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Alliance For Property Rights and Fiscal Responsibility v. City of Idaho Falls

September 7, 2012

ALLIANCE FOR PROPERTY RIGHTS AND FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY;
BRYON REED; CARL AND LINDA TAYLOR, HUSBAND AND WIFE;
HAROLD AND RITA CARLSON, HUSBAND AND WIFE;
JEFF AND JACKIE WALBOM, HUSBAND AND WIFE,
TED AND CAROL WHITEHEAD, HUSBAND AND WIFE;
ROBERT JOHNSON;
JIM AND PENNY DIXON, HUSBAND AND WIFE;
PAMELA LYON; WAYNE AND ANN JENSEN, HUSBAND AND WIFE; AND
ELMER AND SANDRA CHERRY, HUSBAND AND WIFE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF IDAHO FALLS, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, AND
IDAHO FALLS POWER, A DEPARTMENT OF THE CITY OF IDAHO FALLS,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: B. Lynn WinmillChief JudgeUnited States District Court

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

The Court has before it the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment (Dkts. 15, 18). The Court heard oral argument on August 20, 2012 and took the matter under advisement. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant summary judgment in plaintiffs' favor.

FACTS

Idaho Falls Power, which is a department of the City of Idaho Falls, plans to enhance its capacity to transmit electric power. Under this plan -- known as the "Idaho Falls Power North Loop Project" -- the City plans to build new transmission facilities north of the city and install new transmission lines on the east and west sides of the city. The planned route for the North Loop Project runs, in part, outside Idaho Falls' city limit and across properties owned by plaintiffs. Idaho Falls tried to purchase easements from the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs refused and contend that Idaho Falls has no authority to condemn property outside its city limits. This litigation ensued.

THE LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate where a party can show that, as to any claim or defense, "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). One of the principal purposes of the summary judgment "is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims . . . ." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). It is "not a disfavored procedural shortcut," but is instead the "principal tool[ ] by which factually insufficient claims or defenses [can] be isolated and prevented from going to trial with the attendant unwarranted consumption of public and private resources." Id. at 327. "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). There must be a genuine dispute as to any material fact -- a fact "that may affect the outcome of the case." Id. at 248.

The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and the Court must not make credibility findings. Id. at 255. Direct testimony of the non-movant must be believed, however implausible. Leslie v. Grupo ICA, 198 F.3d 1152, 1159 (9th Cir. 1999). On the other hand, the Court is not required to adopt unreasonable inferences from circumstantial evidence. McLaughlin v. Liu, 849 F.2d 1205, 1208 (9th Cir. 1988).

When cross-motions for summary judgment are filed, the Court must independently search the record for factual disputes. Fair Housing Council of Riverside County, Inc. v. Riverside Two, 249 F.3d 1132, 1136 (9th Cir. 2001). The filing of cross-motions for summary judgment -- where both parties essentially assert that there are no material factual disputes -- does not vitiate the court's responsibility to determine whether disputes as to material fact are present. Id.

The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute as to material fact. Devereaux v. Abbey, 263 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir. 2001) (en banc). To carry this burden, the moving party need not introduce any affirmative evidence (such as affidavits or deposition excerpts) but may simply point out the absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Fairbank v. Wunderman Cato Johnson, 212 F.3d 528, 532 (9th Cir. 2000).

This shifts the burden to the non-moving party to produce evidence sufficient to support a jury verdict in her favor. Id. at 256-57. The non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and show "by her affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file" that a genuine dispute of material fact exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324.

Only admissible evidence may be considered in ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Orr v. Bank of America, 285 F.3d 764, 773 (9th Cir.2002); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). In determining admissibility for summary judgment purposes, it is the contents of the evidence rather than its form that must be considered. Fraser v. Goodale, 342 F.3d 1032, 1036-37 (9th Cir. 2003). If the contents of the evidence could be presented in an admissible form at trial, those contents may be considered on summary judgment even if the evidence itself is hearsay. Id. (affirming consideration of hearsay contents of plaintiff's diary on summary judgment because at trial, plaintiff's testimony of contents would not be hearsay).

ANALYSIS

"Idaho has long recognized the proposition that a municipal corporation, as a creature of the state, possesses and exercises only those powers either expressly or impliedly granted to it." Caesar v. State, 610 P.2d 517, 520 (Idaho 1980). In keeping with this general proposition, municipalities cannot condemn lands outside their corporate limits unless the state legislature has delegated that power. See generally 11 McQuillin, Municipal Corporations § 32:15 (3d ed. 2012). Further, if the legislature has not expressly granted such powers to the municipality, any implied grant must be "clear and unmistakable." Id. Stated differently, if there is a "fair, reasonable, substantial doubt as to the existence of a power, the doubt must be resolved against the city." City of Grangeville v. Haskin, 777 P.2d 1208, 1211 (Idaho 1989) (citation omitted).

The City generally contends that three different parts of the Idaho code expressly or implicitly grant cities the right to condemn property outside their geographic limits:

(1) the eminent domain statutes; (2) the Revenue Bond Act; and (3) various other statutes generally relating to a city's authority to own and operate ...


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