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Fischer v. Croston

Supreme Court of Idaho

March 2, 2018

WILLIAM R. FISCHER and M. ANN FISCHER, Trustees of the William and Ann Fischer Revocable Trust, Plaintiffs-Respondents,
v.
JAMES F. CROSTON and MARJORIE C. CROSTON, husband and wife, and ALL UNKNOWN OWNERS AND/OR OTHER PERSONS OR ENTITIES CLAIMING ANY INTEREST IN THE FOLLOWING DESCRIBED REAL PROPERTY, (see file for property description), Defendants-Appellants.

         2018 Opinion No. 15

         Appeal from the District Court of the Seventh Judicial District, State of Idaho, Bonneville County. Hon. Joel E Tingey, District Judge.

         The judgment of the district court is affirmed.

          Dunn Law Offices, Rigby, for appellants. Robin D. Dunn argued.

          Holden, Kidwell, Hahn & Crapo, PLLC, Idaho Falls, for respondents. W. Forrest Fischer argued.

          BURDICK, Chief Justice.

         This appeal involves a boundary dispute arising out of Bonneville County. James and Marjorie Croston (Crostons) appeal the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of William R. Fischer and M. Ann Fischer, trustees of the William and Ann Fischer Revocable Trust (Fischers). The Crostons own property adjacent to the southern side of property owned by the Fischers. For several decades, an existing post-and-wire fence divided the two properties. The existing fence fell into disrepair, and in 2015, the Fischers sought to remove the existing fence and replace it with a new fence. The Fischers had a survey done to ensure the new fence would be correctly placed; however, the survey revealed that the location of the old fence line did not reflect the platted property line. Instead, the old fence line extended south of the platted line approximately three feet on the eastern side and approximately nine feet on the western side. Following the survey, the Crostons built a new fence on the survey line, which prompted the Fischers' filing of the present complaint. Both parties claim they are the owners of the tract of land between the old fence line and the platted boundary line. The district court granted the Fischers' motion for summary judgment reasoning that the old fence constituted a boundary by agreement, and there was no agreement to change the boundary line. The Crostons timely appeal that ruling, and we affirm.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This case involves a dispute as to the boundary line separating the adjacent Croston and Fischer properties, and whether an existing fence line or a new survey is determinative of the boundary line between the properties. The Fischers acquired their property in 1992 and transferred it into a trust in November 2001. The Crostons own the adjacent property on the southern side of the Fischer property, with the northern boundary of the Crostons' property forming the southern boundary of the Fischers' property. The Crostons acquired their property in 1959. At the time the Crostons purchased their property there was an existing post-and-wire fence running along the Fischer property's southern boundary line, dividing the Fischer property from the Croston property. Evidence indicated the fence had been in place since at least 1951.

         In 2015, the existing fence was in a state of disrepair, and the Fischers decided to replace it with a new fence in August 2015. In September 2015, during the process of replacing the old fence, the Crostons sent the Fischers a letter stating that the Fischers had engaged in trespass and malicious injury to property, and that if the Fischers did not "restore [Crostons] property to [their] satisfaction" the Fischers would be prosecuted under various statutes. The Fischers then had a survey conducted, and claim the purpose of the survey was to locate the exact line of the old fence so a new fence could be accurately placed on the old fence line without any disputes. Both parties believed the survey would show that the old fence line was the same as the platted boundary line between the properties.

         Prior to the survey being conducted, Mrs. Fischer spoke with the Crostons' son, Jim Croston (Jim), about the Fischers' intention to have a survey done so that there would be no dispute about where the fence should be placed. Jim was outside measuring and marking where the old fence line had been, when Mrs. Fischer came out of her house and asked Jim what he was doing, and Jim responded that he was "determining where the fence line used to be." Mrs. Fischer replied, "[w]e will be replacing the fence with a much better fence. We are going to get a survey to find out where the line is at. We are using the same surveyors as the City uses so [there] shouldn't be any disputes." Jim replied, "[o]kay." The Crostons claim this conversation between their son and Mrs. Fischer constitutes a binding agreement that the results of the survey would control where the boundary and new fence dividing the properties was to be placed.

         The survey was completed and revealed that the old fence line was south of the platted property line. The old fence line extended three feet south of the platted property line on the east side of the property, and nine feet south of the platted property line on the west side of the property. The tract of land between the platted boundary line and the old fence line is called Tract 1, and is the parcel of property at issue in this case, with both parties claiming ownership of Tract 1. The Fischers notified the Crostons of the survey results, and asked the Crostons not to install a fence until the dispute was resolved. The Fischers then placed "no trespassing" signs along the old fence line. The Crostons went past the no trespassing signs and built a new fence on the platted boundary line based on the survey results. The Fischers then filed a complaint seeking a declaration that the old fence line is the true boundary line under the doctrine of boundary line by agreement. The Fischers also sought treble damages and attorney fees based on the Crostons' trespass and Idaho Code section 12-121.

         The district court granted the Fischers' motion for summary judgment and dismissed the Crostons' counter-claim. The district court reasoned that there was no genuine dispute that the old fence that divided the property line for over 60 years constituted a boundary by agreement. The district court also found there was no agreement or contract to adopt a new boundary line. The district court stated that such an agreement needed to be made between the actual owners of the adjacent properties, and there was no evidence such an agreement was reached in this case. The district court went on to say the comments made by Mrs. Fischer to the Crostons' son, Jim, regarding her obtaining of a survey to determine the property line did not give rise to an enforceable agreement to change the property line. Finally, the district court reasoned, there was no consideration to support any alleged agreement because the Crostons did not give up anything of value in exchange for the alleged decision of the Fischers to move the fence north and give the Crostons more property. Accordingly, the district court held that the old fence line was determinative of the property line and thus the Fischers were the owners of Tract 1. The district court also concluded the Crostons trespassed when they crossed the old fence line and installed a new fence. Following the entry of summary judgment, the district court declined to award attorney fees under Idaho Code section 12-121, but awarded fees to the Fischers limited to the trespass action under Section 6-202. The Crostons timely appealed.

         II. ISSUES ON APPEAL

1. Whether there was a valid, binding agreement to change the boundary line based on the survey results.
2. Whether the Crostons trespassed onto the Fischers' property when the Crostons entered Tract 1 and constructed a fence thereon.
3. Whether the district court properly awarded attorney fees under Section 6-202 and whether either party is entitled to attorney fees on appeal.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "When reviewing a grant of summary judgment, this Court employs the same standard as the district court." Idaho Youth Ranch, Inc. v. Ada Cnty. Bd. of Equalization, 157 Idaho 180, 182, 335 P.3d 25, 27 (2014). Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." I.R.C.P. 56(a). "Disputed facts should be construed in favor of the non-moving party, and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the record are to be drawn in favor of the non-moving party." Fuller v. Callister, 150 Idaho 848, 851, 252 P.3d 1266, 1269 (2011) (quoting Castorena v. Gen. Elec., 149 Idaho 609, 613, 238 P.3d 209, 213 (2010)). "However, the nonmoving party cannot rely on mere speculation, and a scintilla of evidence is insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact." Intermountain Real Props., LLC v. Draw, LLC, 155 Idaho 313, 316-17, 311 P.3d 734, 737-38 (2013) (quoting Bollinger v. Fall River Rural Elec. Co-op., Inc., 152 Idaho 632, 637, 272 P.3d 1263, 1268 (2012)).

         IV. ...


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