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Twin v. Warren Choules An Individual

May 27, 2011

TWIN LAKES CANAL COMPANY, AN IDAHO CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
WARREN CHOULES AN INDIVIDUAL, AND SESSILEE J. CHOULES, AS TRUSTEES OF THE CHOULES FAMILY TRUST. DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



Appeal from the District Court of the Sixth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Franklin County. Hon. Mitchell W. Brown, District Judge. District court order dismissing preliminary injunction and damages, affirmed.

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

2011 Opinion No. 66

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

At issue in this case is the interpretation of I.C. § 5-246, which provides for obtaining prescriptive overflow easements. Appellant Twin Lakes Canal Company (Twin Lakes) owns and operates Twin Lakes Reservoir. Respondents Warren Choules and Sessilee J. Choules, Trustee of the Choules Family Trust, (the Choules) own property subject to a prescriptive overflow easement obtained by Twin Lakes under I.C. § 5-246 for the Twin Lakes Reservoir. On July 23, 2008, Twin Lakes filed suit against the Choules, alleging that the Choules moved earth, rocks, concrete and other debris from elsewhere on their property to areas below the height of the reservoir, which has reduced the reservoir's storage space and may have damaged the clay lining that Twin Lakes installed to plug a leak in the reservoir. The district court determined that I.C. § 5-246 permits the Choules, as owners of servient property, to use their property in any manner consistent with ownership, despite the common law rule that generally prohibits servient property owners from using the property in any manner which unreasonably interferes with the dominant estate. Accordingly, the district court dismissed Twin Lakes' counts for preliminary injunction and damages.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Twin Lakes is an Idaho Corporation that provides irrigation water to its shareholders. Twin Lakes owns and operates the Twin Lakes Canal and the Twin Lakes Reservoir, which are located in Franklin County, and Twin Lakes delivers water to approximately 25,000 acres for irrigation purposes. The Choules own real property, a portion of which is adjacent to Twin Lakes Reservoir and a portion of which overlaps with the Twin Lakes Reservoir (the Choules Property). The Twin Lakes Canal crosses the Choules Property.

The Choules sued Twin Lakes in 2004 in Franklin County Case No. CV-04-241 for various causes of action, including causes of action related to Twin Lakes' storage of water on the Choules Property and for damages relating to Twin Lakes' removal of a fence in the Twin Lakes Canal. The jury found that Twin Lakes possessed a prescriptive overflow easement to fill the Twin Lakes Reservoir to a gauge height of 75.2 on the Choules Property.

On July 28, 2008, Twin Lakes filed the Complaint, initiating this lawsuit. On August 26, 2008, Twin Lakes filed the Amended and Verified Complaint. The Amended and Verified Complaint alleges that Twin Lakes holds a prescriptive overflow easement for the Twin Lakes Reservoir and an easement to use and maintain the Twin Lakes Canal and that both the reservoir and canal are necessary for Twin Lakes to deliver irrigation water to its shareholders. Twin Lakes further alleges that at some point prior to November 2007 the Choules began using heavy equipment to move earth, rocks, concrete and other debris from areas on the Choules Property above the 75.2 gauge height to areas below the 75.2 gauge height, which: (1) reduced the volume of water storage space in the Twin Lakes Reservoir; and (2) damaged a clay lining that Twin Lakes previously installed to plug a leak in the Twin Lakes Reservoir. Twin Lakes alleges that the Choules also performed work on the Choules Property directly below the Twin Lakes Canal, which removed support material and substantially increased the risk of a canal washout. Twin Lakes also alleges that the Choules continued to perform such work and cause additional damage despite Twin Lakes' efforts to advise the Choules that their conduct infringed upon Twin Lakes' easements and despite Twin Lakes' reasonable requests that the Choules cease such work.

In the Amended and Verified Complaint, Twin Lakes seeks: (1) condemnation of the Choules Property pursuant to I.C. §§ 7-701 to -721; (2) a preliminary injunction preventing the Choules from performing earthmoving work that interferes with Twin Lakes' reservoir and canal easements during the pendency of the condemnation action; and (3) damages caused to the reservoir and the canal in an amount to be proven at trial. At a hearing on the preliminary injunction held on August 14, 2008, the Choules argued, with respect to the prescriptive overflow easement for the Twin Lakes Reservoir, that I.C. § 5-246 permits the Choules to use their property in any manner otherwise consistent with ownership, despite any impact their use may have on the reservoir, and the Choules argued that their actions are consistent with ownership. At the hearing, the district court requested that the parties submit briefs regarding I.C. § 5-246. The district court entered a Temporary Restraining Order enjoining the Choules from engaging in any further equipment work on the property until further court order. On September 5, 2008, the Choules moved to dismiss Twin Lakes' claims for preliminary injunction and damages. The district court heard oral argument on the motion on February 12, 2009. On March 23, 2009, the district court issued its Memorandum Decision and Order. The district court denied the motion to dismiss the preliminary injunction and damages with respect to the Twin Lakes Canal; however, the district court dismissed Twin Lakes' claims for preliminary injunction and damages with respect to the prescriptive overflow easement for Twin Lakes Reservoir, holding that I.C. § 5-246 clearly and unambiguously permits servient landowners to act in any way consistent with the ownership of their property and that the pleadings fail to establish that the Choules acted inconsistently with the ownership of the Choules Property. The district court vacated the portion of the Temporary Restraining Order prohibiting the Choules from using construction equipment on the reservoir and ordered that the portion prohibiting the Choules from using construction equipment on the canal system remain in effect.

Subsequently, the parties submitted a Stipulation for Certification Pursuant to I.R.C.P. 54(b). The district court certified its Memorandum Decision and Order regarding the interpretation of I.C. § 5-246 to be final and appealable. Twin Lakes appealed to this Court.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The district court dismissed Twin Lakes' claims for preliminary injunction and damages with respect to the reservoir pursuant to I.R.C.P 12(b)(6).

When we review an order of the district court dismissing a case pursuant to I.R.C.P. 12(b)(6), the non-moving party is entitled to have all inferences from the record viewed in his favor. After drawing all inferences in the non-moving party's favor, we then ask whether a claim for relief has been stated. The issue is not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail, but whether the party is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.

Orthman v. Idaho Power Co., 126 Idaho 960, 962, 895 P.2d 561, 563 (1995) (citation and quotation omitted).

The district court dismissed Twin Lakes' claims based on its interpretation of I.C. § 5- 246. "This Court freely reviews the construction of a statute." BHC Intermountain Hosp., Inc. v. Ada Cnty., 150 Idaho 93, , 244 P.3d 237, 239 (2010).

The statute is viewed as a whole, and the analysis begins with the language of the statute, which is given its plain, usual and ordinary meaning. In determining the ordinary meaning of the statute, effect must be given to all the words of the statute if possible, so that none will be void, superfluous, or redundant. However, if the language of the statute is capable of more than one reasonable construction it is ambiguous, and a statute that is ambiguous must be construed with legislative intent in mind, which is ascertained by examining not only the literal words of the statute, but the reasonableness of the proposed interpretations, the policy behind the statute, and its legislative history.

Id. (citations omitted).

III. ANALYSIS

A. Pursuant to the plain language of I.C. ยง 5-246, the servient landowner is permitted to use the property in any manner otherwise consistent with ownership and is not limited by the common law prohibition against uses that ...


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