NMID v. Washington Federal Sav., 25719.

Decision Date13 March 2001
Docket NumberNo. 25719.,25719.
Citation135 Idaho 518,20 P.3d 702
CourtIdaho Supreme Court
PartiesNAMPA & MERIDIAN IRRIGATION DISTRICT, Plaintiff-Appellant-Cross Respondent, v. WASHINGTON FEDERAL SAVINGS, Defendant-Respondent-Cross Appellant.

Ringert, Clark Chtd., Boise, for appellant. James G. Reid argued.

Davison, Copple, Copple, Copple & Ludwig, Boise, for respondent. Terry C. Copple argued.

WALTERS, Justice.

Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District (NMID) appeals the district court's decision denying an injunction to prohibit Washington Federal Savings (Washington Federal) from constructing a sidewalk and fence on property over which NMID has an easement for the purpose of operating, maintaining, and repairing an irrigation lateral. We affirm the decision.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

NMID delivers water from the Boise River for irrigation by its landowners through a series of canals, laterals, and drains. One of the laterals NMID operates and maintains is the Finch Lateral, which delivers water from the Ridenbaugh Canal to NMID's landowners. The Finch Lateral is approximately seven miles long and at one point traverses property owned by Washington Federal to the north of Fairview Avenue and to the east of Hampton Road in Boise. As it traverses the Washington Federal property, the lateral flows from east to west parallel to Fairview Avenue, which runs along its southern edge.

NMID's easement stems from a document entitled "Channel Change Easement" (CCE or document) executed on August 7, 1958, by the prior owners of Washington Federal's property. The CCE, along with width and depth requirements for the lateral itself, granted a forty-foot easement to NMID for the lateral's maintenance, as well as an easement to the State of Idaho for the lateral's construction. In addition, the document provides for a bank and berm five feet wide and one-foot deep on the south (Fairview Avenue) side of the lateral. There is to be no bank or berm on the north (Washington Federal) side of the canal. In May and June of 1998, Washington Federal constructed a sidewalk on the north side of the Finch Lateral within NMID's easement. The construction of the sidewalk began after Washington Federal applied to Ada County to subdivide the property adjacent to the Fairview Avenue branch. The Ada County Highway District required Washington Federal either to tile the Finch Lateral or to construct a sidewalk and fence before approval to subdivide would be given. NMID objected to the sidewalk's construction, arguing that it would make it impossible for NMID to operate and maintain the lateral. This suit followed with NMID seeking to enjoin Washington Federal from completing the construction of the sidewalk and fence.

The district court found that NMID's easement was contractual in nature, rather than a safety or exclusive easement, and that Washington Federal was entitled to use the land subject to the easement for any purposes not inconsistent with the rights of NMID. At trial, NMID produced no records showing maintenance or repair conducted on its canals or laterals. In addition, NMID offered no testimony that it had conducted any repairs or maintenance on this portion of the Finch Lateral. Because NMID failed to show that the sidewalk and proposed fence would unreasonably interfere with its easement, the district court denied NMID's injunction, holding that Washington Federal was entitled to construct the sidewalk and fence. After the court's decision regarding the injunction, Washington Federal petitioned for an award of costs and attorney fees. A hearing was held on the issue, and the district court awarded costs to Washington Federal. The district court did not award either attorney fees or the discretionary costs requested by Washington Federal. A final judgment was then entered.

ISSUES

NMID presents two issues on appeal. First, it challenges the district court's ruling that the sidewalk and proposed fence do not unreasonably interfere with NMID's access to and operation, maintenance, and repair of the Finch Lateral. Second, it questions the district court's refusal to allow NMID to present evidence establishing that the sidewalk presents a danger to the public. Washington Federal cross-appeals, challenging the district court's decision denying discretionary costs and attorney fees.

DISCUSSION
A. Interference With NMID's Easement
1. Standard of Review

Appellate review of the district court's decision is limited to ascertaining whether the evidence supports the findings of fact, and whether the findings of fact support the conclusions of law. See Conley v. Whittlesey, 133 Idaho 265, 269, 985 P.2d 1127, 1131 (1999)

; Alumet v. Bear Lake Grazing Co., 119 Idaho 946, 812 P.2d 253 (1991). A district court's findings of fact in a bench trial will be liberally construed on appeal in favor of the judgment entered, in view of the district court's role as trier of fact. See Lindgren v. Martin, 130 Idaho 854, 857, 949 P.2d 1061, 1064 (1997); Sun Valley Shamrock Resources, Inc. v. Travelers Leasing Corp., 118 Idaho 116, 118, 794 P.2d 1389, 1391 (1990). It is the province of the district judge acting as trier of fact to weigh conflicting evidence and testimony and to judge the credibility of the witnesses. See I.R.C.P. Rule 52(a); Marshall v. Blair, 130 Idaho 675, 679, 946 P.2d 975, 979 (1997). We will not substitute our view of the facts for the view of the district court. Marshall, 130 Idaho at 679,

946 P.2d at 979; Deer Creek, Inc. v. Hibbard, 94 Idaho 533, 535, 493 P.2d 392, 394 (1972). Instead, where findings of fact are based on substantial evidence, even if the evidence is conflicting, those findings will not be overturned on appeal. See Hunter v. Shields, 131 Idaho 148, 953 P.2d 588 (1998). We exercise free review over the lower court's conclusions of law, however, to determine whether the court correctly stated the applicable law, and whether the legal conclusions are sustained by the facts found. See Conley, 133 Idaho at 269,

985 P.2d at 1131. With this standard in mind, we turn to whether the district court erred in concluding that the sidewalk and proposed fence did not unreasonably interfere with NMID's easement.

2. Relationship Between I.C. § 42-1102 and the Channel Change Easement

A threshold question in this case is whether the parties' rights and obligations are defined by the CCE or by I.C. § 42-1102. The CCE provides for "[a]n easement and right of way ... to Nampa and Meridian Irrigation District to operate, maintain and repair said ditch and channel and to use the same for the transmission of irrigation water and drain water." Idaho Code section 42-1102, on the other hand, provides that an owner or claimant of land has the right to

enter the land across which the right-of-way extends, for the purposes of cleaning, maintaining and repairing the ditch, canal or conduit, and to occupy such width of the land along the banks of the ditch, canal or conduit as is necessary to properly do the work of cleaning, maintaining and repairing the ditch, canal or conduit with personnel and with such equipment as is commonly used, or is reasonably adapted, to that work.

NMID asserts that the CCE is immaterial to the scope and nature of the easement, which it asserts is defined solely by I.C. § 42-1102. Washington Federal, on the other hand, asserts that the trial court properly concluded that NMID has a contractual easement under the CCE.

We conclude that neither the provisions expressed in the CCE executed in 1958 nor the quoted language of the statute enacted in 1996 operate to create a greater right in NMID to the exclusion of the other. The owner of the servient estate is entitled to make uses of the property that do not unreasonably interfere with the dominant estate owner's enjoyment of the easement. See Carson v. Elliott, 111 Idaho 889, 890, 728 P.2d 778, 779 (Ct.App.1986)

; Boydstun Beach Ass'n v. Allen, 111 Idaho 370, 377, 723 P.2d 914, 921 (Ct.App.1986). An additional restriction placed upon the property by the CCE requires that "there be no bank nor berm along the northerly side of such ditch and channel." NMID argues that the district court erred by concluding that the CCE prevents it from maintaining the lateral from the north (Washington Federal) side because the debris from the maintenance would create a berm or bank unless NMID removed it. This presupposes both that NMID would not take away any debris it removed from the lateral, and that the district court's decision rested solely on the additional CCE restriction. In fact, as discussed below, there is evidence suggesting that NMID would infrequently, if ever, have to remove enough silt or other debris to create a bank along either side of the lateral. Additionally, the district court's decision is supported by other evidence suggesting that requiring NMID to maintain the lateral from the south (Fairview Avenue) side does not unreasonably interfere with its rights under the easement—whether those rights arise from the CCE or I.C. § 42-1102.

3. Interference With NMID's Easement

The law is well settled with respect to the correlative rights of dominant and servient owners of easements. The owner of the servient estate is entitled to use the estate in any manner not inconsistent with, or which does not materially interfere with, the use of the easement by the owner of the dominant estate. See Boydstun Beach Ass'n 111 Idaho at 377, 723 P.2d at 921. In other words, the servient estate owner is entitled to make uses of the property that do not unreasonably interfere with the dominant estate owner's enjoyment of the easement. See Carson v. Elliott, 111 Idaho 889, 890, 728 P.2d 778, 779 (Ct.App.1986)

. Thus, an easement owner is entitled to relief upon a showing that he is obstructed from exercising privileges granted in the easement. See Boydstun Beach, 111 Idaho at 377,

723 P.2d at 921 (citations omitted).

NMID argues that the building of the...

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