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H.F.L.P., LLC v. City of Twin Falls

Supreme Court of Idaho

December 8, 2014

H.F.L.P., LLC, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
THE CITY OF TWIN FALLS, Defendant-Respondent

2014 Opinion No. 130.

Page 558

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 559

Appeal from the District Court of the Fifth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Twin Falls County. Hon. G. Richard Bevan, District Judge.

District court decision regarding easement, affirmed.

Steven A. Wuthrich, PA, Montepelier, argued for appellant.

Wonderlich & Wakefield, Twin Falls, for respondent. Fritz A. Wonderlich argued.

BURDICK, Chief Justice. Justices EISMANN, J. JONES, HORTON and WALTERS, J., Pro tem, CONCUR.

OPINION

Page 560

[157 Idaho 675] BURDICK, Chief Justice

This appeal arises from the Twin Falls County district court's decisions regarding the existence of an easement over property the City of Twin Falls (" the City" ) owns in the Snake River Canyon. At trial, H.F.L.P., LLC, (" H.F.L.P." ) claimed it had a prescriptive easement and an easement by necessity over the property, but the district court ultimately entered judgment in favor of the City. H.F.L.P. argues on appeal that the district

Page 561

[157 Idaho 676] court: (1) did not have subject matter jurisdiction over the case; (2) erred when it held that H.F.L.P. failed to prove a prescriptive easement and an easement by necessity; and (3) erred when it admitted photographic overlays over H.F.L.P.'s objections at trial. We affirm.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This case involves a proposed easement over a rough, relatively unimproved, single-vehicle dirt road that travels over property the City owns in the Snake River Canyon, south of the Snake River. H.F.L.P. owns three parcels in the Snake River Canyon, west of Rock Creek: " Harmsen Parcel 1," " Harmsen Parcel 2," and " Harmsen Parcel 3." [1] The City owns roughly twenty-seven parcels in the Snake River Canyon, beginning at the waste water treatment plant (" treatment plant" ) east of Rock Creek, and extending west of Rock Creek, just west of " Harmsen Parcel 2."

The road begins at the treatment plant and runs west/northwest, parallel to the Snake River and across property now owned almost entirely by the City. That property was previously owned by either the BLM, several unidentified owners, Carl Urie, Carl Urie's father and uncles, or several other of H.F.L.P.'s predecessors. Once the road reaches Rock Creek, it crosses the Rock Creek Bridge and travels across " Harmsen Parcel 3," through a parcel the City owns, to " Harmsen Parcel 2." The entire road is approximately five miles long. H.F.L.P. seeks to establish an easement over the length of the road because it owns property west of Rock Creek Bridge that is landlocked and useless without an easement; the Snake River borders H.F.L.P.'s land to the north, and canyon cliffs border the south and west.

H.F.L.P. acquired its parcels following a series of conveyances that trace back to Carl Urie and his siblings. Carl Urie's father owned property south of the Snake River and west of Rock Creek beginning in about the 1930's. Carl moved onto the property with his family in 1946, when he was two years old. The Uries had a trout farm on part of their property around the 1950's, and then a cattle business up to 1976. They also grew corn for silage on the property, although it is unclear which lot(s) were used for these activities. The Uries apparently used the road involved in this lawsuit as their exclusive access to their property.

At times, other people protested the Uries' right to use the road, but the Uries would talk them out of it, insisting they had to use the road and were allowed to do so. However, at trial it was unclear as to which part of the road was involved or which land owners participated in those conversations. At one point in the 1960's after the City took over the treatment plant, the Uries encountered a gate--which was on the southeast part of the treatment plant property--and they attempted to dismantle it. Thereafter, a man from the treatment plant stopped the Uries from dismantling the gate and provided them with a key to the gate. The Uries and their successors have had a key ever since then.

The Uries sold " Harmsen Parcel 1," " Harmsen Parcel 2," and " Harmsen Parcel 3" to Northern Hydro around 1992, and H.F.L.P. is a successor of Northern Hydro. Stephen Harmsen has an interest in H.F.L.P. and also had an interest in Northern Hydro. Harmsen and his employees used the subject road monthly, primarily for recreational purposes, ever since Northern Hydro acquired its properties from the Uries, but it is unclear which parts of which properties have been used. Harmsen has never been denied access to the road, and the City gave him keys when it put up a new gate at the treatment plant. At some point, Harmsen attempted to get a permit to start construction on H.F.L.P.'s property, but was informed he could not obtain a permit without a recorded easement due to the property's landlocked nature. Harmsen subsequently requested an easement over the City's properties, which the City refused.

Consequently, H.F.L.P. filed a complaint with the district court on October 27, 2011, seeking a declaration of easement over the City's properties east of Rock Creek. In

Page 562

[157 Idaho 677] that complaint, H.F.L.P. sought an easement by necessity, and, alternatively, a prescriptive easement. At trial however, H.F.L.P. conceded it could not prove unity of title with respect to the property east of Rock Creek, and as such, was no longer seeking an easement by necessity over that land. Instead, H.F.L.P. sought an easement by prescription over the land east of Rock Creek and an easement by necessity over land the City owns west of Rock Creek between " Harmsen Parcel 3" and " Harmsen Parcel 2." H.F.L.P. also pled a twenty-year statutory period for its prescriptive easement claim, but subsequently submitted a pre-trial memorandum asserting ...


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