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Weitz v. Green

April 2, 2010

GERALD E. WEITZ AND CONSUELO J. WEITZ, HUSBAND AND WIFE AND WEITZ & SONS, LLC, AN IDAHO LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY, PLAINTIFFS/COUNTERDEFENDANTS/APPELLANTS AND CROSS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
TODD A. GREEN AND TONIA L. GREEN, HUSBAND AND WIFE, STEVEN R. SHOOK AND MARY E. SILVERNALE SHOOK, DANIAL T. CASTLE AND CATHERINE C. CASTLE, AND U.S. BANK N.A., DEFENDANTS/COUNTERPLAINTIFFS/RESPONDENTS AND CROSS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the District Court of the Second Judicial District, State of Idaho, Latah County. Hon. John R. Stegner, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Burdick, Justice

2010 Opinion No. 40

District court ruling on boundary dispute, affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded.

This action arises out of a dispute over the boundary line separating real property, between Gerald E. Weitz, Consuelo J. Weitz, and Weitz & Sons, LLC (collectively "Appellants" or "Cross-Respondents"), and Todd A. Green, Tonia L. Green, Steven R. Shook, Mary E. Silvernale Shook, Danial T. Castle, Catherine C. Castle, and U.S. Bank N.A. (collectively "Respondents" or "Cross-Appellants").*fn1

Appellants argue that the district court incorrectly ruled on their claims for boundary by agreement, equitable estoppel and laches, prescriptive easement, trespass for damages, and quasi-estoppel. Appellants further contend that the district court erred in: (1) denying Appellants‟ motion to amend their complaint to include a claim of adverse possession, and (2) in quieting title in favor of Respondents instead of Appellants. Finally, Appellants argue that the district court erred in finding Appellants liable for trespass and awarding damages against them.

Cross-Appellants, in turn, contend that the trial court made a legal error in not finding Idaho Code § 6-202 applicable to Cross-Respondents‟ trespass, and in awarding Cross-Appellants damages for trespass based on the merchantable value of the destroyed trees and vegetation, rather than on the costs of restoring the property to its previous condition.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On August 1, 2002, the Greens purchased 160 acres, under warranty deed, from the Rogers Family Trust in a rural area of Latah County commonly referred to as Moscow Mountain. Appellants own the parcel of land located immediately to the north of the property purchased by the Greens. Shortly after the Greens purchased the property, a dispute arose between the Greens and Appellants, concerning the ownership of 8.5 acres of land located along the common border of the two properties. In December 2002, the Greens‟ attorney wrote to Appellants‟ attorney alleging that Appellants were trespassing on the Greens‟ property. In July of 2003, Appellants entered the contested land and built a fence in place of an old and dilapidated fence, which Appellants contend marks the border of their property.

Meanwhile, the Greens subdivided their property into four sections, three of which front Appellants‟ property. The Castles and Shooks each purchased one of these parcels, and as part of the purchase agreement the Greens agreed to defend title in the disputed property on behalf of the Castles and Shooks, against Appellants, and to reimburse the Shooks and Castles if title to the land were quieted in favor of Appellants.

On February 4, 2004, Appellants filed suit against Respondents seeking to quiet title in the disputed 8.5 acres on a theory of boundary by agreement and/or acquiescence, or estoppel and laches. In the alternative, Appellants claimed a prescriptive easement to the trail that runs along the fence within the disputed property. Appellants also sought damages for trespass. Respondents filed a counterclaim, also seeking to quiet title, and alleging that Appellants owed damages for timber trespass, related to Appellants entering the property and cutting down small trees to build a fence, as well as for slander of title. While the matter was in litigation, Appellants continued to use the property under a claim of right, and on April 15, 2005, the district court granted a preliminary injunction to keep Appellants off the disputed property pending resolution of the case.

On May 31, 2005, Appellants changed counsel and on June 10, 2005, they filed a Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint and Respond to Counterclaim. On July 18, 2005, subsequent to a hearing on June 27, 2005, the motion was denied. On August 1, 2005, Appellants filed a Motion for Reconsideration, and following a hearing on the motion on August 29, 2005, the motion was denied on September 27, 2005. Appellants filed another Motion for Reconsideration on September 26, 2005, alleging new facts pertaining to their intended claim of equitable estoppel, and following argument in open court on September 27, 2005, the motion was granted on October 3, 2005, as to adding a claim of equitable estoppel.

On January 1, 2006, the court issued its Memorandum Decision, awarding the Greens, Shooks, and Castles each $500 in damages for Appellants‟ trespass on Respondents‟ property. Following argument on post-trial motions, the district court issued its Amended Memorandum Decision on June 28, 2006, which superseded the initial Memorandum Decision, and found in favor of Respondents on their slander of title claim. An order awarding attorney fees and costs to Respondents was also issued on June 28, 2006. On September 28, 2006, the district court issued an Opinion and Order, and Judgment*fn2 was issued on October 17, 2006. Appellants filed this timely appeal on November 16, 2006.

II. ISSUES ON APPEAL

1. Whether the district court abused its discretion in denying Appellants‟ motion to amend their Complaint to add a claim for adverse possession.

2. Whether the district court based its factual findings upon substantial and competent evidence, and whether that evidence supported the district court‟s conclusions of law that Appellants failed to prove their claims of boundary by agreement/acquiescence, estoppel and laches, prescriptive easement, and quasi-estoppel.

3. Whether the district court erred in finding that Respondents had proved that Appellants had committed slander of title against Respondents, and in consequently awarding Respondents attorney fees.

4. Whether the record supports the district court‟s holding that Gerald and Consuelo Weitz committed trespass to the property of Respondents, whether damages were correctly assessed in accordance with that finding, and whether sufficient intentional and willful conduct was demonstrated on the behalf of the Weitzes so that I.C. § 6-202, allowing for treble damages, should have applied; and whether in the alternative, Respondents should have been found to have trespassed against Appellants.

5. Whether attorney fees should be awarded on appeal to either side, and whether additional attorney fees should be awarded to either party upon remand.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The standard of review that this court employs when considering an appeal from a trial court acting as fact-finder is stated in Lettunich v. Lettunich:

When we consider an appeal from a district court sitting as the fact finder, we do so through our abuse-of-discretion [lens]; that is, we examine whether the trial court (1) rightly perceived the issues as ones of discretion; (2) acted within the outer boundaries of that discretion and appropriately applied the legal principles to the facts found; and (3) reached its decision through an exercise of reason. Sun Valley Shopping Ctr. v. Idaho Power Co., 119 Idaho 87, 94, 803 P.2d 993, 1000 (1991). In conducting our review, we liberally construe the district court's findings in favor of the judgment. Ervin Constr. Co. v. Van Orden, 125 Idaho 695, 699, 874 P.2d 506, 510 (1993). We will not disturb a district court's findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous. A court's findings of fact are not clearly erroneous if they are supported by substantial and competent, though conflicting, evidence. Sun Valley Shamrock Resources, Inc. v. Travelers Leasing Corp., 118 Idaho 116, 794 P.2d 1389 (1990); Murgoitio v. Murgoitio, 111 Idaho 573, 576, 726 P.2d 685, 688 (1986); I.R.C.P. 52(a). 141 Idaho 425, 429, 111 P.3d 110, 114 (2005). "This Court will not substitute its view of the facts for that of the trial court." Justad v. Ward, 147 Idaho 509, 511, 211 P.3d 118, 120 (2009). "Questions of credibility and the weight of the evidence are matters uniquely within the province of the trial court." Treasure Valley Plumbing and Heating, Inc. v. Earth Res. Co., 115 Idaho 373, 376, 766 P.2d 1254, 1257 (Ct. App. 1988). "The findings of the trial court on the question of damages will not be set aside when based upon substantial and competent evidence." Akers v. Mortensen, 147 Idaho 39, 43-44, 205 P.3d 1175, 1179-80 (2009).

IV. ANALYSIS

A. The district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Appellants' motion to amend their Complaint to add a claim of adverse possession.

Appellants contend that the district court abused its discretion in denying Appellants‟ motion to amend their Complaint to add a claim of adverse possession.

Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) provides that, once a responsive pleading has been filed, a pleading may only be amended by "leave of court or by written consent of the adverse party; and leave shall be freely given when justice so requires. . . ." An abuse-of-discretion standard is employed in reviewing a district court‟s denial of a motion to amend a complaint to add an additional cause of action. Farmers Ins. Exch. v. Tucker, 142 Idaho 191, 193, 125 P.3d 1067, 1069 (2005). "If the amended pleading does not set out a valid claim, or if the opposing party would be prejudiced by the delay in adding the new claim . . . it is not an abuse of discretion for the trial court to deny the motion to file the amended complaint." Black Canyon Racquetball Club, Inc. v. Idaho First Nat'l Bank, 119 Idaho 171, 175, 804 P.2d 900, 904 (1991).

The record reflects that the district court heard argument on Appellants‟ Motion to Amend, and rightly perceived the issue of leave to amend a complaint as one of discretion at that point in the proceedings. After extensive argument by counsel on both sides, the court, in its discretion, denied the motion to amend, as it found that: (1) the proposed amendment would not set out a valid claim, and (2) allowing amendment would result in prejudice to Respondents.*fn3

Following Appellants‟ Motion to Reconsider the district court allowed further argument on the issue, and again found that allowing the amendment would result in prejudice to Respondents. Considering the fact that the Motion to Amend was made well over a year after the filing of the initial Complaint, in addition to the statements from Respondents‟ counsel that allowing the amendment would require additional evidence and witness gathering, and the court‟s finding that the facts alleged by Appellants would fail to establish a valid claim of adverse possession, it is clear that the district court acted within its discretion in denying the Motion to Amend.

B. The district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Appellants had failed to prove their claims of boundary by agreement/acquiescence, estoppel and ...


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