DANIEL PASLAY, an individual; GARY OTTMAN, an individual; and TATEOKA BROTHERS, LLC, an Idaho limited liability company, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
A&B IRRIGATION DISTRICT, an Idaho irrigation district, Defendant-Respondent.
Opinion No. 120
from the District Court of the Fifth Judicial District of the
State of Idaho, Jerome County. Hon. John K. Butler, District
The district court's order is affirmed in part, vacated
in part, and remanded with instructions.
Holden, Kidwell, Hahn & Crapo, PLLC, Idaho Falls, for
appellants. Robert L. Harris argued.
Barker, Rosholt & Simpson, LLP, Twin Falls, for
respondent. Travis L. Thompson argued.
case is about landowners' recourse against an irrigation
district for diverting a portion of their water source to
other landowners within the district. The landowners brought
an action for a declaratory judgment regarding their
constitutional water and property rights. They also sought
injunctive relief against the irrigation district for a
breach of fiduciary duty. The district court granted the
irrigation district's motion to dismiss on all three of
the landowners' claims. The landowners appeal.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
own farms in Jerome County, Idaho. A&B Irrigation
District (the "District") distributes water to
these farms and others throughout its service area in Jerome
and Minidoka Counties. The District serves two distinct
sub-areas in its district: Unit A and Unit B. The water the
District distributes comes from two sources: (1) surface
water from the Snake River and associated reservoirs, and (2)
groundwater from the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer. These two
water sources were historically what separated Units A and B,
and many owners based their land choices in the 1950s on the
water source. Unit A farms have received surface water
exclusively since the District's inception. For decades
Unit B farms received only groundwater, but the District
converted approximately 1400 Unit B acres to surface water in
the 1990s in response to decreasing groundwater supply. This
conversion did not abate the declining groundwater supply,
and the District subsequently proposed the "Unit A
Pumping Plan #2 Project" ("Project").
District's manager claims the Project's benefits are
twofold: (1) it will allow the District to deliver surface
water to Unit A farms at an increased rate during the peak
irrigation season, and (2) it will convert approximately 1500
Unit B acres facing declining groundwater over to surface
water-similar to the District's prior conversion in the
1990s. In November 2013, the District held a special election
in which its residents approved bonds of up to $7 million to
pay for the Project. In 2014, the District's Board of
Directors held a hearing at which they assessed Project costs
proportionally based on acreage to both Unit A and Unit B
landowners. Appellants did not appear at this hearing. The
District then sought judicial confirmation (the
"Confirmation Proceeding") of the Board's cost
assessment in the Minidoka County District Court, which
Appellants Paslay and Ottman contested. In the Confirmation
Proceeding, the court approved the assessment but withheld
consideration of Appellants' constitutional arguments as
beyond that forum's scope.
claim the Project primarily benefits Unit B landowners at the
expense of Unit A by diverting a portion of Unit A's sole
water source (surface water) onto Unit B land and
"diluting" their annual water supply. Additionally,
the District divided Project costs equally among all
landowners despite what Appellants claim is the Project's
primary purpose: to help sustain Unit B farms as their
groundwater supply continues to decline. Appellants claim the
Project is part of a decades-long trend whereby the District
subjugates Unit A's interests due to Unit B's
size-roughly 80% of the District's service area-and
comparably large representation and voting strength.
Appellants sought relief on three claims in the Jerome County
District Court after the Confirmation Proceeding approved the
Project's cost apportionment. In Count I of their amended
complaint, Appellants sought a declaratory judgment enforcing
their water rights under Article XV, sections 1, 3, 4, and 5
of the Idaho Constitution. Count II requested identical
relief, challenging the assessment as a violation of their
property rights under Article I, sections 13 and 14. In Count
III-absent in the original complaint and added in the amended
complaint- Appellants sought injunctive relief for breach of
filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the claims, and
submitted additional materials-including affidavits and the
Confirmation Proceeding order. Appellants responded and
requested the court deny the motion and strike matters
outside the pleadings as immaterial and improper under the
Rule 12(b)(6) standard. Alternatively, Appellants requested
the court continue the proceedings-and allow discovery-if the
court was to consider matters outside the pleadings. They
argued that considering the additional information would
effectively convert the decision from a Rule 12 to a Rule 56
analysis, and thus required discoverable facts to defend
against a summary judgment grant. In its first of two
decisions below, the district court denied Appellants'
motion to strike and motion to continue, and dismissed Counts
I and II. The court dismissed Count I as non-justiciable,
finding the claim unripe and that the Appellants lacked
standing. The court dismissed Count II as barred by res
judicata based on the Confirmation Proceeding decision.
Pending the court's decision on Count III, Appellants
filed a motion for reconsideration of the district
court's first decision. In its second decision, the
district court dismissed Count III as non-justiciable on
standing and ripeness grounds, just as with Count I. The
court also denied Appellants' motion to reconsider its
previous dismissal of Counts I and II. Appellants timely
ISSUES PRESENTED ON APPEAL
Whether the district court erred in dismissing Counts I and
III of Appellants' amended complaint as non-justiciable.
Whether the district court erred in dismissing Count II of
Appellants' amended complaint as barred by res judicata.
Whether the district court erred in denying Appellants'
motions to strike, continue, and reconsider.
Whether the District is entitled to attorney fees.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court exercises free review over jurisdictional issues,
including "whether dismissal for lack of jurisdiction
was properly granted." Tucker v. State, 162
Idaho 11, 17, 394 P.3d 54, 60 (2017) (citing Meisner v.
Potlatch Corp., 131 Idaho 258, 260, 954 P.2d 676, 678
Court reviews de novo both Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal
orders and Rule 56 summary judgment grants. Syringa
Networks, LLC v. Idaho Dep't of Admin., 159 Idaho
813, 823, 367 P.3d 208, 218 (2016). Under Rule 12(b)(6),
"[a]fter viewing all facts and inferences from the
record in favor of the non-moving party, the Court will ask
whether a claim for relief has been stated." Losser
v. Bradstreet, 145 Idaho 670, 673, 183 P.3d 758, 761
(2008) (quoting Gallagher v. State, 141 Idaho 665,
667, 115 P.3d 756, 758 (2005)). Dismissal "for failure
to state a claim should not be granted 'unless it appears
beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in
support of his claim that would entitle him to
relief.'" Taylor v. Maile, 142 Idaho 253,
257, 127 P.3d 156, 160 (2005) (quoting Gardner v.
Hollifield, 96 Idaho 609, 611, 533 P.2d 730, 732
(1975)). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss in which
"matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not
excluded by the court . . . must be treated as one for
summary judgment under Rule 56. All parties must be given a
reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is
pertinent to the motion." I.R.C.P. 12(d). "Summary
judgment is appropriate 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." Lockheed Martin Corp. v. Idaho State
Tax Comm'n, 142 Idaho 790, 793, 134 P.3d 641, 644
landowners' appeal centers on two issues with respect to
their three claims against the District: the legal standard
under which the district court dismissed Appellants'
claims, and the court's substantive determinations under
that standard. Appellants contend the district court erred
both procedurally and substantively in dismissing all three
counts in its amended complaint. Procedurally, they claim the
district court improperly considered matters outside the
pleadings in dismissing all three claims under Rule
12(b)(6)-rather than converting to the Rule 56 summary
judgment standard. Substantively, ...