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McVicars v. Christensen

Supreme Court of Idaho

February 19, 2014

JOHN M. MCVICARS and JULIE MC VICARS, husband and wife, Plaintiffs-Respondents,
v.
BRET CHRISTENSEN and EDDIEKA B. CHRISTENSEN, husband and wife, and BAR DOUBLE DOT QUARTER HORSES, LLC, an Idaho limited liability company, Defendants-Appellants.

2014 Opinion No. 22

SUBSTITUTE OPINION THE OPINION OF THE COURT ISSUED DECEMBER 27, 2013 IS HEREBY WITHDRAWN.

Appeal from the District Court of the Second Judicial District, State of Idaho, Nez Perce County. Hon. Carl B. Kerrick, District Judge

District court judgment declaring a nuisance, vacated and remanded for further proceedings.

Charles A. Brown, Lewiston, argued for appellants.

Landeck & Forseth, Moscow, for respondent. Ronald J. Landeck argued.

BURDICK, Chief Justice

This appeal arises from a Nez Perce County district court's finding that Bret and Eddieka Christensen's building constituted a private nuisance to John and Julie McVicars. In 2006, the Christensens began construction of a fabric building adjacent to the property line shared with the McVicarses. After its completion, the McVicarses filed a nuisance action alleging that increased noise, traffic, and dust diminished the value of their property and interfered with the enjoyment of their property. After a bench trial, the district court ruled that the Christensens' course of conduct unreasonably interfered with the McVicarses' enjoyment of their property and was therefore a private nuisance. Additionally, the district court found that there was no evidence to support the McVicarses' claim of public nuisance or the Christensens' unclean hands defense.

We hold that the district court erred to the extent that it considered the building's size and proximity to the McVicarses' property to constitute a nuisance.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The McVicarses purchased their property and built a home in Nez Perce County's Tammany Creek area in 1991. At that time, their five-acre property was bordered on the north and west, in an "L" shape, by property owned by Orie and Lisa Kaltenbaugh. The Kaltenbaughs engaged in various agricultural activities on their property, which included the pasturing of llamas and cattle. The Christensens purchased the Kaltenbaugh property in 2003 and conducted a horse operation on the land. In 2006, the Christensens obtained a siting permit and began construction of an indoor riding arena building on the southernmost portion of their property in close proximity to the McVicarses' property. The relationship between the McVicarses and Christensens deteriorated rapidly once the building was completed.

As described by the district court, the building at issue is referred to as a Coverall building and consists of a steel structure frame covered by a white fabric known as a membrane. The building is fully enclosed by the membrane and has dimensions of 120 feet wide by 260 feet long, giving the building 31, 200 square feet of floor space.[1] The height of the building was estimated to be between 42 and 50 feet at its peak. The Christensens built a gravel road parallel to the property line that served as the only access point for the fabric building.

On July 16, 2007, the McVicarses filed a complaint alleging that the fabric building was a private and public nuisance. The complaint alleged that odor, dust, and flies accumulated from the horse operation, and that noise and light from the fabric building interfered with the McVicarses' use of their property. As a remedy, the McVicarses sought money damages, the dismantling of the building, and a permanent injunction on the current uses of the building. The McVicarses filed an amended complaint on December 29, 2009, which elaborated upon the private nuisance claim, highlighting that the McVicarses sought redress of the Christensens' use of the building and not just the structural integrity of the building.

A six-day bench trial took place on non-consecutive days between August 30 and October 8, 2010. Evidence and testimony were presented regarding the safety and use of the fabric building and the impact on the McVicarses. Additionally, the Christensens and the McVicarses submitted written closing statements at the request of the district court.

The district court issued its Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order on February 8, 2011. In it, the district court found that the Christensens' course of conduct unreasonably interfered with the McVicarses' enjoyment of their property and was therefore a private nuisance. The district court also found that there was no evidence to support the McVicarses' claim of public nuisance or the Christensens' unclean hands defense. A final judgment was issued on February 28, 2011, which included a mandatory injunction requiring the Christensens to remove the fabric building from its current location and to fully abate the cumulative effect of noise, dust, traffic, lights, and odor that constituted the private nuisance.

In response to a motion by the Christensens, the district court issued a stay on the enforcement of the judgment until the appeals process had concluded. In a separate order, the district court denied motions from both parties for attorney fees and costs, finding that both parties prevailed in part and were ...


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