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Northwest Pipeline Corp. v. Luna

September 7, 2010


Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District, State of Idaho, Kootenai County. Hon. Lansing L. Haynes, District Judge.

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

2010 Opinion No. 98

The judgment of the district court is vacated and the case is remanded.

Northwest Pipeline Corporation (Northwest) holds an easement across the properties of Jose and Rosanna Luna, and Steven and Elizabeth Church (collectively, Appellants). The grant of easement was indefinite as to width. Northwest filed suit to obtain a determination of the width of its easement, to quiet its title to the defined easement, to obtain removal from the right-of-way of any encroachments of Appellants, and to recover damages for such encroachments. Appellants answered, denying that they had interfered with Northwest's easement rights and seeking a ruling that, if they had encroached, their encroachments had extinguished or partially extinguished the easement. Following a court trial on the issues, the district court determined that Northwest held a valid twenty foot easement across Appellants' respective properties, and that Appellants had improperly encroached upon such right-of-way. The Appellants timely appealed to this Court. We vacate the Judgment and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


Appellants are the owners of real property located in a subdivision platted as Kellogg's Fourth Addition, Post Falls, Kootenai County, Idaho. The properties owned by both the Lunas and the Churches were previously owned by Harold and Mabel Hodges. In 1956, the Hodges granted Pacific Northwest Pipeline Corporation (Northwest's predecessor-in-interest) the "right to select the route for and construct, maintain, inspect, operate, protect, repair, replace, alter or remove a pipeline or pipelines for the transportation of oil, gas, or the products thereof," together with "the right of ingress and egress to and from said line or lines." The Grantors retained the right to use and enjoy the property, but agreed "not to build, create or construct or permit to be built, created or constructed any obstruction, building, engineering works, or other structures over or that would interfere with said pipeline or lines or Grantee's rights hereunder." However, the language of the grant does not set the width of the easement.

The Lunas own Lot 4 of Kellogg's Fourth Addition, which is bordered by Kellogg Avenue on the eastern side. The Churches own Lot 10 of Kellogg's Fourth Addition, which is bordered by Kellogg Avenue on the western side. The easement at issue runs along the northern border of both properties.

Elizabeth (Snyder) Church purchased the property, now shared with her husband, in 1995. At the time of the purchase, two blue spruce trees existed on the Churches' property, which now stand twenty feet tall, with trunks approximately five feet from the pipeline. Northwest did not demand removal of the trees until June 2005. A chain link fence that runs almost directly over the pipeline was also in place. In 1999, the Churches constructed a detached metal shop in the back yard that is approximately fourteen feet and six inches from the pipeline. Northwest almost immediately contested the construction. In March 2006, the Churches constructed a lean-to attached to the shop. The support posts for the lean-to are set in concrete and stand approximately four feet from the pipeline. The southernmost edge of the lean-to roof is approximately fourteen and one-half feet from the pipeline and the northernmost edge of the roof is approximately four feet from the pipeline. Northwest objected to the construction by letter dated March 7, 2006.

The Lunas purchased their property in January 2005. A chain link fence that runs almost directly over the pipeline was in place at the time of their purchase. The northern wall of the Lunas' house is thirteen and one-half feet from the pipeline. In 2005, the Lunas built a detached garage with support posts set in concrete. The northern wall of the garage is approximately six and one-half feet from the pipeline. The roof overhang of the garage is approximately four feet and eight inches from the pipeline.

A high pressure natural gas pipeline was installed by Northwest's predecessor-in-interest in 1957. Northwest came into existence in 1974, acquiring the property interests of Pacific Northwest Pipeline Corporation at that time. Northwest is an interstate natural gas company, and is thus regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and by the United States Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (Department of Transportation). Northwest has internal operating policies and procedures implemented in accordance with the Department of Transportation's Code of Federal Regulations (49 CFR Parts 190.1-199). In 2002, the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act was enacted, which, among other things, requires pipeline companies to implement a Pipeline Integrity Management Program. According to Tom Grant, a Northwest District Manager, this program means increased inspections, including the use of in-line inspections.

Northwest filed its Complaint for Declaratory Judgment, Ejectment, and Quiet Title on April 24, 2006. Appellants contested Northwest's claim regarding the easement width and, in addition, asserted that the easement was partially or wholly extinguished by virtue of the placement of the encroachments. A court trial on all issues was conducted before the court, on August 20-23, 2007, and September 10-12, 2007. In its findings of fact and conclusion of law entered on November 23, 2007, the court quieted title in Northwest to a twenty-foot-wide easement over and across the northern boundaries of Appellants' properties, ruled that various trees and improvements encroached upon Northwest's easement, and made provision for the removal or amelioration of such encroachments. The court denied Appellants' claims that the encroachments had the affect of partially or wholly extinguishing the easement. Appellants moved for reconsideration, which was declined by the court. The court entered its final judgment on May 16, 2008, from which Appellants timely appealed.


A. Standard of Review

"A trial court's findings of fact will not be set aside on appeal unless they are clearly erroneous." Farr West Inv. v. Topaz Mktg. L.P., 148 Idaho 272, 275, 220 P.3d 1091, 1094 (2009). This Court will not substitute its view of the facts for that of the trial court when deciding whether findings of fact are clearly erroneous. Id. Instead, it is the province of the trial court to weigh conflicting evidence and to judge the credibility of witnesses. Argosy Trust v. Wininger, 141 Idaho 570, 572, 114 P.3d 128, 130 (2005). Therefore, on appeal this Court will examine the record to see if challenged findings of fact are supported by substantial and competent evidence. ...

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