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Fletcher v. Lone Mountain Road Association

Supreme Court of Idaho

June 21, 2017

ROCKY W. FLETCHER and DELORES L. FLETCHER, husband and wife, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
LONE MOUNTAIN ROAD ASSOCIATION, an Idaho Unincorporated Non-Profit Association; ALAN K. SIMS, individually; EDWARD J. SITAR, an individual; LOU ANN STAMP, an individual; EUGENE DEPAULIS, an individual; RICK M. PICCININI, an individual; KATHLEEN STONE, an individual; THOMAS D. VALENZUELA, an individual; DANIEL D. GREGG, an individual; ROY STULTS and JANE DOE STULTS, husband and wife; ANDREW J. PONDER and JANE DOE PONDER, husband and wife; ROBERT L. IMPERATRICE and JANE DOE IMPERATRICE, husband and wife, Defendants-Respondents, and OUGLAS B. GRANT and JANE DOE GRANT, husband and wife; CCM, LLC, an Idaho Limited Liability Company; BRIAN REED, an individual; LINDA D. SUTLIFF, an individual; RAWLAND L. AHLMAN, Trustee of the RAWLAND L. AHLMAN LIVING TRUST and CHERYL A. WILSON, Trustee of the NORMA A. AHLMAN MARITAL TRUST; JANET L. RICHMOND, an individual; GARY A. WILSON and JANE DOE WILSON, husband and wife; and JOHN K. MOATS and JANE DOE MOATS, husband and wife; and THE ESTATE OF RYAN C. WELLS, Defendants.

         2017 Opinion No. 71

         Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Kootenai County, Hon. Charles W. Hosack, Senior District Judge.

         The judgment of the district court is affirmed in part, reversed in part, and the case is remanded for entry of a judgment consistent with this opinion.

          James, Vernon & Weeks, P.A., Coeur d'Alene, for appellants. Susan P. Weeks argued.

          Ramsden, Marfice, Ealy & Harris, LLP, Coeur d'Alene, for respondents Sims and Ponders. Michael E. Ramsden argued.

          Owens, McCrea & Linscott, PLLC, Hayden, for respondents Lone Mountain Road Association, Valenzuela, Stults and Imperatrice.

          Witherspoon Kelley, Coeur d'Alene, for respondents Stamp and DePaulis.

          Edward Sitar, Athol, pro se respondent.

          Rick M. Piccinini, Athol, pro se respondent.

          Kathleen Stone, Athol, pro se respondent.

          Daniel Gregg, Athol, pro se respondent.

          HORTON, Justice.

         Rocky and Delores Fletcher ("the Fletchers") appeal from the judgment of the district court in Kootenai County. The Fletchers' action sought a declaratory judgment outlining the rights and responsibilities of property owners in the Twin Lakes Meadows Subdivision ("Subdivision") with respect to a private road known as Lone Mountain Road ("Subdivision Road" or "the Road"). The district court determined that the Subdivision's Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions ("CC&Rs") were ambiguous and contrary to Idaho easement law. After finding that the CC&Rs were ambiguous, the district court declared that all lot owners who used the Road had the right to make reasonable repairs to the Road. The Fletchers appeal, arguing that the district court erred when it found the CC&Rs to be ambiguous and that they should be strictly applied. The Fletchers also argue that the district court erred when it failed to declare that dust from the Road created an additional burden on their servient estate and by failing to declare that the Lone Mountain Road Association had no right to maintain the Road or to collect assessments. We affirm in part, reverse in part and remand for further action by the district court.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In 1981, S&S Drilling and Development Company ("S&S") owned and developed a parcel of property in Kootenai County that would become the Subdivision. S&S recorded the Subdivision CC&Rs on June 22, 1981. All lots located within the Subdivision are subject to the CC&Rs, which "shall run with the land and shall be perpetually binding upon [S&S] and its successors-in-interest and assigns, and all parties having or acquiring any right, title, or interest in or to any part of the Property."

         The Subdivision was platted in two phases and the district court referred to the separate platted parcels as "the Surveyed Property" and "the Eastern Property." When the CC&Rs were recorded, only the Surveyed Property had been platted. The Eastern Property was subsequently platted in 1983. The Surveyed Property comprises eighteen lots, eleven of which adjoin the Subdivision Road. The Eastern Property consists of eight lots which are all connected to the Road.

         The Subdivision Road was initially cleared, graded, and graveled by S&S but the CC&Rs provide that it is to be maintained by the lot owners. The Road runs to the east through the Subdivision from the intersection with Ramsey Road, a county road which runs north and south on the western boundary of the Subdivision. The right-of-way for the Subdivision Road is sixty feet wide. The parcels on the north and south sides of the Subdivision Road are each subject to express easements providing thirty foot strips of land for the Subdivision Road. The Road gives several Subdivision lot owners access to their parcels.

         The Subdivision Road originally extended through the Surveyed Property. In 1987, the Road was extended into the Eastern Property, where it comes to a dead end.

         The Fletchers purchased Lot 4 in the Surveyed Property in 1981. The Fletchers' lot is located on the north side of the intersection of the Subdivision Road and Ramsey Road. Although various associations for road maintenance have been formed over the years, none of the associations have been created in conformity with the provisions of the CC&Rs. A defendant in this action, Lone Mountain Road Association ("the Association"), was formed as an informal association in 2006. In September 2009, owners of 9 lots entered into a "Mutual Repair and Maintenance Agreement" formalizing their commitment to the Association. The agreement stated that all participants would "mutually share the cost of repair and maintenance of Lone Mountain Road." The agreement also provided that the Association "shall exclusively govern the future actions and responsibilities of the [signatories] related to the repair and maintenance of Lone Mountain Road." Alan Sims, the owner of a lot in the Eastern Property, became president of the Association. The Fletchers, as well as a majority of the other parcel owners in the Subdivision, do not belong to or participate in the Association.

         Historically, maintenance of the Subdivision Road (including snow removal) has been performed by lot owners and the Association. Delores Fletcher suffers from asthma which is aggravated by dust from the Road. In the past, the Fletchers, have oiled the first 200 feet of the Subdivision Road at their own expense for dust control. In 2008, the Fletchers applied asphalt grindings to the Subdivision Road for dust control. Following the record-setting winter of 2008, the asphalt grindings began to break up making it difficult for some vehicles to travel the Subdivision Road. In the spring of 2009, Sims, acting as president of the Association, hired a contractor to cover the asphalt grindings with gravel and to grade the Subdivision Road. In May 2009, the Association sent the Fletchers a letter which demanded that the Fletchers not oil the Subdivision Road. The letter stated that if the Fletchers did apply road oil, the Association would remove and/or cover it.

         In response to the letter, the Fletchers filed this action seeking a declaration of the rights and obligations of lot owners with regard to the Subdivision Road. On November 16, 2011, the Fletchers filed their amended complaint against the Association and the owners of lots that fronted the Subdivision Road. This complaint named the Association and the owners of nineteen parcels fronting the Subdivision Road as defendants.[1]

         A bench trial was held from March 30-April 3, 2015. The district court found that five of the nineteen defendants who owned property fronting the Subdivision Road had never used the Road. The district court further found that the remaining lot owners had waived any right to seek contribution from these lot owners for maintenance unless they used the Subdivision Road in the future. The district court found that the CC&Rs were ambiguous as to maintenance and contribution requirements. The district court found that the each of the fourteen lot owners who used the Subdivision Road had the right to make repairs and perform maintenance on the Road but that there was no right to contribution from any other lot ...


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