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Martin Bettwieser v. New York Irrigation District and Directors Richard Murgoitio

February 22, 2013

MARTIN BETTWIESER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
NEW YORK IRRIGATION DISTRICT AND DIRECTORS RICHARD MURGOITIO, BRIAN MC DEVITT, PAUL WARRICK AND VELTA HARWOOD, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Patrick H. Owen, District Judge.

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

2013 Opinion No. 22

Stephen Kenyon, Clerk

The judgment of the district court is affirmed.

Martin Bettwieser, a pro se plaintiff, brought a breach of contract action against the New York Irrigation District and its directors (collectively, the District). Bettwieser alleged that the District breached an oral contract by not timely providing him with a legal opinion regarding whether he could be excluded from the irrigation district without paying statutory exclusion and filing fees. Following a bench trial, the district court issued findings of fact and conclusions of law, ruling that Bettwieser had failed to demonstrate that he was entitled to relief. Bettwieser appealed, again representing himself, alleging the district court made errors of fact and law during the trial and in its decisions regarding Bettwieser's pre- and post-trial motions. We affirm.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Bettwieser has resided within the boundaries of the New York Irrigation District since 1983, but he does not receive water from the District. On May 1, 2007, Bettwieser appeared before the irrigation district's board of directors to discuss the process for excluding his property from the irrigation district. Also attending that meeting were directors Richard Murgoitio, Brian McDevitt, and Paul Warrick; District Secretary/Treasurer Velta Harwood; and Kendal McDevitt, the District's legal counsel. The discussion related to the amounts owed by Bettwieser for irrigation water assessments and accrued interest, as well as the process and requirements for exclusion.

Bettwieser alleges that he and the District entered into an oral agreement at that meeting wherein the District agreed to provide him with a legal opinion, within one week, regarding whether he was required to pay the statutory filing and exclusion fees to have his property excluded. In exchange, Bettwieser alleges he agreed to pay all outstanding assessments and fees at a reduced rate. The other parties present at the meeting testified that no agreement of that nature was reached. According to their testimony, Brian McDevitt agreed to personally pay the accrued interest on Bettwieser's account if he paid the outstanding balance. Separate from that exchange, according to Brian McDevitt's testimony, the District informed Bettwieser that it would have its counsel render an opinion with respect to the exclusion process. Kendal McDevitt later provided the District with a letter outlining his research on the issue.

The directors elected not to send a copy of McDevitt's letter to Bettwieser. Instead, on June 12, 2007, at the directors' request, Harwood sent Bettwieser an application form for exclusion from the District along with a letter explaining that the District would only consider his request if he completed the form and returned it with the filing fee and exclusion fee. Bettwieser did not return the form or submit a petition for exclusion that was accompanied by the filing and exclusion fees.

On June 19, 2007, Bettwieser filed an action against the District for breach of contract, in which he requested various forms of relief. The action was tried to the district court without a jury, after which the district court entered its findings of fact and conclusions of law. The court determined that Bettwieser was not entitled to any of the relief he requested and entered judgment in favor of the District. The court also directed counsel for the District to prepare a memorandum of costs. After Bettwieser objected to the memorandum of costs, the district court held a hearing on the matter, which Bettwieser did not attend. On March 3, 2009, the district court entered an amended judgment in the District's favor and awarded costs to the District. Bettwieser timely appealed.

II. ISSUES ON APPEAL

1. Whether the district court's findings of fact and conclusions of law were supported by substantial evidence.

2. Whether the district court erred in failing to consider the issues as Bettwieser raised them in his written closing argument.

3. Whether the directors of the New York Irrigation District are legally elected directors.

4. Whether the district court properly denied Bettwieser's motion to disqualify counsel.

5. Whether the interest rate provisions found in Idaho Code §§ 43-708 and 43-712 are contradictory.

6. Whether Idaho Code § 43-1107 permits the District to waive exclusion fees prior to receiving an exclusion petition.

7. Whether the District's exclusion petition form properly informs petitioners of their rights.

8. Whether the District and its directors breached an oral agreement with Bettwieser.

9. Whether the District's petition form must be used by all petitioners.

10. Whether the district court failed to hear and rule on all of Bettwieser's pre-trial motions.

11. Whether the district court properly awarded costs to the District.

12. Whether the district court's processes are sufficient to adjudicate complaints and appeals.

13. Whether the district court erred in its rulings on post-trial matters.

14. Whether the district court erred in excluding Bettwieser's exhibits 11 and 19.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When this Court reviews a trial court's findings of fact and conclusions of law after a bench trial, the review is "limited to ascertaining whether the evidence supports the findings of fact, and whether the findings of fact support the conclusions of law. Borah v. McCandless, 147 Idaho 73, 77, 205 P.3d 1209, 1213 (2009) (citing Benninger v. Derifield, 142 Idaho 486, 488-89, 129 P.3d 1235, 1237-38 (2006)). Because "it is the province of the trial court to weigh conflicting evidence and testimony and to judge the credibility of the witnesses," this Court liberally construes the trial court's findings of fact in favor of the judgment. Id. (citing Rowley v. Fuhrman, 133 Idaho 105, 107, 982 P.2d 940, 942 (1999)). "This Court will not set aside a trial court's findings of fact unless the findings are clearly erroneous." Id. (citing Ransom v. Topaz Mktg., L.P., 143 Idaho 641, 643, 152 P.3d 2, 4 (2006); I.R.C.P. 52(a)). Therefore, if the trial court's findings are based upon "substantial evidence, even if the evidence is conflicting," those findings will not be overturned on appeal. Id. (citing Benninger, 142 Idaho at 489, 129 P.3d at 1238). Nor will this Court substitute its view of the facts for that of the trial court. Id. (citing Ransom, 143 Idaho at 643, 152 P.3d at 4). "This Court exercises free review over matters of law." Id. (citing Bolger v. Lance, 137 Idaho 792, 794, 53 P.3d 1211, 1213 (2002)).

When reviewing a trial court's discretionary decision, we determine "(1) whether the court perceived the issue as discretionary; (2) whether the court acted within the bounds of that discretion and applied the correct legal standards; and (3) whether the court reached its decision through an exercise of reason." Am. Pension Servs., Inc. v. Cornerstone Home Builders, LLC, 147 Idaho 638, 641, 213 P.3d ...


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