BRENT REGAN and MOURA REGAN, husband and wife, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
JEFF D. OWEN and KAREN A. OWEN, husband and wife, Defendants-Respondents.
Opinion No. 98
from the District Court of the First Judicial District of the
State of Idaho, Kootenai County. Hon. John P. Luster,
judgment of the district court is affirmed.
Macomber Law, PLLC, Coeur d'Alene, for appellant. Arthur
B. Macomber argued.
Vernon & Weeks, PA, Coeur d'Alene, for respondents.
Susan P. Weeks argued.
case presents the issue whether a prescriptive easement
across a parcel of land was extinguished by operation of
former Idaho Code section 63-1009 when that parcel was sold by
tax deed. The Owens purchased a small parcel of land
("the Orphan Parcel") from Kootenai County after a
tax sale. A dispute arose as to whether the Regans had the
right to drive across the parcel. The Regans sued the Owens
to reform the tax deed to include an express easement and to
establish a prescriptive easement.
district court granted summary judgment in favor of the
Regans, ruling that the Owens' deed contained a mutual
mistake and should be reformed to reflect an express easement
that the original grantors intended. The Owens appealed and
this Court held that the deed should not be reformed, vacated
a portion of the district court's judgment, and remanded
for further proceedings. Regan v. Owen, 157 Idaho
758, 339 P.3d 1162 (2014) ("Regan I"). On
remand, the district court granted summary judgment in favor
of the Owens, finding that any prescriptive easement was
extinguished by Idaho Code section 63-1009, which provides
that tax deeds convey property free of all
"encumbrances." The Regans timely appealed. After
they filed their appeal, the Idaho Legislature amended Idaho
Code section 63-1009. 2016 Idaho Sess. L. ch. 273,
§§ 7, p. 758. We affirm.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
underlying facts of this case are set forth in Regan
I. 157 Idaho 758, 760-61, 339 P.3d 1162, 1164-65 (2014).
There, we held that the Regans' claim was not barred by
the statute of limitations. Id. at 762, 339 P.3d at
1166. We also held that the district court erred in reforming
the Owens' deed and concluding, on inadequate evidence,
that the Regans had a prescriptive easement over the Orphan
Parcel. Id. at 763-64, 339 P.3d at 1167-68.
Accordingly, the case was remanded to the district court.
Id. at 765, 339 P.3d at 1169.
remand, the Owens filed a third motion for summary judgment,
alleging that the Regans' prescriptive easement claim was
extinguished by issuance of the tax deed. A hearing was held
and the district court issued a written decision granting the
Owens' motion. The court concluded that the plain
language of Idaho Code section 63-1009, together with the
definition of "encumbrances" and interpretation of
section 63-1009 in Regan I required the court to
conclude that any claim the Regans had to a prescriptive
easement over the Orphan Parcel was extinguished when the tax
deed was issued. Accordingly, the district court entered
judgment in favor of the Owens.
March 30, 2016, several months after Regans filed their
appeal, Governor Otter signed Senate Bill 1388 into law.
Section 1 of Senate Bill 1388 contains a lengthy statement of
legislative intent wherein this Court's decision in
Regan I is mentioned by name and the district
court's subsequent determination that Idaho Code section
63-1009 extinguished the Regans' private access easement
is expressly rejected. 2016 Idaho Sess. L. ch. 273, § 1,
p. 750. Section 1 further declares: "[a]s its context
should have made evident, the purpose of Section 63-1009,
Idaho Code . . . has always been to convey title absolutely
free and clear of liens and mortgages of a monetary
nature." Id. Senate Bill 1388 amended Idaho
Code section 63-1009 to remove the reference to
"encumbrances" and to more clearly state that the
title conveyed by tax deed is the same as that of the
"record owner." Finally, section 8 of Senate Bill 1388
declares: "Being a clarification of existing law, the
Legislature does not view the application of this amendment
to prior conveyances as retroactive legislation. In any
event, the Legislature expressly intends that these
amendments shall be interpreted to apply to any and all
conveyances by tax deed, past or future." 2016 Idaho
Sess. L. ch. 273, § 8, p. 758.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court reviews summary judgment using the same standard as the
court that originally ruled on the motion." State ex
rel. Indus. Comm'n v. Bible Missionary Church, Inc.,
138 Idaho 847, 849, 70 P.3d 685, 687 (2003). "[S]ummary
judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, and
admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,
show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact,
and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a
matter of law." Silicon Intern. Ore, LLC v. Monsanto
Co., 155 Idaho 538, 544, 314 P.3d 593, 599 (2013)
(internal quotations omitted).
interpretation of a statute is a question of law over which
this Court exercises free review." Insight, LLC v.
Gunter, 154 Idaho 779, 783, 302 P.3d 1052, 1056 (2013).
"Constitutional issues are questions of law also subject
to free review by this Court." Brewer v. La Crosse
Health & Rehab, 138 Idaho 859, 862, 71 P.3d 458, 461
The district court did not err in determining that the
Regans' prescriptive easement was an encumbrance
extinguished by the tax sale of the Orphan Parcel.
to its amendment, Idaho Code section 63-1009 provided:
The [tax] deed conveys to the grantee the absolute title to
the land described therein, free of all encumbrances
except mortgages of record to the holders of which notice has
not been sent as provided in section 63-1005, Idaho Code, any
lien for property taxes which may have attached subsequently
to the assessment and any lien for special assessments.
Regan I, this Court addressed the meaning of
"encumbrance" in Section 63-1009:
An encumbrance is "any right or interest in land to the
diminution of its value, but consistent with the free
transfer of the fee." Hunt v. Bremer, 47 Idaho
490, 494, 276 P. 964, 965 (1929). Whether something is an
encumbrance does not depend upon the extent to which it
diminishes the value of the land. An encumbrance
"embraces all cases in which the owner does not acquire
the complete dominion over the land which his grant
apparently implies." Id. An easement is not an
encumbrance if the easement is essential to the enjoyment of
the land and it enhances the land's value.
Regan I, 157 Idaho at 765, 339 P.3d at 1169.
district court determined, following the direction given in
Regan I, that the plain language of Section 63-1009
"conveys absolute title free of all encumbrances"
and that the legislature "delineated certain exceptions
that do not apply." This was so regardless of the
"inequitable or oppressive results" because
"it is not the province of the trial court to rewrite
the law or impose an application contrary to the clearly
Regans assert that the language defining
"encumbrance" in Regan I is dicta and
relies on dicta from Hunt, 47 Idaho at 494, 276 P.
at 965. The Regans also argue that the district court's
interpretation of "encumbrances" in Idaho Code
section 63-1009 to include private easements is poor public
policy. The Regans champion a reading of Section 63-1009 that
restricts encumbrances to financial interests, as
contemplated by Idaho Code section 55-613.
interpretation begins with the literal words of the statute,
and this language should be given its plain, obvious and
rational meaning." Idaho Youth Ranch, Inc. v. Ada
Cnty. Bd. of Equalization, 157 Idaho 180, 184, 335 P.3d
25, 29 (2014) (internal citations and quotations omitted).
"If the statutory language is unambiguous, the clearly
expressed intent of the legislative body must be given
effect, and there is no occasion for a court to consider
rules of statutory construction." Id. at
184-85, 335 P.3d 29-30.
63-1009 expressly states that "the [tax] deed conveys to
the grantee absolute title to the land . . . free of all
encumbrances" with the exception of a few
specifically delineated exceptions. (emphasis added). As both
parties recognize, there is no ambiguity in the statute. The
only question is whether "encumbrances" in Section
63-1009 includes private easements, such as the one at issue
here. This question was largely answered in Regan I,
when this Court defined encumbrance as "any right or
interest in land to the diminution of its value, but
consistent with the free transfer of the fee" and
declared that "[a]n easement is not an encumbrance if
the easement is essential to the enjoyment of the land and it
enhances the land's value." 157 Idaho at 765, 339
P.3d at 1169.
the prescriptive easement asserted by the Regans over the
Orphan Parcel survives issuance of the tax deed only if the
easement is essential to the enjoyment and enhances the value
of the Orphan Parcel. In his affidavit in support of his
Third Motion for Summary Judgment, Jeff Owen stated that the
easement was not essential to his use or enjoyment and that
it diminished the value of the Orphan Parcel. Additionally,
the Regans and the district court cite deposition testimony
from Brent Regan indicating that Regan "couldn't
say" whether the easement over the Orphan Parcel
increased the value of the Owens' land. However, the key
inquiry is not whether the easement over the Orphan Parcel
increased the value of the Owens' land, but rather,
whether the easement increases the value of the Orphan Parcel
itself. Brent Regan's deposition testimony is thus
irrelevant, because it addresses the wrong question.
easement over the Orphan Parcel did not increase the Orphan
Parcel's value in such a way that it cannot be considered
an encumbrance. The Kootenai County assessor indicated that
the Orphan Parcel had been given a placeholder value from the
time it was first assessed in 2000 and that placeholder
values are typically given to "parcels that are
unbuildable and to remainder parcels that are used for
private roadways." In his opinion, "the [O]rphan
[P]arcel did not appear to be a buildable lot and its utility
was limited by the existing roadway running the length of the
parcel." Because the utility of the Orphan Parcel lay in
providing private access to surrounding parcels, its value
was limited. There was no evidence presented to the district
court that the Regans' prescriptive easement over the
Orphan Parcel increased the Orphan Parcel's value. Thus,
the district court correctly concluded that the easement was
an encumbrance for purposes of Idaho Code section 63-1009 and
was extinguished by issuance of the tax deed.
Regans challenge the district court's application of our
discussion of encumbrances in Regan I to this case,
complaining that such language is dicta and contending that
the definition in Idaho Code section 55-613, which defines
encumbrances as including "taxes, assessments, and all
liens upon real property" is more appropriate.
the encumbrance language in Regan I was not strictly
necessary to the Court's holding in that case, we
included it in order to provide guidance to the trial court
on remand. "Where an appellate court reverses or vacates
a judgment upon an issue properly raised, and remands for
further proceedings, it may give guidance for other issues on
remand." Urrutia v. Blaine Cnty., 134 Idaho
353, 359, 2 P.3d 738, 744 (2000). The ...