Lundahl Farms LLC v. Nielsen, 20190905-CA

CourtCourt of Appeals of Utah
Citation2021 UT App 146
Decision Date30 December 2021
Docket Number20190905-CA
PartiesLundahl Farms LLC, Appellant, v. Darwin Layne Nielsen, Zoe M. Nielsen Living Trust, and Darwin B. Nielsen Living Trust, Appellees.

2021 UT App 146

Lundahl Farms LLC, Appellant,
Darwin Layne Nielsen, Zoe M. Nielsen Living Trust, and Darwin B. Nielsen Living Trust, Appellees.

No. 20190905-CA

Court of Appeals of Utah

December 30, 2021

First District Court, Logan Department The Honorable Kevin K. Allen No. 170100126

Michael J. Boyle, Attorney for Appellant

Joseph M. Chambers, Josh M. Chambers, and J. Brett Chambers, Attorneys for Appellees

Judge Jill M. Pohlman authored this Opinion, in which Judge Michele M. Christiansen Forster and Senior Judge Kate Appleby concurred. [1]


¶1 Lundahl Farms LLC appeals a bench trial ruling in which the court concluded that Lundahl Farms and its predecessors in interest had acquiesced to a boundary, shared by Lundahl Farms' property and property owned by Appellees, that was different from the boundary described in various deeds. The dispute centers around two parcels that were once part of a larger parcel originally owned by a common ancestor of


Appellees and (through marriage) a manager of Lundahl Farms. Over the years, various family members have lived in a house and participated in farming operations on the properties. After a bench trial and post-trial proceedings, the trial court concluded that Appellees had proven a claim for boundary by acquiescence, and the court issued an order demarcating the precise boundary it recognized. But because we conclude that certain findings the court made were clearly erroneous, and that other determinations are not clearly and uncontrovertibly supported in the record, we vacate the trial court's decision and remand for further proceedings.


¶2 In 1873, the great-grandfather of appellee Darwin Layne Nielsen purchased a 160-acre tract of land from the U.S. Government. At some point, this tract was separated into several smaller parcels, which were all conveyed to Layne's[3] great-grandmother, Susannah Nielsen, in 1922. One of these parcels included an "ancestral home," which the original settlers built and lived in and which several of their descendants would go on to occupy for more than a century.


¶3 In 1927, Susannah sold the largest of the parcels, containing 25.82 acres and the ancestral home, to her eldest son, Dewey Nielsen (who was Layne's great-uncle). Although Dewey lived in the ancestral home for a time after acquiring title, he moved out in 1935. But even after Dewey began living elsewhere, he continued to use the land surrounding the ancestral home throughout the rest of his life, working with his younger brother Blaine Nielsen (who was Layne's grandfather) and other family members to support various livestock operations.

¶4 By the late 1950s, the family had made several improvements to the area south of the ancestral home in support of ongoing farming activities, including livestock pens, fences, and irrigation infrastructure. Also, at some point before 1959, [4] a fence was built to "keep[] everything out of [the] slough," which is a low-lying area south of the ancestral home that "collects" irrigation runoff from adjacent fields.

¶5 In 1963, the single tract containing the ancestral home and the family's farming operations was subdivided into two parcels. Dewey and his wife conveyed the smaller of the subdivided tracts, containing the ancestral home and "about an acre" of immediately adjacent land, to Blaine and his wife, Ruby (who were the primary occupants of the home at that point). This parcel was later given an official county parcel identification number of 03-060-0033; accordingly, we refer to the parcel with the ancestral home as "Parcel 33."

¶6 The larger of the subdivided parcels, which Dewey and his wife retained ownership of, comprises "about 20 acres" and


the bulk of the farmland. This parcel was later given an official county parcel identification number of 03-060-0034; accordingly, we refer to it as "Parcel 34."[5]

¶7 Although the family farm had thus been formally separated into two tracts following the 1963 conveyance, in practice "nothing changed"; the family's cattle operation continued more or less as it had been. During the 1960s, Dewey owned the equipment and most of the cattle kept on Parcels 33 and 34, which he used primarily for "breeding purposes." At that time, Dewey's cattle operations "provided employment for his brothers," including Blaine. While Dewey continued "co-occupying" the livestock area to some extent until his death, by the 1980s the bulk of the cattle raised on Parcels 33 and 34 belonged to Blaine and his son, Darwin Blaine Nielsen (Layne's father)[6]-although Dewey continued to own at least some of the cattle, equipment, and vehicles on the property.


¶8 Also starting sometime in the 1970s or 1980s-"before Dewey's passing"-Parcel 34 was leased in its entirety to the proprietors of a large local farming company, and later to that company itself (collectively, Lessees). This "oral lease" arrangement has continued into the present. Lessees use Parcel 34 primarily for raising crops to feed livestock Lessees keep elsewhere. The portion of Parcel 34 that Lessees use is not the same part of the property where the family's livestock operations have historically been located; the irrigated crop-growing area is located south of the slough (whereas the livestock area and ancestral home are north of the slough).

¶9 Blaine passed away in 1983, followed by his wife Ruby in 1987, at which time Darwin acquired title to Parcel 33. The ancestral home remained mostly vacant from the time of Ruby's death until Layne's daughter, Tawnee Wood, began living there in 1994. In 2006, Parcel 33 was conveyed in undivided one-half interests to Darwin and his wife in their capacities as trustees of the Darwin B. Nielsen Living Trust and the Zoe M. Nielsen Living Trust (the Appellee Trusts). In 2017, Parcel 33 was conveyed to Layne in his personal capacity.

¶10 Dewey also passed away in 1987, at which time Parcel 34 transferred to his daughter Mary Susannah Lundahl (Mary Sue), who is also Layne's cousin. In 1996, Mary Sue conveyed Parcel 34 to her husband, Carl Lundahl, as trustee of the Mary S. Lundahl Family Trust. In 2009, Carl conveyed Parcel 34 to Lundahl Farms-an entity of which he is a manager.


¶11 In the summer of 2016, shortly after Carl became aware of the deeded boundary between Parcels 33 and 34, Lundahl Farms sent the trustees of the Appellee Trusts a "notice to remove personal property," informing them that they had until July 31, 2016 to remove all "outbuildings and or permanent fixtures" located on Parcel 34. (Cleaned up.) After receiving the notice, Layne asked Carl if Layne's daughter Tawnee could continue raising some calves on the disputed area of Parcel 34 for a short while longer. Carl agreed to a short extension, but ultimately the property was not removed and Lundahl Farms served two additional notices to vacate in March and April 2017. When the property was not vacated, Lundahl Farms filed a complaint for eviction and writ of restitution, including claims for forced eviction, unlawful detainer, and waste. In response, Appellees asserted counterclaims for boundary by acquiescence, adverse possession, prescriptive easement, and title acquisition by virtue of the occupying claimant's statute.

¶12 A bench trial was held in November 2018, at which Carl, Tawnee, and Scott Nielsen (Layne's brother) testified for Lundahl Farms, and Layne testified for Appellees. Several exhibits were admitted into evidence, including deeds and other conveyance documents, as well as historical aerial photographs of the properties.

¶13 Before the trial court, "neither [p]arty dispute[d] that [Appellees] own Parcel 33" as that parcel was described in the various conveyance instruments. The court thus framed the dispute as hinging on the boundary between Parcel 33 and Parcel 34, and specifically whether the parties and their predecessors in interest had acquiesced to a boundary different from how it is described in the conveyance instruments.

¶14 Scott testified that his father and grandfather (Darwin and Blaine) had used the disputed area to raise cattle "for as long as [he could] remember," going back until at least the "late


[19]60s." He stated that he was unaware of any permission Blaine had received to keep animals on the property, but that he thought Darwin and Carl "had an understanding." He also testified about "various structures" on the property that were used in his family's farming operations, including corrals and a feed yard. He explained that they had "[b]een there as long as [he could] remember." Scott himself kept horses in a corral on the disputed area for many years, and stated that he had never asked permission to keep them there because he had always "assumed it was [his grandfather's] land." Scott also confirmed that a fence ran along the southern part of the area where the family kept cattle, which "had been . . . there for a long time" and basically served to "keep everything out of the [slough]."

¶15 As to Dewey's use of the property, Scott suggested that as long as he could remember, Dewey's use was minimal, but he did remember Dewey keeping "an old combine, "[7] "all of his tractors," and other equipment in a shed in the same general area as the cattle operations.

¶16 Carl testified that, sometime "between 1960 and 1970," a few years after he had married Mary Sue, Dewey drove him around to Dewey's various properties so that Carl could "be aware of the properties [the family] owned." At that time, Carl witnessed the farming operations going on in the disputed area south of the ancestral home; he described facilities "adjacent" to the ancestral home as being used primarily for breeding-there being "designated" pens for a bull, "heifers," and "summer calves." Carl also characterized the entire operation (as of the 1963 parcel split) as being led and owned by Dewey, noting how


Dewey had been "the...

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