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Kirk v. Wescott

Supreme Court of Idaho

September 12, 2016

ANDREW and KIMBERLY KIRK, husband and wife, Plaintiffs-Appellants-Cross Respondents,
v.
ANN B. WESCOTT, f/k/a ANN B. MCELVEEN, Defendant-Respondent-Cross Appellant, and Does 1 through 20, Unknown Claimants in and to the Property described as Lots 7 and 7A Block 1 of Glassford Heights Subdivision, Blaine County, Idaho, Defendants.

         2016 Opinion No. 96

         Appeal from the District Court of the Fifth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Blaine County. Hon. Robert J. Elgee, District Judge.

         The judgment of the district court is reversed.

          Evans Keane LLP, Boise, for appellants. Jed W. Manwaring argued.

          Trout Law, PLLC, Boise, for respondent. Kim J. Trout argued.

          J. JONES, Chief Justice

         This appeal arises out of an action for quiet title filed by Appellants Andrew and Kimberly Kirk ("the Kirks") against Ann Wescott. The Kirks bought a plot of land in Blaine County, Idaho, referred to as Lot 7 of Block 1 of the Glassford Heights Subdivision ("Lot 7"). After purchasing Lot 7, the Kirks found out that Lot 8 of the subdivision had been granted an easement of access across the southeast corner of Lot 7. Wescott owns Lot 8. In 2012, the Kirks brought this action to quiet title, asking the court to terminate the easement encumbering their property.

         Both parties moved for summary judgment, asking the court to interpret the deed granting the easement. The district court granted partial summary judgment to Wescott, concluding that the easement was created and none of the events that would trigger its termination had occurred. The Kirks then filed two motions to amend the complaint, both of which the district court denied.

         After a bench trial, the district court dismissed the Kirks' action for quiet title. Wescott sought an award of attorney fees, which the district court also denied. On appeal, the Kirks challenge the district court's grant of partial summary judgment to Wescott and the court's denial of their motions to amend the complaint. Wescott cross-appealed, challenging the district court's denial of her motion for attorney fees. Wescott also seeks an award of attorney fees on appeal.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         In 1997, Leif Odmark owned Lots 7 and 8, which were undeveloped. Douglas and Charlotte Woodcock ("the Woodcocks") owned Lot 9, adjacent to the south side of Lot 8. Lot 7 is bordered on the east by Bench Road, which ends at the southeastern point of the lot. Neither Lot 8 nor Lot 9 has direct access to Bench Road. All three lots were bordered on the west by a strip of undeveloped land referred to as "Jones Lane, " which separated the lots from U.S. Highway 75. Lots 8 and 9 were bordered on the east by land owned by the United States Forest Service ("USFS"). Originally, Blaine County platted access to Lots 8 and 9 from U.S. Highway 75 through Jones Lane. However, this would have required building roads through established wetlands. In 1998, the Woodcocks filed a Special Use Application with USFS, seeking an easement on USFS property bordering the eastern side of Lots 8 and 9. The application proposed an easement to use a forest road along the east side of Lots 8 and 9 to access Bench Road. The application also proposed granting access to Lot 8, thereby eliminating the need to build an access way through the wetlands in Jones Lane.

         On April 4, 2000, while the Woodcocks' application was pending, Odmark sold Lot 8 to Wescott. The warranty deed stated that Odmark conveyed Lot 8 to Wescott "[t]ogether with a temporary Easement of Access described in the attached Exhibit 1." Exhibit 1 provided:

         105 Jones Lane

This Warranty Deed shall include a temporary 25 foot wide Easement of Access (See plat map - Exhibit 2) over the Southeast corner of Lot 7 of Block 1 of the Glassford Heights Sub for access to Lot 8 of the Glassford Heights Sub. When/if Blaine County and The United States Forest Service provide a permanent access across USFS Lands to Lot 8, the owner of Lot 8 shall Quitclaim the Easement of Access back to Lot 7 within 30 days of written receipt thereof.
This Easement of Access shall become "In Effect" only upon receipt by the owner (of Lot 8) of written denial by the USFS for the owner (of Lot 8) to access Lot 8 across USFS lands on the Eastside of the property line (of Lot 8) and beginning at Bench Road. This Easement of Access shall remain "In Effect" only until Blaine County agrees to allow access to Lot 8 from Jones Lane. The owner's [sic] of Lot 8 shall Quitclaim the Easement of Access back to Lot 7 within one year or upon completion of the driveway, whichever occurs first.

         On August 3, 2000, USFS granted an easement to the Woodcocks to use a forest road on the eastern side of Lots 8 and 9 to access Bench Road ("Woodcocks' USFS Easement"). The instrument provided that the "easement shall continue for as long as the property served is used for a single family residence, " and that "the Grantor shall review terms and conditions of this easement at the end of each 30-year period from the date of issuance." However, the instrument also provided an expiration date of 12/31/2029. A description of the easement was provided in an Exhibit A that was attached to the instrument, entitled "Property Description [of] A 33' Wide Easement to Access Lots 8 & 9. Glassford Heights Subdivision."

         Wescott and her former husband constructed a house on Lot 8 and originally used a dirt road running through Jones Lane to access the lot. In 2007, the then-owner of Lot 7 filed an application with Blaine County, asking the county to vacate Jones Lane. The County vacated Jones Lane, finding that allowing a right-of-way through the area could disrupt the wetlands and that the easement granted to the Woodcocks provided sufficient access to Lots 8 and 9.

         Later that year, Wescott applied for and received an easement from USFS to use the forest road on the east side of Lots 8 and 9 to access Bench Road ("Wescott's USFS Easement"). The instrument provided that "[t]his easement shall expire on 12/31/2036, " and "[a]t that time, if the Grantee still needs the road access to private property, the easement will be reissued for a period of 10 years." However, the instrument provided, further, "that the Grantor shall review the terms and conditions of this easement at the end of each 30-year period from the date of issuance, and may incorporate in the easement such new terms, conditions, and stipulations as existing and prospective conditions may warrant." Attached to the instrument as Exhibit A was a description of the easement-the same description attached to the Woodcocks' USFS Easement. Thereafter, Wescott constructed a driveway on Lot 8 exiting onto the forest road and has since used the forest road to access the property. Wescott has never used the deeded Easement of Access across Lot 7. In 2010, the Kirks bought Lot 7. The Kirks did not become aware of the Easement of Access until several months after they purchased the property.

         B. Procedural Background

         On August 3, 2012, the Kirks filed this action for quiet title against Wescott, seeking to terminate the Easement of Access. The Kirks alleged that Wescott was obligated to quitclaim the Easement of Access back to the owner of Lot 7 within 30 days of receiving the easement from USFS. The Kirks additionally alleged that Wescott was obligated to quitclaim the Easement of Access back to the owner of Lot 7 within one year of the easement being granted or upon completion of the driveway, whichever occurred first.

         Wescott filed an answer and moved for summary judgment, alleging that Wescott's USFS Easement is not "permanent" and did not trigger the requirement that she quitclaim the Easement of Access back to the owner of Lot 7. Additionally, Wescott alleged that the requirement that she quitclaim the Easement of Access back "within one year or upon completion of the driveway" could only be triggered by Blaine County allowing access to Lot 8 through Jones Lane, which could not occur as Blaine County had vacated Jones Lane in 2007. Overall, Wescott argued that the court should not terminate the Easement of Access because Lot 8 would be left landlocked if USFS failed to renew Wescott's USFS Easement. The Kirks filed a cross-motion for summary judgment, alleging that the Easement of Access was never in effect because Wescott had not received a written denial from the USFS and, even if it was in effect, the easement was to terminate within one year of its creation. The Kirks also alleged that Wescott abandoned the Easement of Access by failing to use it and by taking affirmative actions to acquire access to Lot 8 through alternative means.

         The district court heard argument on the parties' motions for summary judgment on March 31, 2014. As relevant to this appeal, the only evidence on the record were copies of the Easement of Access and Wescott's USFS Easement, affidavits from experts interpreting those documents, Wescott's deposition testimony, and evidence of Blaine County vacating Jones Lane. Neither party included extrinsic ...


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