Neeser v. Inland Empire Paper Co., 48567

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho
Writing for the CourtSTEGNER, JUSTICE
PartiesGERALD NEESER, trustee of the Gerald E. Neeser Revocable Living Trust, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. INLAND EMPIRE PAPER COMPANY, a Washington corporation, Defendant-Appellant.
Docket Number48567
Decision Date23 August 2022

GERALD NEESER, trustee of the Gerald E. Neeser Revocable Living Trust, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.

INLAND EMPIRE PAPER COMPANY, a Washington corporation, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 48567

Supreme Court of Idaho, Boise

August 23, 2022


Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District, State of Idaho, Kootenai County. Lansing L. Haynes, District Judge.

The decision of the district court is vacated, and the case is remanded.

James, Vernon & Weeks, P.A., Coeur d'Alene, for appellant, Inland Empire Paper Company. Susan P. Weeks argued.

Randall Danskin, P.S., Spokane, WA, for respondent, Gerald Neeser. Michael L. Wolfe argued.

STEGNER, JUSTICE

Gerald Neeser, in his capacity as trustee of the Gerald E. Neeser Revocable Living Trust (Neeser), owns two adjacent parcels of land, Lots 3 and 4, on the south shore of Spirit Lake in Kootenai County, Idaho. Inland Empire Paper Company (IEP) owns several hundred acres of land adjacent to Neeser's, which it uses to grow and harvest timber. Neeser filed a complaint alleging that he had a prescriptive easement over IEP's land, specifically a road known as the "M1 Road," for ingress and egress to his property. Both parties moved for summary judgment. The district court granted Neeser's motion for summary judgment after concluding that Neeser had established a prescriptive easement over IEP's land benefiting Lots 3 and 4 and that there were no genuine issues of material fact regarding that issue. Several months later, IEP moved the district court to reconsider its order on summary judgment, which the district court denied. IEP timely appealed. For the reasons discussed below, we reverse the decision of the district court.

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I. Factual and Procedural Background

A. Factual Background

Neeser purchased Lots 3 and 4 of the Amadahi Park subdivision on the southern shore of Spirit Lake on August 3, 1999. Neeser subsequently purchased Lot 2 on September 11, 2002. Neeser sold Lot 2 to his sister but reacquired it from her in 2015. One lot (it is unclear which one) has a residence with a garage and driveway, while the other two each have small cabins. Neeser stated in his declaration that each lot was accessible by what is colloquially called the M1 Road, which runs over land owned by IEP. In his complaint, Neeser claimed that he began using the M1 Road to access his property when he first purchased Lots 3 and 4 in 1999. Neeser further claimed that his personal guests and various hired tradesmen have also used the M1 Road to access his parcels since 1999. Finally, Neeser claimed that the M1 Road is the "only reasonable means of accessing [his] property by automobile."

Neeser alleged that IEP installed a locked gate on the M1 Road in 2016 and that IEP sought a periodic fee of $500 in exchange for granting Neeser a revocable permit in exchange for keys to the gate. Neeser declined to sign the agreement because it "could have unreasonably restricted Neeser's ability to access his property, as it was terminable, leaving his only access to his property by boat."

IEP owns approximately 600 acres of land near the shoreline of Spirit Lake adjacent to Neeser's parcels. IEP claims that its property has multiple roads that cross over it, roads which IEP has maintained. IEP acknowledges that it has historically allowed the public to use its roads; however, in July of 2016, IEP installed a locked gate on the M1 Road to "control timber theft and potential damage to its properties due to high fire danger conditions." IEP stated that its property is not cultivated for crops and has no improvements on it; however, IEP later acknowledged that its forest lands "are allowed to grow and are occasionally harvested . . . as the forest reaches maturity."

In 2001, IEP began selling permits to the public for access to its property. IEP also hired a security service to enforce the permit requirement and patrol its lands. Paul Buckland, the Forest Resource Manager for IEP, testified during his deposition that from 2001-2006 IEP operated an educational campaign, informing anyone on the property of the need for a permit. Buckland testified that during this time, no one was required to leave the property if they did not have a permit. Rather, IEP only started enforcing its permit requirement in 2006.

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In 2016, IEP installed a locked gate preventing access to the M1 Road. As mentioned above, IEP offered Neeser a revocable permit at the cost of $500 in exchange for keys to the gate. Neeser declined to accept the permit because it was revocable.

B. Procedural History

On May 31, 2018, Neeser, in his capacity as Trustee of the Gerald E. Neeser Revocable Living Trust, filed a complaint against IEP alleging that the trust had an easement by prescription "over and across IEP Property's private roads." Neeser also alleged that IEP committed intentional interference with his property rights by installing the locked gate. Neeser's complaint also asserted claims for nuisance, quiet title, a declaratory judgment, and injunctive relief. On July 26, 2018, IEP filed an answer to the complaint, asserting two affirmative defenses: failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted and the statute of frauds.

In May of 2019, IEP moved for summary judgment. IEP argued that Neeser could not establish a prescriptive easement because the M1 Road was used "in common with the owner and the general public," thereby negating the "open and notorious" and "adverse and under a claim of right" elements necessary to establish a prescriptive easement. In support of its summary judgment motion, IEP also filed a declaration by Paul Buckland, photos of the M1 Road, and a copy of its warranty deed for the 600 acres.

Neeser opposed IEP's motion for summary judgment and simultaneously filed his own motion for summary judgment. Neeser first disputed that he used the M1 Road in the same manner as the general public because his property has three residences, and he regularly invites guests to visit and tradesmen to complete construction work on his property. Neeser then argued that there was no dispute of material fact regarding each element to establish a prescriptive easement. In support of his motion for summary judgment, Neeser's counsel filed a declaration with several exhibits attached. The exhibits included the warranty deeds for each parcel, maps of the property, the transcript of Buckland's deposition, and road maintenance logs for work IEP had done to maintain the M1 Road. Neeser filed his own declaration as well, describing how he and others have used his property and the M1 Road historically. Attached to Neeser's declaration were photographs of Neeser's main residence.

IEP responded to Neeser's motion for summary judgment, specifically arguing, inter alia, that summary judgment should be granted regarding Lot 2 of Neeser's property. IEP argued that

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Neeser failed to meet the statutory period regarding Lot 2 because he purchased Lot 2 in 2002, and the new, 20-year statutory period had not run.[1]

Next, IEP filed a motion to strike portions of the declarations of Neeser and Neeser's counsel. IEP argued that portions of Neeser's testimony were inadmissible because they were not based on personal knowledge or lacked adequate foundation to be considered on summary judgment. Neeser opposed the motion to strike.

There is nothing in the record indicating that the district court held a hearing on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment, aside from a notice of hearing filed by IEP, but the district court orally pronounced its ruling at a hearing on September 17, 2019. The district court first ruled on IEP's motion to strike. The district court struck portions of Neeser's declaration testimony, including Neeser's statement about when he believed his residence and the other two cabins had been built and Neeser's statement about the use of the M1 Road by his property's predecessors in interest. The district court concluded that the remaining portions of Neeser's declaration were admissible evidence. Finally, the district court declined to strike Exhibit A, a warranty deed, finding that it was a true and correct copy of what it purported to be. The district court also declined to strike Exhibit I, a satellite map image of the M1 Road, finding that the writing on the map was "labeled automatically by the satellite image in Google Maps," and was, therefore, not hearsay.

Regarding the cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court first concluded that the M1 Road was not open to the public as of 2001 because IEP required the public to purchase permits to use the road. Next, the district court concluded that Neeser had demonstrated a "unique use" of the road "beyond what members of the general public have used it for" because he had guests and tradesmen travel on the road to reach his residence. The district court concluded that Neeser had met each element required to prove a prescriptive easement and granted Neeser's motion for summary judgment for Lots 3 and 4. The district court denied Neeser's motion for summary judgment with respect to Lot 2 because Neeser had not satisfied the 20-year statutory period regarding that parcel since he repurchased it in 2002. Finally, the district court denied IEP's motion for summary judgment regarding Lots 3 and 4. The district court entered an order to this

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effect on October 1, 2019. Neeser moved to voluntarily dismiss any remaining claims not resolved by the summary judgment ruling, which the district court granted.

IEP filed a motion for reconsideration in June of the following year. First, IEP moved the district court to reconsider its evidentiary rulings regarding the motion to strike. IEP argued that Exhibit A to Neeser's motion for summary judgment was not a true and correct copy of the warranty deed because it was missing two pages. IEP next challenged the district court's determination that Neeser,...

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