Wayson v. Stevenson, S-17874

CourtSupreme Court of Alaska (US)
Writing for the CourtBORGHESAN, JUSTICE
PartiesMARK N. WAYSON, Appellant, v. WILLIAM E. STEVENSON, Appellee.
Docket NumberS-17874
Decision Date12 August 2022

MARK N. WAYSON, Appellant,


No. S-17874

Supreme Court of Alaska

August 12, 2022

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska No. 3 AN-17-05729 CI, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Thomas A. Matthews, Judge.

Mark N. Wayson, pro se, Sutton, Appellant.

Taylor B. McMahon, Law Offices of Royce & Brain, Anchorage, for Appellee.

Before: Winfree, Chief Justice, Maassen, Carney, Borghesan, and Henderson, Justices.




This appeal arises from a long-running dispute between neighbors over access to the Matanuska Glacier. The dispute concerns an easement that leads from the Glenn Highway over residential property to a parcel of land used as a jumping-off point for a glacier tourism business. After years of disagreement over issues related to road maintenance, traffic, safety, and trespass on the homeowner's property by visitors to the


glacier, the homeowner erected a sign stating "No Glacier Access" near the entrance to the road.

The business owner filed suit, and the homeowner counterclaimed for defamation based on inflammatory allegations made in the complaint. The superior court largely ruled in favor of the business owner. It held that he has a right to use the easement for his glacier tourism business, that his road maintenance work was reasonably necessary and did not unreasonably damage the homeowner's property despite minor increases in the width of the road, and that the "No Glacier Access" sign had unreasonably interfered with his use of the easement. The superior court also dismissed the defamation counterclaims and awarded attorney's fees to the business owner. We affirm the superior court's judgment in full.


A. Facts

1. Pre-1977 history of the land

The easement in question begins at the Glenn Highway near the community of Glacier View, proceeds south across a residential property and over the Matanuska River, and leads to a parcel on the south side of the river near the Matanuska Glacier.

The area has historically been home to the Ahtna Athabascan people.[1] In the twentieth century settlers in the area began staking land claims under the authority of various federal programs. Some properties were claimed as homestead sites for


residential occupancy, while others were claimed as trade and manufacturing (T&M) sites for commercial use.

The Kimball family - including John (Jack) and Vernon-moved to the area in 1964 and began making land claims to parcels on both sides of the river. Vernon claimed land on the north side of the river while Jack claimed land on the south side. Jack had both a residential homestead site and a commercial T&M site. On his properties Jack established a lodge, store, and other enterprises promoting tourism at the glacier, including a guided tour business.

Jack and other local residents built Keith's Road, which started at the Glenn Highway, crossed the river, and led to parcels on the south side of the river. The south end of the Keith's Road bridge abutted Jack's T&M site, and Jack charged a fee to pass through his property. The bridge soon washed out, and a new one was built farther downstream, away from Jack's property.

In 1970 Jack built a second road and bridge to provide access to his property. This second road connected Mile 102 of the Glenn Highway to the glacier by crossing Vernon's property, then the river, then Jack's property. Jack cleared the road to the face of the glacier. He charged a fee to use this road for glacier access.

2. The 1977 deed of easement

After Jack built the road and bridge, Vernon allowed Jack to cross his property without a written easement. Yet Jack insisted on getting a written easement. In 1977 Vernon executed a deed granting Jack an easement to cross his property.[2] The deed conveyed to

[Jack,] his successors and assigns forever, a right-of-way and easement with the right, privilege and authority to [Jack], his successors and assigns, to use without restrictions, for purposes of ingress and egress, the road roadway or means of access to, from and across, presently situated and constructed on . . . Lots Seven (7), Eight (8), Nine (9), and Ten (10)....
It is understood by [Vernon] that execution of this Easement shall entitle [Jack], his successors and assigns forever, to use the existing roadway on the above described property, without restriction, to cross over and gain access to adjacent or adjoining lands as [Jack] may deem necessary or appropriate.

3. Arrival of Cook Inlet Region, Inc., Wayson's and Stevenson's acquisitions of the land, and subsequent conflicts

As part of the implementation of the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act[3] (ANCSA), the Alaska Native Corporation Cook Inlet Region, Inc. (CIRI) selected land in the area, including portions of the glacier itself, for ownership.

In 1992 William Stevenson began renting Jack's property on the south side of the river. Eight years later Stevenson and Jack entered into a written lease for 552 acres of Jack's property, including the Glacier Park Lodge. Stevenson ran the lodge as well as several other tourism businesses involving the glacier. In 2017 Stevenson (through one of his businesses) signed a long-term lease with CIRI to access CIRI lands for his glacier tours.

Stevenson began to maintain the easement road when he started renting from Jack and has continued to do so. Maintenance activities include fixing potholes and plowing snow, most of which goes over the edge of the road. The road has been


involved in three rockslides, which Stevenson cleaned up by bulldozing the fallen rocks off the road.

Between 1989 and 1991 Mark Wayson acquired four of Vernon's lots, including two he purchased directly from Vernon. Wayson's deed from Vernon references the 1977 deed, stating that the lots Wayson purchased were

FURTHER SUBJECT TO a general easement granted to [Jack] for ingress and egress affecting the portion of the said premises and for the purposes stated therein, and incidental purposes thereto as disclosed by instrument recorded March 21, 1977....

The easement road bisects Wayson's property; his house and other improvements lie on the north end of the road closest to the Glenn Highway.

Stevenson and Wayson have disputed their property rights for the past two decades. Wayson has expressed concern about the stability of his home's foundation; the safety of the roadway, including rocks falling from the cliff above the road; and the liability he may incur if a traffic accident were to happen. Wayson also objects to the scope of Stevenson's maintenance of the roadway, asserting that Stevenson is impermissibly expanding the roadway surface and pushing waste and debris onto Wayson's property. Wayson eventually posted a "No Glacier Access" sign along the easement road, prompting Stevenson to bring their dispute to court.

B. Proceedings

1. Declaratory and injunctive relief

In March 2017 Stevenson filed a complaint for declaratory relief against Wayson, alleging that Wayson had interfered with Stevenson's use of the easement. Wayson answered; although he did not deny the existence of the easement, he counterclaimed for relief that would restrict Stevenson's use of the easement. In particular, Wayson requested that the court order the easement closed for non-residential


use until Stevenson provided liability coverage for Wayson and took certain safety measures, including installing highway guardrails on both sides of the easement and posting safety-related signage along the road. Wayson also asked the court to order that Stevenson use a different route for his clients to access "any destination across CIRI lands, the Matanuska Glacier, and [any] other non-dominant estate," and to order that Stevenson stop maintaining the easement in ways that brought debris onto Wayson's property or undermined its foundation. Wayson further alleged that Stevenson had "abuse[d]" the easement by "renting out [Wayson's] property" to an automobile company for a vehicle commercial. Finally Wayson counterclaimed for defamation based on an allegation in Stevenson's complaint that Wayson had interfered with the easement by appearing nude or undressed near the easement.

Stevenson moved for a preliminary injunction on several of the disputed issues. After four days of testimony the superior court partially granted the preliminary injunction in July 2017. The court ruled that Stevenson could use the easement road for commercial purposes. The court also ruled that Wayson could post signs that protected his property at the roadway, but not signs saying "No Glacier Access" or something to similar effect. The court reasoned that such a sign would likely interfere with Stevenson's use of the easement, but that Wayson was entitled to warn others of "the road's inherent risks to motorist(s) to limit [Wayson's] liability." Hearing no evidence to support Stevenson's public nudity allegation, however, the court declined to issue a preliminary injunction prohibiting Wayson "from being in any state of undress on his property."

2. Defamation claims

The parties engaged in extensive motion practice concerning the allegation in Stevenson's complaint that Wayson had appeared nude or undressed near the easement. The superior court ultimately ruled the allegations in the complaint to be


privileged and dismissed Wayson's defamation counterclaim on summary judgment in May 2019.

Wayson had earlier moved to amend his counterclaim to add a third-party defamation claim against Stevenson's lawyer, Chadwick McGrady. The superior court initially denied leave to amend, but on reconsideration allowed Wayson to file the third-party claim based on statements McGrady made to a newspaper reporter. The defamation case against McGrady, a Colorado resident, was removed to...

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