Hood v. Poorman, 48636

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho
Writing for the CourtZAHN, JUSTICE.
PartiesKEITH HOOD and KAREN HOOD, husband and wife, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. PAUL POORMAN and GAYLE POORMAN, husband and wife; and RUSTY ANDERSON, an individual, Defendants-Respondents.
Docket Number48636
Decision Date27 October 2022

KEITH HOOD and KAREN HOOD, husband and wife, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.

PAUL POORMAN and GAYLE POORMAN, husband and wife; and RUSTY ANDERSON, an individual, Defendants-Respondents.

No. 48636

Supreme Court of Idaho

October 27, 2022


Appeal from the District Court of the Third Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Washington County. Susan E. Wiebe, District Judge.

The district court's decision is affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded.

Parson Behle & Latimer, Boise, for Appellants. Norman M. Semanko argued.

Givens Pursley, LLP, Boise, and Bokides Law Office, Weiser, for Respondents. Michael P. Lawrence argued.

ZAHN, JUSTICE.

This case concerns a district court's decision defining the scope of a ditch right-of-way under Idaho Code section 42-1102 and enjoining the ditch users from certain activities within the right-of-way. For the reasons stated below, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

1. Background of the properties.

In 2012, Karen and Keith Hood purchased real property in Washington County, near Cambridge, Idaho. The Hoods' property is near Gayle and Paul Poormans' property, which the

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Poormans purchased in 2006 and 2008. Rusty Anderson owns a smaller property that borders the Poormans' property to the South. He has lived on the property since 2003 and owned it since 2006.

The Hoods' property has three decreed appurtenant water rights. One water right is a groundwater right for domestic and stock use unrelated to this appeal. The other two water rights concern surface waters designated for irrigation and stock use. The Hoods' surface water rights total 2.93 cubic feet per second. Water from these rights is diverted from Rush Creek and conveyed to the Hoods' property through an irrigation ditch ("the Hood ditch"). The crux of this case involves that portion of the Hood ditch which runs through the Poormans' property and Anderson's property. The Hood ditch is approximately four miles long and generally runs in a southwesterly direction from its point of diversion to the Hoods' property. The channel of the ditch is approximately two feet wide, and the ditch is roughly two feet deep and up to six feet across from bank to bank. Slightly more than a mile of the Hood ditch runs through the Poormans' property. The Hoods' point of diversion from Rush Creek is also on the Poormans' property. Approximately 500 feet of the Hood ditch crosses Anderson's property. The Hood ditch traverses varied topography, with much of its course on the Poormans' property cut into the side of a hill and the portion on Anderson's property crossing relatively flat land. In addition, two natural drainages intersect the Hood ditch on the Poormans' property. A narrow access road parallels the Hood ditch through the Poormans' property. The Hoods' predecessor in interest had historically used the access road when maintaining the ditch. The Poormans and Anderson provided the following map on appeal as an illustrative exhibit depicting the parties' properties and course of the Hood ditch:

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(Image Omitted)

2. Conflicts between the Hoods and Poormans/Anderson.

In 2014, the Hoods removed a small bridge that Anderson had installed over the ditch. Anderson had constructed the bridge in 2010 to access five acres of his property with vehicles and other equipment.

In March 2016, the Hoods removed two culverts (the "north culvert" and the "south culvert") from the ditch on the Poormans' property. Because the Hood ditch splits the Poorman property in two, the Poormans used those culverts for vehicular access to roughly 200 acres of their property on the west side of the Hood ditch. The north culvert had been in place since at least 2006 and the south culvert had been in place since around 2003.

In 2017, the tensions between the Hoods and the Poormans/Anderson escalated. The Hoods and Poormans had several verbal altercations where the Hoods expressed their view that the ditch right-of-way granted them exclusive ownership and absolute control of the area surrounding the ditch. At times the Hoods expressed their view that their right-of-way was 200 feet wide, and they could do "whatever [they] wanted" in that area. The Hoods also objected to Paul Poorman walking in the ditch and spraying noxious weeds near it. As the animosity between the parties increased, the Hoods took hundreds of photos and videos of the Poorman and Anderson properties. The photos and videos showed the Hoods accessing portions of the Poorman property hundreds of feet away from the Hood ditch, sometimes without maintenance tools or any apparent ditch-related purpose. The Poormans encountered the Hoods on the access road on several occasions. Further, the Hoods cut trees and dug trenches along the access road.

Following an altercation with Paul Poorman in July 2017, the Hoods began clearing trees and other vegetation on the Poormans' property, claiming the practice was necessary to maintain the ditch. All told, the Hoods removed approximately 100 trees, many of which had been planted by the Poormans. The trees ranged in distance from the Hood ditch, with some as close as eighteen feet and others nearly 165 feet away from the ditch. The Hoods planted several of the removed trees in pots on their own property. In addition to removing trees, the Hoods also used a bulldozer to scrape approximately two acres of the Poormans' property down to bare earth in the area between the access road and the Hood ditch.

Finally, in the autumn of 2019, Paul Poorman filled in a portion of the Hood ditch with dirt, near where the south culvert had been removed, so that he could access his property on the

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opposite side of the Hood ditch with a vehicle. In addition, Anderson temporarily reinstalled a bridge over the Hood ditch in the spring of 2020 to access his property and make fence repairs.

B. Procedural History

The Hoods filed a complaint on November 6, 2019, seeking to have the district court: (1) enjoin the Poormans and Anderson from interfering with their maintenance of the Hood ditch right-of-way; (2) declare the Hoods' rights with respect to the right-of-way; and (3) award damages against the Poormans and Anderson for damage done to the Hood ditch right-of way. The Poormans and Anderson filed answers and counterclaims on December 9, 2019. Anderson's counterclaim asserted three causes of action: (1) interference with property rights; (2) declaratory relief; and (3) injunctive relief. The Poormans' counterclaim raised five causes of action: (1) civil trespass; (2) declaratory relief; (3) injunctive relief; (4) statutory liability under Idaho Code sections 42-1102 and 42-1204; and (5) negligent, willful, or intentional interference with property rights.

Pertinent to this appeal, both the Poormans' and Anderson's prayers for declaratory relief requested the district court define the Hoods' rights to access and maintain the Hood ditch. Anderson sought to have the Hoods reinstall the bridge over the ditch on Anderson's property. The Poormans asked the district court to require the Hoods to replace the removed culverts on the Poormans' property, and refrain from removing trees and other vegetation outside the scope of the Hood ditch right-of-way. The Poormans also requested monetary compensation for damage to their property as a result of the Hoods' ditch maintenance, including the removal of trees and vegetation.

The Hoods moved for partial summary judgment, asking for the district court to conclude that (1) the Hoods owned three water rights, (2) the Hoods owned the Hood ditch, (3) the Hoods possessed a right-of-way for the Hood ditch, (4) the Hoods held statutory rights in the right-of-way under Idaho Code section 42-1102, and (5) that the Poormans and Anderson could not interfere with those statutory rights without prior written permission. The Poormans and Anderson did not contest that the Hoods were entitled to partial summary judgment on the above issues but requested that the district court add qualifications to its judgment on certain issues. They did not contest the Hoods' claims that they owned three water rights and they enjoyed statutory rights under section 42-1102. However, on the other issues, they requested the district court to enter summary judgment as follows:

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• "Hood owns the Hood ditch, which is a non-exclusive ditch easement across the Defendants property for diversion and conveyance of the water under the Hood Water Rights";
• "Hood has a right-of-way across Defendants' Properties, along with the obligations of a ditch holder, in accordance with applicable statute and applicable case law"; and
• "Defendants shall not place encroachments in the right of way that materially or unreasonably interfere with the right of way without Hood's written permission."

Following oral argument, the district court issued a written decision granting the Hoods' motion for partial summary judgment that incorporated the limitations proposed by the Poormans and Anderson.

The district court held a four-day bench trial on the remaining issues in June 2020. On September 21, 2020, the district court issued its written decision, which we summarize below.

1. The Hoods' access to the right-of-way.

The district court found that the Hoods had unreasonably exercised their right to use the right-of-way and that the access road on the Poormans' property did not provide direct access to the right-of-way. The district court then found that the Hoods could reasonably access the rightof-way by only traveling along the ditch banks. The district court identified a reasonable point of access to the right-of-way from the south, which relied primarily on use of the ditch banks and permitted use of the access road when obstacles interfered with access to the ditch banks. The district court found that the Hoods could...

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