Hays v. De Atley

Citation212 P. 296,65 Mont. 558
Decision Date22 January 1923
Docket Number4980.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Montana

Appeal from District Court, Carbon County; A. C. Spencer, Judge.

Action by E. T. Hays against R. De Atley and others. Verdict for defendants, a new trial was granted, and defendants appeal. Affirmed.

Shea & Wiggenhorn, of Billings, for appellants.

C. C Rowan, of Red Lodge, for respondent.


This is an action in the nature of an action to quiet title to an easement, and to secure an injunction restraining the defendants from interfering with the exercise of the right asserted by plaintiff. The particular easement claimed is the right to use an irrigating ditch across the lands of the defendants De Atley to the extent of one-half of its capacity. The other defendants were tenants in possession of the De Atley ranch at the time this action was commenced. The cause was tried to the court with a jury, and a general verdict was returned in favor of the defendants. Upon motion of plaintiff, a new trial was granted, and defendants appealed from the order.

It is contended that the complaint does not state a cause of action, and the principal objections urged against it will be considered in their order.

Plaintiff alleges that for more than 10 years continuously since 1905 he was in the open, notorious, exclusive, adverse, and hostile use and occupation of an undivided half interest in the ditch and right of way therefor under claim of right.

The first objection is that the complaint is insufficient in that it does not contain an allegation that the plaintiff's possession was peaceable. There is not any merit in the contention. While it is true that some courts in enumerating the elements necessary to acquire title by prescription declare that the possession must be peaceable, they mean nothing more than that it must be continuous--that is, that it must not be interrupted by the owner of the servient estate. Montecito Valley Water Co. v. Santa Barbara, 144 Cal. 578, 77 P. 1113; 3 C.J. 188.

In 2 Kinney on Irrigation & Water Rights, p. 1889, it is said:

"The word 'exclusive' also comprehends a continuous use by the claimant, and is synonymous in this connection with the word 'uninterrupted.' It is also held that the word 'uninterrupted' is synonymous with the word 'peaceable' so far as the right acquired by adverse possession is concerned."

Plaintiff alleges that his possession was continuous and exclusive hence the complaint is not open to this objection.

Again it is insisted that the complaint is insufficient in that there is not any allegation that the adverse use continued for 20 years, the period fixed by the common law. It is the general rule that, if the other essential elements are present, the adverse use need be continued only for the period limited for the acquisition of title to real estate generally. In other words, the statute of limitations applicable to an action in ejectment determines the period of adverse possession necessary to acquire title to an easement. 2 Kinney on Irrigation and Water Rights, §§ 1044, 1045; 19 C.J. 893; 9 R. C. L. 772. In this state the statutory period is 10 years. Sections 9015 and 9016, Rev. Codes 1921. Section 6818, Revised Codes of 1921, provides:

"Occupancy for the period prescribed by the Code of Civil Procedure as sufficient to bar an action for the recovery of the property confers a title thereto, denominated a title by prescription, which is sufficient against all."

That section we borrowed from California, where it has been in force since 1872 (California Civil Code, § 1007. Long prior to the time when we adopted it, the California court had construed it to apply to an easement (Kripp v. Curtis, 71 Cal. 62, 11 P. 879; Thomas v. England, 71 Cal. 456, 12 P. 491), and that construction was adopted by this court in State v. Auchard, 22 Mont. 14, 55 P. 362. The Utah court has adhered to the theory for which defendants contend, but only because of the fact that Utah does not have a statute similar to our section 6818 above. Funk v. Anderson, 22 Utah, 238, 61 P. 1006.

It is contended further that the complaint discloses on the face of it that plaintiff's use could not have been exclusive, since he claims the right to use the ditch in question only to the extent of half of its capacity, and concedes to defendants the right to use it to the extent of the other half of its capacity; hence he cannot recover upon any admissible view of the case made by his pleading. But the term "exclusive" as employed by the courts in enumerating the elements of prescription does not mean that no one else may use the ditch except the plaintiff, the claimant of the easement. It means no more than that his right to use it does not depend on the like right in others. Plaintiff's use may have been exclusive within the meaning of the rule even though defendants used the ditch, so long as their use did not interfere with the use by plaintiff. Smith v. Hampshire, 4 Cal.App. 8, 87 P. 224; Pavey v. Vance, 56 Ohio St. 162, 46 N.E. 898; Schmidt v. Brown, 226 Ill. 590, 80 N.E. 1071, 11 L. R. A. (N. S.) 457, 117 Am. St. Rep. 261; Abbott v. Pond, 142 Cal. 393, 76 P. 60; Hoyt v. Hart, 149 Cal. 722, 87 P. 569; Jones on Easements, § 272; 19 C.J. 892; 9 R. C. L. 773. The principle was applied by this court in Lowry v. Carrier, 55 Mont. 392, 177 P. 756. The rule has its foundation in the general principle, recognized by all the authorities, that the owner of the servient estate may use his property in any manner and for any purpose consistent with the enjoyment of the easement by the claimant. Colegrove Water Co. v. Hollywood, 151 Cal. 425, 90 P. 1053, 13 L. R. A. (N. S.) 904; 14 Cyc. 1208; 19 C.J. 977.

It is our conclusion that the complaint is not subject to any of the attacks made upon it.

It is next contended that the evidence does not justify any conclusion different from the one reached by the jury. The record discloses that from 1905 to 1916, inclusive, Allen Black was the owner of the ranch now known as the De Atley place. It was during that period of 11 years that plaintiff claims that he acquired the easement in question. Upon the trial he testified that he told Black that at any time he (plaintiff) was not using the ditch Black was welcome to use it, that is, to employ the use to which plaintiff claimed to be entitled. Because of this evidence defendants insist that plaintiff's use was not continuous and uninterrupted hence he could not acquire title by prescription. What constitutes continuity of use will depend altogether upon the nature and character of the right claimed. Hesperia L. & W. Co. v. Rogers, 83 Cal. 10, 23 P. 196, 17 Am. St. Rep. 209; 9 R. C. L. 774. Continuous and uninterrupted use...

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