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Ross v. Dorsey

Supreme Court of Idaho

June 20, 2013

ALAN G. ROSS, a single man; LARRY R. BROWN, a married man as to his sole and separate property; MICHAEL R. BROWN and NANCY B. MURPHY, husband and wife, Plaintiffs-Respondents,
v.
TOMMY A. DORSEY and ERIN T. DORSEY, husband and wife, Defendants-Appellants, and THE ESTATES OF F.M. HARKER and GLADYS L. HARKER; BANK OF THE CASCADES, dba FARMERS & MERCHANTS BANK, an Oregon corporation doing business in the State of Idaho; BANNER BANK, a Washington corporation doing business in the State of Idaho; and any and all other claimants in and to that common beach area being approximately 20 feet wide and 132.87 feet long and consisting of all that property lying between the shore of Priest Lake and the West boundary of Lot 1 Steamboat Bay Lots according to the Plat thereof as recorded on February 21, 1966, in the records of Bonner County, Idaho, Book 2 of Plats, Page 125, located in Government Lot 5, Section 27, Township 60 North, Range 4 West, Boise Meridian, Bonner County, Idaho, Defendants.

2013 Opinion No. 75

Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Bonner County. Hon. Steven C. Verby, District Judge.

The judgment of the district court is affirmed.

Finney Finney & Finney, PA, Sandpoint, for appellants. John A. Finney argued.

Featherston Law Firm, Chtd., Sandpoint, for respondents. Brent C. Featherston argued.

J. JONES, Justice.

This is a dispute over a strip of beachfront property adjacent to a Bonner County subdivision. The appellants, Tommy and Erin Dorsey, contend that the beachfront property was conveyed to them when they bought Lot 1, which is adjacent to the beach. The Respondents, who own the other lots in the subdivision, contend that the beachfront property was dedicated to the use and benefit of all eight lots in the subdivision. The district court agreed with Respondents, and held that the property was privately dedicated as an easement benefitting all of the subdivision lots. The Dorseys timely appealed and we affirm.

I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The Steamboat Bay Lots subdivision is located immediately east of Priest Lake in Bonner County. On February 17, 1966, F.M. Harker and Gladys L. Harker filed a subdivision plat for Steamboat Bay Lots with Bonner County (the Plat). The Plat shows eight lots extending out horizontally in a straight line from the east side of the lake, with Lot One closest to the lake and Lot Eight farthest away. To the south of the lots is a private road, and to the west is the beach and then the lake. The property involved in this dispute is depicted on the Plat as a thin strip of land, approximately twenty feet in width, between the east side of the lake and the subdivision lots (the Buffer Strip). Although the Plat denotes the lot boundaries with solid lines, the northern and southern ends of the Buffer Strip are marked with dashed lines that extend from Lot 1 to the shoreline.

The Plat contains an "Owner's Certification, " which states:

KNOW ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS that F.M. HARKER and GLADYS L. HARKER, his wife, certify that they are the owners of the land embraced by the herein plat of STEAMBOAT BAY LOTS in Gov't Lot 5, Section 27, T60N, R4W, B.M., Bonner Co., Idaho and had the same platted into lots as shown on the herein plat, the boundaries of which are more specifically described as . . . . It is the intent of the Owners that lot 1 and the 20-foot private road as shown on the herein plat shall include the lands lying between the side lines produced to the mean-high-water-line of Priest Lake.
The use of the 20-foot Private Road as shown on the herein plat is hereby dedicated to the adjacent lot owners. Access to public road cannot be guaranteed.

The Board of Commissioners of Bonner County accepted and approved the Plat on February 21, 1966.

On the same day the Plat was approved, the Harkers conveyed Lot One to R.G. and Nitella Wright by warranty deed (the Deed). The Deed described the conveyance as follows:

Lot ONE (1) Steamboat Bay Lots, a platted sub-division of Government Lot Five in Section 27, Township 60 North, Range 4 West Boise Meridian.
It is specifically understood that the grantors reserve, as a common beach for all owners in said plat, that certain tract and beach lying between the mean high water line and the West boundary line of said Lot One. Said reserved beach being a tract approximately 20 feet wide between the waters of Priest Lake and the West boundary of the above described Lot One, and 132.87 feet in length.

In October of 1999, Lot One and Lot Two were conveyed by quitclaim deed to the Dorseys. That deed indicated the conveyance was subject to the "terms, provisions, covenants . . . and restrictions" contained in the Deed. Through a series of conveyances, the Respondents acquired the remaining lots in the subdivision—Larry Brown owns Lots Three and Four, Alan Ross owns Lots Five and Six, and Michael and Nancy Murphy own Lots Seven and Eight.

The Respondents filed their Complaint for Quiet Title on May 26, 2009, and later filed an Amended Complaint for Quiet Title on September 13, 2010.[1] In the amended complaint, the Respondents alleged that, "[t]he language of the Plat of Steamboat Bay Lots and [the Deed] have created a cloud on title as to right, title and ownership" of the Buffer Strip. They thus sought "a judgment of quiet title in and to the [Buffer Strip] area pursuant to Idaho Code, Title 6, Chapter 4 et seq. as against the [Dorseys] and [a determination] that said . . . area is appurtenant to the ownership of all the Steamboat Bay Lots." The Dorseys filed an Answer, Counterclaim, and Cross-Claim on July 14, 2009, and an Amended Answer and Counterclaim on December 16, 2010. In these, the Dorseys alleged:

There is no "Common Beach." The Plat language and the conveyances language does not create any right, title, claim, or interest in the Plaintiffs. All right, title, claim, and interest in the real estate at issue is owned by the DORSEYS, solely, not in common with other owners, third parties, or the Plaintiffs.

The Respondents moved for summary judgment, claiming that the "Dorseys held no fee title interest in the beachfront property, as it was specifically excluded from the initial conveyance from Harker to Wright, Dorsey's immediate predecessor in interest." The district court agreed and granted summary judgment as to that issue alone, and accordingly ruled that the "Dorseys hold no fee simple interest in the beachfront property."

A bench trial was held on June 27 and 28, 2011. At trial, when asked about the Deed and its reservation of the Buffer Strip, Ms. Wright testified that she initially had no knowledge of the reservation and that "I thinkā€”I don't remember if we talked to Harkers or not. You know it's 45 years ago. You kind of can't remember. I don't remember talking to them about it. I guess we just assumed that's the way it was." However, with respect to the Plat, a surveyor who examined the property testified that the north and south lines of Lot One "would extend . . . to the original high water" mark, i.e., through the Buffer Strip. Both the Dorseys and the Respondents testified at trial regarding their use of the Buffer Strip, and that testimony conflicted. For example, ...


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