JADE MORTENSEN and KYLIE MORTENSEN, Plaintiffs-Counterdefendants-Respondents,
GALUST BERIAN and YVETTE N. STURGIS, Defendants-Counterclaimants-Appellants.
Opinion No. 128
from the District Court of the Seventh Judicial District of
the State of Idaho, Madison County. Hon. Alan C. Stephens,
judgment of the district court is affirmed.
Law Office, PLLC, Rigby, for appellants. Robin D. Dunn
Andrus & Rigby Law, PLLC, Rexburg, for respondents. Hyrum
D. Erickson argued.
Berian filled in a ditch on property owned by Yvette Sturgis.
The ditch served property owned by Jade and Kylie Mortensen.
The Mortensens sued Berian and Sturgis seeking damages and to
have the ditch reopened. Berian counterclaimed for trespass.
Following a court trial, the district court ruled in favor of
the Mortensons on their claim regarding the ditch and awarded
the Mortensens damages for the cost of repairing the ditch.
The district court also found in favor of Berian on his
counterclaim for trespass but awarded only nominal damages.
Berian and Sturgis appealed. We affirm.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Mortensens, Sturgis and Berian own adjacent parcels that were
once part of a single parcel. A previous owner divided the
larger parcel and sold two of the three lots to Berian in
1989. In 2004, the Mortensens purchased the remaining lot. In
2011, Berian encountered financial difficulties and one of
his lots was repossessed and subsequently purchased by
Sturgis. Sturgis' lot is situated between the
Mortensens' parcel and that owned by Berian.
is an artist. Sturgis and Berian entered into an agreement
whereby Berian is providing Sturgis with artwork as payment
for Sturgis' parcel. The agreement also gives Berian the
right to Sturgis' parcel until payment is complete.
dispute relates to a ditch crossing Sturgis' parcel to
the Mortensen property. In September of 2014, Berian decided
to fill in the ditch. After receiving permission from Sturgis
to do so, he hired an unidentified individual to fill in the
ditch over the length of the Sturgis property. The following
spring, Mr. Mortensen entered the Sturgis property to perform
maintenance on the ditch only to find that it had been
destroyed. Although Berian had posted "No
Trespassing" signs around the perimeter of his property,
Mr. Mortenson entered Berian's property to confront him
about the destruction of the ditch.
Mortensens own four shares of capital stock in the Reid Canal
Company which entitles them to receive water from the Reid
Canal. After weighing conflicting evidence, the district
court found that the Mortensens had received water from the
Reid Canal Company by way of the ditch across Sturgis'
property and rejected Sturgis and Berian's claim that the
ditch had been abandoned.
district court's initial findings of fact and conclusions
of law briefly addressed Berian's counterclaim, stating
that it had been "dropped during trial" and
therefore would not be addressed. The Mortensens moved for
reconsideration, asking the district court to dismiss
Berian's counterclaim with prejudice. After a hearing on
the motion, the district court issued amended findings of
fact and conclusions of law and a corresponding judgment. The
judgment ordered that the ditch be reopened, awarded
Mortensen $1, 020 for the cost of repairing the ditch, and
awarded Berian $50 in nominal damages for Mortensen's
trespass. Berian and Sturgis timely appealed.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
a bench trial, this Court's review is 'limited to
ascertaining whether the evidence supports the findings of
fact, and whether the findings of fact support the
conclusions of law.' " Morgan v. New Sweden
Irrigation Dist., 160 Idaho 47, 51, 368 P.3d 990, 994
(2016) (quoting Borah v. McCandless, 147 Idaho 73,
77, 205 P.3d 1209, 1213 (2009)). "This Court will not
set aside a trial court's findings of fact unless the
findings are clearly erroneous." Borah, 147
Idaho at 77, 205 P.3d at 1213 (2009).
error will not be deemed to exist if the findings are
supported by substantial and competent, though conflicting,
evidence." Pandrea v. Barrett, 160 Idaho 165,
171, 369 P.3d 943, 949 (2016) (quoting State Dep't of
Health & Welfare v. Roe, 139 Idaho 18, 21, 72 P.3d
858, 861 (2003)). If there is evidence in the record that a
reasonable trier of fact could accept and rely upon in making
the factual finding challenged on appeal, there is
substantial and competent evidence. Greenfield v.
Wurmlinger, 158 Idaho 591, 598, 349 P.3d 1182, 1189
Court exercises free review over matters of law and is not
'bound by the legal conclusions of the trial court, but
may draw its own conclusions from the facts presented.'
" Morgan, 160 Idaho at 51, 368 P.3d at 994
(quoting Borah, 147 Idaho at 77, 205 P.3d at 1213).
However, "we will not substitute our view of the facts
for the view of the district court." Marshall v.
Blair, 130 Idaho 675, 679, 946 P.2d 975, 979 (1997).
"In view of this role, the trial court's findings of
fact will be liberally construed in favor of the judgment
entered." Sun Valley Shamrock Resources, Inc. v.
Travelers Leasing Corp., 118 Idaho 116, 118-19, 794 P.2d
1389, 1391-92 (1990).
The district court's findings regarding Berian and
Sturgis' claim that the ditch had been ...