Appeal from the District Court of the Second Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Idaho County. Hon. John H. Bradbury, District Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Horton, Justice
The district court's decree quieting title and judgment awarding attorney fees are vacated and the case is remanded for a determination of costs.
This is an appeal by Samuel Jr. and Laurie Schneider (Schneiders)*fn1 from the district court's decree quieting title to real property located near Stites, Idaho in favor of Vernon and Dorothy Kennedy (Kennedys) as adverse possessors. The Schneiders also appeal the district court's award of attorney fees to the Kennedys. The Kennedys seek an award of attorney fees incurred on appeal. As we find that there was not substantial, competent evidence to support the district court's findings, we vacate the district court's decree and its judgment awarding attorney fees to the Kennedys and deny the Kennedys' request for attorney fees on appeal.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
This action relates to property located west of the South Fork of the Clearwater River, approximately a mile and one-half downriver from the village of Stites. In 1924, Vernon Kennedy's great-uncle, William Massey, purchased property from Allen and Bertha Manes. Over the years, the land that William Massey purchased was transferred to members of his family, and it ultimately came to belong to the Kennedys. A drawing of the parcel attached to the 1924 Manes-Massey deed led to an erroneous belief in the Kennedy family as to extent of the land that they owned. When the Kennedys decided to place their property up for sale, they became aware that three parcels of the property that they believed had been owned by their family for generations were the subject of deeds in favor of other parties.
On July 11, 2007, the Kennedys initiated this quiet title action, asserting ownership of the three parcels of land as adverse possessors under a written claim of title. Default judgment in favor of the Kennedys was entered against the titleholders of record as to two of the parcels. The Schneiders answered and defended the Kennedys' claim as to the third parcel.
Following a one-day court trial, on June 23, 2009, the district court issued a memorandum decision finding that the Kennedys had proved the elements of their claim of adverse possession under a written claim of title by clear and satisfactory evidence. The court found that Vernon Kennedy had possessed the property since 1988, that there was a written instrument "sufficient to create color of title" in favor of the Kennedys, that the property had been exclusively used by the Kennedys and their predecessors, that the possession had been continuous, and, most significantly to this appeal, that both the Kennedys and the Schneiders had paid taxes on the property. The district court then applied the rule announced by this Court in Trappett v. Davis, 102 Idaho 527, 534, 633 P.2d 592, 599 (1981), that "when both the record owner and the adverse occupant pay taxes on the disputed property during the adverse possession period, the adverse possessor prevails." Thereafter, on July 15, 2009, the district court entered a decree quieting title in the disputed property in favor of the Kennedys.
On August 6, 2009, the district court received oral argument on the Kennedys' request for an award of attorney fees and indicated its intention to award attorney fees to them. On August 28, 2009, the district court issued a memorandum opinion in which it concluded that the Schneiders had frivolously defended the action, thus warranting an award of attorney fees to the Kennedys pursuant to I.C. § 12-121. The district court awarded the Kennedys $6,137.50 in attorney fees.*fn2 The Schneiders timely appealed from the decree quieting title and the order awarding attorney fees to the Kennedys.
Our standard of review is well-established. Findings of fact will not be set aside on appeal unless they are clearly erroneous. Chen v. Conway, 121 Idaho 1000, 1004, 829 P.2d 1349, 1353 (1992) (citing I.R.C.P. 52(a)). Where findings of fact are supported by substantial and competent, though conflicting, evidence, they are not clearly erroneous and thus will not be disturbed by this Court. Hodgins v. Sales, 139 Idaho 225, 229, 76 P.3d 969, 973 (2003). This Court exercises free review over the district court's conclusions of law to determine whether the court correctly stated the applicable law and whether the legal conclusions are sustained by the facts found. Conley v. Whittlesey, 133 Idaho 265, 269, 985 P.2d 1127, 1131 (1999).
The Schneiders present a narrow challenge to the district court's determination that the Kennedys established their claim of adverse possession. The Schneiders assert that the district court's finding that the Kennedys paid taxes on the disputed property is clearly erroneous.
Consequently, they argue, the district court erred in its conclusion that the Kennedys proved the elements of adverse possession. Working from these premises, they assert that the district court abused its discretion by awarding attorney fees to the Kennedys.
A. The district court's finding that the Kennedys paid taxes on the disputed parcel is clearly erroneous, as it failed to acknowledge that tax parcels in Idaho County ...