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Lattin v. Adams County

July 14, 2010

DALE LATTIN AND KATHLEEN LATTIN, HUSBAND AND WIFE; TYLER CHASE AND KATHY CHASE, HUSBAND AND WIFE; KENNETH L. STONE AND TAFFY M. STONE, HUSBAND AND WIFE, PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
ADAMS COUNTY, AN IDAHO COUNTY; BILL BROWN, ADAMS COUNTY COMMISSIONER; JOE HOLMES, ADAMS COUNTY COMMISSIONER; MIKE PARADIS ADAMS COUNTY COMMISSIONER, AND JOHN AND JANE DOES 1 THROUGH 10. DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the District Court of the Third Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Adams County. Hon. Stephen W. Drescher, District Judge.

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

2010 Opinion No. 85

The decision of the district court is affirmed. Attorney fees and costs on appeal are awarded to Respondents.

I. NATURE OF THE CASE

Adams County appeals from the district court's ruling that an access road running through Respondents' property is not a public road. Adams County claims that it has acquired the road both by dedication and by prescription.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Kathleen and Dale Lattin, Kathy and Tyler Chase, and Taffy and Kenneth Stone, Respondents, are three married couples who own properties in the Reico Subdivision of Adams County, Idaho. Sometime in the 1920s, when their parcels were part of a single tract, their predecessor in interest permitted a local logger to construct a temporary access road on the property. The road became known as Old Sawmill Road, but is now commonly known as Burch Lane. Today, Burch Lane connects a public highway with a forest-service road in the Payette National Forest. On the way, it crosses a number of privately owned parcels in the Reico Subdivision, three of which are owned by Respondents, who rely on the road to access their homes. Although the road has always crossed private property, for decades some locals have used the road to reach the forest for recreational purposes. Adams County (the ―County‖), however, has never expended any resources in maintaining the road or improving it.

Reico Subdivision was first subdivided into thirty-four individual lots in 1974, some of which were sold off, and most of which do not touch Burch Lane. In 1983, the County involuntarily compelled the subdivision developers to record a plat.*fn1 At the time, Burch Lane was overgrown with trees and difficult to use. The plat depicts Burch Lane but does not identify it as a public easement or right-of-way.

After the subdivision was recorded, some of the new residents improved the road to enable themselves to access their properties. Christy Ward, the Lattins' predecessor in interest, as well as Idaho Power, improved Burch Lane beginning in 1984. At some point, parts of the road were also relocated, although some portions of the original road are still visible. Kathy Chase, one of the landowners in this suit, improved portions of the road in 1998. In 2002, Idaho Power obtained an easement from Respondents to use the road to maintain a power substation located beyond their properties.

At some point, Respondents installed signs on their properties declaring the road to be private. The County responded by threatening Respondents with criminal sanctions if they did not remove the signs. It also informed the landowners that it would classify Burch Lane as a county road and begin maintaining it. The landowners responded by filing a lawsuit against the County requesting declaratory and injunctive relief and seeking to quiet title. The County responded that it had acquired the road by dedication in the Reico Subdivision plat and that, even if it had not, the road had passed into public control by prescription. The district court granted summary judgment to the landowners, finding that the County had failed to follow the statutory protocols necessary to establish a public road. It did not expressly address the County's prescription claim. On appeal, the County again raises its dedication and prescription theories.

III. ISSUES ON APPEAL

1. Whether the County acquired the road by dedication in the subdivision plat.

2. Whether the County acquired the road by prescription under I.C. ...


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