Harrison v. Spah Family Ltd.

Decision Date08 May 2020
Docket NumberNo. 20180537,20180537
Citation466 P.3d 107
CourtUtah Supreme Court
Parties Charlie W. HARRISON and Trena Harrison, Appellants, v. SPAH FAMILY LTD., Stan E. Holland, and Page Holland, Appellees.

Vincent C. Rampton, Jessica P. Wilde, Salt Lake City, for appellants

Troy L. Booher, Freyja R. Johnson, Kristine M. Rogers, Salt Lake City, for appellees

Chief Justice Durrant authored the opinion of the Court, in which Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice Himonas, Justice Pearce, and Justice Petersen joined.

Chief Justice Durrant, opinion of the Court:

Introduction

¶1 This is a prescriptive easement case. The district court determined, on summary judgment, that Stan and Page Holland had established a prescriptive easement across the property of their neighbors, Charlie and Trena Harrison. The case then went to trial for a determination of the scope of that easement. The jury returned a verdict, and the court entered final judgment. The Harrisons now appeal, raising five issues regarding either the district court's summary judgment decision or decisions the court made related to the trial.

¶2 First, they argue the district court erred in determining, on summary judgment, that the "continuous" element had been indisputably established for the prescriptive period. In their view, evidence that they revoked their "acquiescence" of the use interrupted the Hollands’ continuous use of the easement. We reject this argument because "acquiescence" is not required to establish a prescriptive use.

¶3 Second, the Harrisons argue the district court erred on summary judgment because any use of the road by the Hollands was done with the permission of the original owner of the Harrisons’ lot. We reject this argument because the record evidence does not support it.

¶4 Third, the Harrisons argue that one of the jury instructions was erroneous because it failed to instruct the jury that the scope of the easement was limited to its historical use. We agree and remand for a new trial with a correct jury instruction.

¶5 Fourth and fifth, the Harrisons argue the district court erred in allowing the Hollands’ expert to testify and in excluding their rebuttal expert from testifying. Because the district court did not abuse its discretion in regard to either expert witness determination, we affirm.

Background

¶6 To access their cabin property located in the Willow Basin subdivision, Stan and Page Holland claim a prescriptive easement across land owned by Charlie and Trena Harrison. The relevant ownership history of the Holland and Harrison properties begins in 1994. In that year, Janice Hawley (now Janice Gustafson) divided nearly one hundred acres of her land into the eight lots constituting what is now referred to as the Willow Basin subdivision.

¶7 Following the creation of the Willow Basin subdivision, Ms. Hawley transferred title to what would later become the Holland lot to Manuel Torres. Without Ms. Hawley's knowledge or authorization, Mr. Torres cut a road across what would later become the Harrison property. Ms. Hawley believed the road was created "as a means of permitting [Mr. Torres] to take prospective purchasers to the property for marketing purposes." In her declaration prepared for litigation in this case, Ms. Hawley stated that the road was used "thereafter for [marketing purposes] pursuant to permission from [her]."

¶8 On August 9, 1996, Mr. Torres sold the Holland property to the Hollands.1 That same day, the Hollands used the road across what is now the Harrison property to access their new lot. The Hollands did not receive permission from Ms. Hawley to use the road. The Hollands have regularly used the road to access their property ever since.

¶9 In 2008, Ms. Hawley sold the Harrison property to the Harrisons. Thereafter, Mr. Harrison altered the road. The Hollands testified that Mr. Harrison widened the turning point going toward his cabin, but that he had done little to the rest of the road. In contrast, Mr. Harrison estimated that the road was nine to twelve feet wide when he purchased the parcel, and he testified that the width of the road is now "upwards of 30 feet wide." The Hollands continued using the road across the Harrison property after the Harrisons acquired title.

¶10 In June 2016, Mr. Holland and Mr. Harrison had a verbal disagreement concerning the road. At that time, or some time before, Mr. Harrison attempted to forbid the Hollands from using the road.

¶11 On September 13, 2016, Mr. Harrison parked a bulldozer on the road, blocking the Hollands’ access. In response, the Hollands called the police. Ms. Holland filed a statement with the police, explaining that Mr. Harrison had blocked the road with a bulldozer. She also referenced the June 2016 verbal dispute between Mr. Holland and Mr. Harrison, explaining that the police had also been called on that occasion and that Mr. Harrison had told Mr. Holland that Mr. Holland could not use the road.

¶12 Shortly after the bulldozer incident, the Harrisons filed this lawsuit, suing the Hollands for trespass based on the Hollands’ use of the road crossing the Harrisons’ property. The Hollands counterclaimed, seeking to quiet title to a prescriptive easement for access to their property over the Harrisons’ property. In April 2017, the Hollands filed for partial summary judgment, arguing that all the elements for a prescriptive easement had been satisfied. In opposition, the Harrisons argued that a prescriptive easement did not form because they had not acquiesced to the Hollands’ use during the entire twenty-year prescriptive period. They also argued that the use was permissive. After a hearing, the district court found, as a matter of law, that the Hollands had established a prescriptive easement.

¶13 In October 2017, the Harrisons filed a motion to reconsider, raising arguments based on statements Ms. Holland made in her September 2016 police report. This was the first time the police report had been presented to the district court. The Harrisons argued that the district court should consider the police report because it constituted newly discovered evidence. They argued that this evidence showed that, in June 2016, (1) Mr. Harrison had informed Mr. Holland that he did not acquiesce in the Hollands’ use of the easement and (2) the police had been called and litigation had been threatened regarding the Hollands’ use of the easement.

¶14 The Harrisons relied on this evidence to argue that the prescriptive period had been interrupted in June 2016, roughly two months before the completion of the twenty-year prescriptive period. The Hollands objected to the motion to reconsider, arguing that the police report did not constitute new evidence because it had existed for nearly one year before the parties filed their memoranda related to summary judgment. The district court denied the motion to reconsider without stating its reasoning.

¶15 The case proceeded to trial to determine the scope of the Hollands’ prescriptive easement. Before trial, the Harrisons sought to exclude testimony from Lucas Blake, the Hollands’ retained expert witness. Mr. Blake intended to testify about a survey of the road he performed in 2016. The Harrisons argued that Mr. Blake's testimony should be excluded because the scope of the road in 2016 was irrelevant to determining the scope of the easement. The court denied the motion because it found that evidence of the then physical dimensions of the road would prove helpful in determining the scope of the prescriptive easement.

¶16 The Harrisons also objected to the wording of the jury instruction regarding the prescriptive easement. As presented, the jury instruction stated that the jury needed to decide the "width of the easement ... necessary for [the Hollands] to access their property." Although the instruction also asked the jury to take into account "the historic[al] use and shape of the roadway during its 20 years of use," the Harrisons asked the court to include a line instructing the jury that the "extent of a prescriptive easement is measured and limited by its historic[al] use during the prescriptive period." But the court declined, stating that it believed the instruction sufficient as written.

¶17 At trial, Mr. Blake testified, and the Harrisons sought to introduce rebuttal testimony from Brad Bunker, their own expert witness. Mr. Bunker intended to testify that "Mr. Blake's survey was not based on historic[al] use of the easement claimed by [the Hollands], but was formulated by (1) measuring the edges of the road across the [Harrisons’] property as it existed in October 2016, and (2) establishing a center line of that road by ‘eyeballing a midpoint line.’ " The court ruled that Mr. Bunker would not be allowed to testify, because the testimony usurped the court's responsibility in instructing the jury.

¶18 The jury returned a finding regarding the scope of the prescriptive easement that was based on Mr. Blake's 2016 survey. In the special verdict form, the jury stated that it returned this finding because it was "consistent with other easements in [the] subdivision." The court entered final judgment on June 5, 2018. The Harrisons timely appealed.

¶19 In their opening brief on appeal, the Harrisons challenge the district court's decision on summary judgment based on evidence contained in the September 2016 police report. But they do not challenge the district court's decision on their motion to reconsider, the motion in which they first introduced the police report as evidence. The Harrisons also challenge the district court's summary judgment decision regarding permissive use, the court's decision regarding the expert testimony of Mr. Blake and Mr. Bunker, and the jury instruction regarding prescriptive easements. We have jurisdiction pursuant to Utah Code section 78A-3-102(3)(j).

Standards of Review

¶20 The Harrisons ask us to resolve five issues. First, we must determine whether the district court erred on summary judgment in ruling that the...

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4 cases
  • M.N.V. Holdings LC v. 200 S. LLC
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Utah
    • July 9, 2021
    ...dismissing previously-granted certiorari petition as improvidently granted); accord Harrison v. SPAH Family Ltd. , 2020 UT 22, ¶ 28, 466 P.3d 107. The district court granted Developer's motion for summary judgment, ruling that MNV could not make the necessary showing. In particular, the cou......
  • State v. Rashid
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Utah
    • February 19, 2021
    ...decision regarding the admissibility of expert testimony for an abuse of discretion." Harrison v. SPAH Family Ltd. , 2020 UT 22, ¶ 22, 466 P.3d 107.ANALYSISI. Constitutionality ¶15 "A criminal statute is not unconstitutionally vague if it defines the criminal offense with sufficient definit......
  • M.N.V. Holdings LC v. 200 S. LLC
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Utah
    • July 9, 2021
    ...dismissing previously-granted certiorari petition as improvidently granted); accord Harrison v. SPAH Family Ltd., 2020 UT 22, ¶ 28, 466 P.3d 107. The district court granted Developer's motion for summary judgment, ruling that MNV could not make the necessary showing. In particular, the cour......
  • M.N.V. Holdings LC v. 200 S. LLC
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Utah
    • June 10, 2021
    ...opinion dismissingpreviously-granted certiorari petition as improvidently granted); accord Harrison v. SPAH Family Ltd., 2020 UT 22, ¶ 28, 466 P.3d 107. The district court granted Developer's motion for summary judgment, ruling that MNV could not make the necessary showing. In particular, t......
1 books & journal articles
  • Article
    • United States
    • Utah State Bar Utah Bar Journal No. 35-5, October 2022
    • Invalid date
    ...496 P.3d 58 (stating that findings of fact will be upheld unless clearly erroneous), and Harrison v. SPAH Family Ltd., 2020 UT 22, ¶ 76, 466 P.3d 107 (observing that rulings to admit or exclude evidence will not be overturned unless they fall “beyond the limits of reasonability” (citation a......

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