims of nuisance and trespass against the Chesters for water sprayed from their irrigation pivot onto Wild Idaho's property. The Chesters answered the counterclaim, asserting, as pertinent here, an affirmative defense that they had a prescriptive easement for "incidental irrigation water across" Wild Idaho's property. The Chesters then filed an amended complaint, adding a claim that Wild Idaho had breached the license agreement with the Chesters. Wild Idaho answered and filed an amended counterclaim (irrelevant to these proceedings) and a second amended counterclaim, adding claims of destruction of property for the Chesters' removal of the old boundary fence and quiet title, which requested the district court remove, as a cloud on the title to its real property, a "Notice of Right-Of-Way" that the Chesters recorded against Wild Idaho's property in 2019. At some later point that is not depicted in the record on appeal, it appears that Wild Idaho asked the district court to also remove from its title to the real property the license agreement between the Chesters and Dolly Smith, which the Chesters recorded against the property in 2009.

The district court held a two-day bench trial beginning January 22, 2020. At the outset of trial, the Chesters stipulated to dismiss their negligence claim and breach of license agreement claim with prejudice. However, they noted that the dismissal of their breach of license agreement claim would not preclude them from future actions for breach of the...

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