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Bach v. Bagley

March 17, 2010


Appeal from the District Court of the Seventh Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Teton County. The Honorable Richard T. St. Clair, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Jones, Justice.

2010 Opinion No. 25

The various orders and judgment of the district court are affirmed.

John N. Bach appeals an adverse final judgment and a number of pre- and post-trial orders. We affirm the orders and judgment of the district court.

I. Factual and Procedural Summary

Between 1992 and 2000, John N. Bach acquired various interests in real property in Teton County under variations of the name ―Targhee Powder Emporium.‖ However, he took no action to establish a separate legal entity in that name or to file an assumed business name certificate until 2007. Bach also purported to acquire some interests in real property on behalf of the Vasa N. Bach Family Trust, which was established by Bach's mother in 1993 with Bach as the trustee. Bach treated all acquired property interests as his personal property, even executing assignments on behalf of these entities to himself in a personal capacity.

As a result of his acquisition and use of these interests, Bach's relationship with several neighboring land owners and other Teton County residents, including the respondents, deteriorated, culminating in a series of altercations that Bach characterized as ―raids‖ on his property. There is evidence in the record that some of the respondents did enter upon real property which Bach occupied and carried away or caused damage to his personal property, resulting in the district court's entry of a preliminary injunction. There is also some evidence that threats were made against Bach by some of the respondents and vice-versa. However, there is also evidence to indicate that many of the ―raids‖ resulted from actions taken by Bach to block Katherine Miller's access to a parcel of property purportedly jointly owned by Bach and Miller, as well as another parcel held solely by Miller. Apparently prompted by Bach's actions, Miller, Jack McLean, Mark Liponis, and Alva Harris joined together to form an incorporated entity known as Targhee Powder Emporium, Inc., whose name they subsequently used to deed land interests, which Bach had obtained in the name of the Targhee entities, back to allegedly defrauded parties.

Bach filed suit against Miller; Harris; Scona, Inc.; Bob Fitzgerald; Ole Oleson; Blake Lyle; McLean;*fn1 Galen Woelk; Cody Runyan; Bob and Mae Bagley; Ann-Toy Broughton; Wayne Dawson; Earl Hamblin; Stan Nickell;*fn2 Bret and Deena Hill; and Liponis (collectively, the respondents) on July 23, 2002, with some parties added by an amended complaint.*fn3 The amended complaint that Bach filed on September 27, 2002, contained eleven counts. Counts one through four sought to quiet title to the parcels of real property described below. The remaining counts alleged causes of action for slander of title, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, racketeering, malicious prosecution, and malicious harassment. After attempting unsuccessfully to have the amended complaint dismissed, Miller filed an answer and counterclaim against Bach, the Targhee entities, and the Vasa N. Bach Family Trust,*fn4 asserting claims for fraud, trespass, slander of title, and breach of fiduciary duty. Broughton,*fn5 Nickell, Runyan, and Woelk also immediately answered. The remaining parties, as discussed below, were defaulted and either had default set aside or judgment entered against them.

Bach sought to quiet title to five different parcels of real property. The first parcel, the subject of Bach's jury trial against Miller, consists of approximately 87 acres that Miller and one of Bach's fictitious business entities, Targhee Power Emporium, purchased from Lovell and Lorraine Harrop in 1995. Based on various misrepresentations made by Bach, Miller signed a contract in which she agreed to pay a total of $120,000.00 to the Harrops in order to obtain a one-half interest in 80 acres of an original 160-acre parcel. Targhee would obtain the other one-half interest. Unbeknownst to Miller, Bach arranged to pay the Harrops $105,000.00 to convey the 80 acres to Targhee and Miller and have them refund the remaining $15,000.00 of Miller's money to Bach. As a result of subsequent litigation on the contract, Bach and Miller also received the deed to an access strip of approximately 6.63 acres along the north of the eighty acre parcel. Then, in September 1997, the district court quieted title to the eastern-most 80 acres (less the access strip) in the Harrops. Title to the western half of the remaining 80 acres and the access strip were quieted in Miller, while title to the eastern half of the 80 was quieted in Bach. As a part of a settlement agreement, Miller and Bach agreed to share an undivided one-half interest in the 6.63-acre access strip and in another 3.3-acre access strip.*fn6 The parties also granted each other reciprocal easements for access.

Bach sought to quiet title to a second parcel of 8.5 acres in which he held an undivided one-half interest as a tenant in common with respondent Wayne Dawson. Bach sought to quiet title in a third parcel of 33 acres, known as the ―Drawknife Property,‖ in which he held an undivided one-third interest as a tenant in common with Jack McLean and Mark Liponis, who each claimed a one-third interest. Bach also sought to quiet title to a fourth property of 40 acres, known as the ―Peacock Property,‖ in which he claimed an undivided one-fourth interest, with respondents McLean, Dawson, and Bach's sister and brother-in-law, Diane and Milan Cheyovich through the Cheyovich Family Trust, also claiming one-fourth interests as tenants in common.

Additionally, Bach sought to quiet title to a 1-acre parcel with a house located at 195 North Highway 33 in Driggs. The property was conveyed to the Targhee Power Emporium by Layne and Cindy Price in 1992. Subsequently, the Internal Revenue Service recorded federal tax liens against the property for $96,000 in delinquent federal tax owed by Targhee Powder Emporium for tax years 1990 through 1993. The Internal Revenue Service sold the parcel to Scona, an entity controlled by respondent Harris, at a tax sale on August 5, 1997, conveying the property to Scona by quitclaim deed in 1998. Bach challenged the sale in state and federal court as being in violation of the automatic stay in his chapter 13 bankruptcy case, which was filed on August 4, 1997. Two federal actions brought by Bach were dismissed for his failure to file an adequate complaint and the state court quieted title in Scona after Bach defaulted. Subsequently, Scona conveyed the property to respondents Bret and Deena Hill.

The remainder of Bach's claims stem from clashes he had with neighboring landowners and other Teton County residents. Bach alleges that most of the respondents joined together in a concerted action to remove him from Teton County, taking such actions as threatening him with physical harm, destroying his personal property, stealing his personal property,*fn7 damaging and trespassing on his real property, misappropriating funds through the formation of corporate entities, misappropriating his real property by issuing fraudulent deeds, abusing legal process as a means of harassment, and harassing him on the basis of his Montenegrin heritage. The bulk of these claims were dismissed on summary judgment or motions to dismiss by the non-defaulted respondents, either for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted, lack of evidence, or on issue and claim preclusion grounds.

Trial was held in this matter on Bach's claims against Miller and Broughton and Miller's counterclaims against Bach, resulting in a verdict in Miller and Broughton's favor on all claims asserted by Bach. The court entered a directed verdict for Miller on her breach of fiduciary duty claim, and the jury found for Miller on all remaining counterclaims, with the exception of trespass, and awarded her $132,456.72 in damages. The district court also quieted title in Miller to the 87-acre parcel. Bach made multiple post-trial motions that were denied. After the first denial of post-trial motions and the entry of findings of fact, Bach sought to have Judge St. Clair disqualified for bias under I.R.C.P. 40(d)(2). Judge St. Clair denied this motion as well, making detailed findings demonstrating why recusal was not warranted. Despite these denials, Bach continued to argue the post-trial motions and disqualification issue through the remaining proceedings. Although a trial was held, the vast majority of the record is comprised of various motions filed by the parties, and the grant or denial of these motions constitutes the majority of Bach's bases for appeal.*fn8

Respondent Woelk, Miller and McLean's attorney in prior actions, as well as Miller's in this one,*fn9 was added as a defendant when Bach amended his complaint. Subsequently, Woelk filed multiple motions for summary judgment, and was granted summary judgment on the majority of the claims asserted against him, with the remaining claims set for a separate trial. However, prior to trial, as the result of a judgment obtained in another action against Bach, Woelk was able to levy upon and acquire Bach's causes of action against him in this matter at a sheriff's sale. After this purchase, Woelk was then substituted for Bach as plaintiff under I.R.C.P. 25(c) and stipulated to the dismissal of the claims against himself. Based on the stipulation, the court dismissed the remaining claims against Woelk.

Respondents Bret and Deena Hill answered, were defaulted, had default set aside, and the bulk of the claims against them were dismissed on summary judgment. The court determined that Bach had presented no admissible evidence or alleged sufficient facts to show that the Hills were liable on any of the counts asserted against them, and that the bankruptcy stay had not invalidated the sale of the 1-acre parcel they purchased from Scona. The only count asserted against the Hills that was not dismissed was the quiet title action with respect to the 8.5-acre parcel. The court quieted title in the 8.5-acre parcel in Bach, disposing of the last of the claims against the Hills. The Hills were also awarded attorney fees under Idaho Code section 12-121.

Respondents Hamblin and Nickell answered and were both granted summary judgment on all claims, with the exception of the quiet-title claims. These claims were later dismissed after Hamblin and Nickell filed disclaimers of interest in the real property at issue. Hamblin was also awarded attorney fees under Idaho Code section 12-121. Finally, respondents Dawson, Harris, Scona, Lyle, Oleson, Fitzgerald, and McLean were defaulted in this matter. Although they made multiple attempts to set aside default, they were unsuccessful and the district court held a hearing to determine the amount of damages to be entered against each of them. Judgment was entered against each of them.*fn10

The district court entered final judgment in this matter on February 11, 2005. The final judgment contained a permanent injunction, enjoining the respondents from entering any of the property in which Bach had an interest. Bach filed a timely notice of appeal, asserting that the all orders and rulings unfavorable to him must be reversed because the court erred in: (1) refusing to enter a permanent injunction at the outset of this matter; (2) granting respondents' motions to dismiss, for partial summary judgment, and for attorney fees and costs, (3) refusing to disqualify Woelk as Miller's counsel; (4) denying Bach's motions for summary judgment; (5) the formulation of the jury instructions ...

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