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Guzman v. Piercy

Supreme Court of Idaho, Boise

February 7, 2014

Luis Jesus GUZMAN, individually, Plaintiff-Defendant-Respondent,
v.
Dale PIERCY, individually, Defendant-Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Canyon County, Defendant-Respondent, and Jennifer L. Sutton, individually, Defendant-Respondent.

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Saetrum Law Offices, Boise, attorneys for appellant, Rodney R. Saetrum argued.

Chasan & Walton, LLC, Boise, attorneys for respondent Guzman, Andrew M. Chasan argued.

Elam & Burke, PA, Boise, attorneys for respondent Sutton, Joshua S. Evett argued.

Canyon County Prosecuting Attorney, Caldwell, attorney for respondent Canyon County, Zachary J. Wesley argued.

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SCHROEDER, J. pro tem.

I.

NATURE OF THE CASE

Dale Piercy appeals the district court's dismissal of his amended action for declaratory relief, which challenged the validity of a herd district ordinance enacted in 1982 by the Canyon County Commissioners. The district court dismissed Piercy's claim on the basis that it was barred by a seven-year statute of limitations or, in the alternative, a four-year statute of limitations. Piercy challenges the application of both statutes and maintains that Respondents Jennifer Sutton, Luis Guzman, and Canyon County waived any statute of limitations defense.

II.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In March 2005, Piercy pastured several bulls in a field south of Parma, Idaho. One of his bulls escaped the pasture. On April 20, 2005, Sutton struck one of the bulls while driving her vehicle on Wamstad Road. Sutton's passengers Erika Rivera [1] and Luis Guzman were injured in the collision.

On May 4, 2005, Guzman filed a negligence action against Piercy. Subsequently, Guzman filed an amended complaint adding Sutton as a co-defendant. Among other defenses, Piercy claimed he was " entitled to the protection of Idaho's Open Range statutes and immunities," including I.C. § 25-2118, which grants the owner of any domestic animal immunity from a negligence action arising from the animal's lawful presence on a highway.

On May 1, 2007, Piercy filed a motion for summary judgment. He challenged the validity of an ordinance passed by the Canyon County Commissioners on December 10, 1982, which established a herd district in the area where the bull was pastured. If valid, the existence of the herd district would deprive Piercy of the immunity under the open range statute, I.C. § 25-2118. Piercy argued that the herd district ordinance was invalid because the Canyon County Commissioners failed to follow the procedures required by I.C. §§ 25-2402 to -2404 to enact a lawful herd district ordinance.

Sutton and Guzman opposed Piercy's motion for summary judgment. Guzman maintained that the herd ordinance was presumed valid under I.C. § 31-857, which establishes a presumption of validity for all proceedings and jurisdictional steps in enacting a herd district after two years from the date of the ordinance. Guzman also argued that the doctrine of quasi estoppel barred Piercy from challenging the validity of the herd district ordinance. Sutton maintained that the district court should order Piercy to join Canyon County before rendering a decision, thereby allowing Canyon County to defend its ordinance. Sutton also argued that the doctrine of estoppel by laches precluded Piercy's challenge of the herd district ordinance.

On October 9, 2007, the district court denied Piercy's motion for summary judgment, because Piercy " failed to overcome the presumption of validity of the herd districts because genuine issues of material fact exist." The district court agreed with Sutton and ordered Sutton to join Canyon County as a third-party defendant, determining that Canyon County " needs to be a part of this litigation for the limited purpose of fully developing the validity of herd districts in the area Piercy's bull escaped and in the area where the collision with the bull took place." Sutton filed an action for declaratory judgment pursuant to I.C. § 10-1201 and I.C. § 10-1202 and joined Canyon County in the action. Subsequently, the district court denied Guzman's assertion of quasi estoppel and Sutton's assertion of the doctrine of laches.

Prior to the trial the parties stipulated to amend pleadings and scheduling " to simplify the procedural posture of the case and to have the pleadings accurately reflect the positions of the different parties." In the stipulation the parties made numerous requests, including a request that Piercy be recognized

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as the plaintiff and Sutton, Guzman, and Canyon County as the defendants. They also asked the district court to allow Piercy to file an amended action for declaratory relief. The parties requested that Respondents " may Answer the Amended Action for Declaratory Relief filed by Mr. Piercy as provided for in the Idaho Rules of Civil Procedure." Finally, the parties requested that Respondents " waive any defenses they may have regarding the timing of the filing of Mr. Piercy's Amended Action for Declaratory Relief." The district court granted the parties' requests.

On September 11, 2008, Piercy filed his amended action for declaratory relief, asking the district court to declare the herd district ordinance invalid. Guzman's and Sutton's answers included a statutes of limitations defense based on I.C. § 5-224, and Guzman again raised the doctrine of equitable estoppel and doctrine of estoppel by laches as affirmative defenses. Sutton again raised estoppel by laches, estoppel by waiver, and equitable estoppel. Canyon County's answer asserted that I.C. § 31-857, which establishes the two-year presumption of validity, " in effect, created a limited statute of limitations." In Guzman's and Sutton's post-trial briefs, they also argued that the statutes of limitations in I.C. § 5-224 barred Piercy's declaratory action to challenge the herd district ordinance.

The district court issued an order on January 21, 2009, determining that the herd district ordinance was invalid for failing to comply with the statutory procedures in I.C. §§ 25-2401 to -2404. Thus, the district court held neither Guzman nor Sutton " may rely upon the existence of a herd district at the location of their involvement in a collision" with the bull. The district court did not address the statute of limitations issue.

On May 5, 2009, Piercy filed a second motion for summary judgment, arguing that the district court should dismiss Guzman's negligence action because Piercy owed no duty to Guzman based on the district court's order in the declaratory action that the bull was pastured in an open range area. Guzman and Sutton opposed the motion and moved for reconsideration of the district court's order in the declaratory action. They asked the district court to reconsider the application of the statute of limitations in I.C. § 5-224.

On December 4, 2009, the district court granted Sutton's and Guzman's motions for reconsideration. Guzman and Sutton again asserted that the four-year statute of limitations in I.C. § 5-224 barred Piercy's declaratory action challenging the herd district ordinance. They also contended that a recent amendment to I.C. § 31-857 applied retroactively to Piercy's declaratory action. That amendment, enacted on March 23, 2009, and effective on July 1, 2009, added a seven-year statute of limitations to the existing two-year presumption of validity in I.C. § 31-857. Specifically, the amendment stated: " No challenge to the proceedings or jurisdictional steps preceding such an order, shall be heard or considered after seven (7) years has lapsed from the date of the order." I.C. § 31-857. Piercy responded that Guzman and Sutton waived any statute of limitations defense, that I.C. § 31-857 did not apply retroactively to his action, and that the statute violated his procedural and substantive due process rights.

The district court denied Guzman and Sutton's quasi estoppel and estoppel by laches defenses. However, the district court held that I.C. § 31-857 applied retroactively to bar Piercy's declaratory action challenging the herd district ordinance. In the alternative, the district court held that the statute of limitations in I.C. § 5-224 applied to Piercy's declaratory action. In addition, the district court determined Piercy's constitutional challenges to I.C. § 31-857 were " misguided." In conclusion, the district court vacated and reversed its finding that the herd district ordinance was invalid. The district court dismissed Piercy's declaratory action with prejudice and asked Sutton or Guzman to submit a proposed judgment.

Following a stipulation by the parties, the district court certified the dismissal of Piercy's declaratory action as a final judgment pursuant to Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure (IRCP) 54(b). Piercy filed a notice of appeal and Guzman and Sutton filed notices of cross-appeal. Canyon County did not cross-

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appeal. Sutton waived her cross-appeal in her brief before this Court.[2]

III.

ISSUES ON APPEAL

1. Whether Respondents waived a statute of limitations defense to Piercy's declaratory action challenging the validity of the herd district ordinance.
2. Whether the statute of limitations in I.C. § 31-857 or I.C. § 5-224 bar Piercy's declaratory action challenging the validity of the herd district ordinance.
3. Whether the Court should correct a statement in the district court's order dismissing Piercy's declaratory action.

IV.

STANDARD OF REVIEW


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