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In re SRBA CASE No.39576 SUBCASE No. 61-12301

Supreme Court of Idaho

March 7, 2018

RICKY C. HOLDEN and KIMBERLY M. HOLDEN, Objectors-Appellants,
v.
JACKIE WEECE and TERESA WEECE, Claimants-Respondents.

         2018 Opinion No. 22

         Appeal from the Snake River Basin Adjudication, State of Idaho. Hon. Eric J. Wildman, District Judge.

         The judgment of the district court is affirmed. Attorney fees and costs on appeal are awarded to respondents.

          Thomas J. Katsilometes, P.L.L.C., Boise, for Objectors-Appellants. Thomas J. Katsilometes argued.

          Hall, Friendly & Ward, Mountain Home, Claimants-Respondents. Brian B. Peterson argued.

          BEVAN, JUSTICE.

         Ricky and Kimberly Holden ("the Holdens") appeal from an order of partial decree granting a water right to their neighbors Jackie and Teresa Weece ("the Weeces"). The Holdens claim the district court erred in adopting the findings of fact and conclusions of law contained within a special master's Report and Recommendation and that the priority date of the Weeces' water right, recommended by the special master and adopted by the district court, was clearly erroneous. We affirm the district court's order.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURE

         The Holdens own residential property in Mountain Home, Idaho. In 1999, the Holdens constructed a well on a portion of their property (Lot 17) and obtained a licensed water right. In 2000, the Holdens built a residence on another portion of their property (Lot 16) which included a sewage disposal system connected to the well. On May 10, 2001 the Holdens sold Lot 16 to a friend, Loree Saunders ("Saunders"). As an accommodation for the sale, the Holdens and Saunders entered into a joint well use agreement allowing Saunders to utilize the well on the Holden's property. Later, in 2001, Saunders's lender bank foreclosed Lot 16. The Weeces acquired Lot 16 from the lender bank on May 20, 2005. The Holdens and the Weeces continued to follow the joint well use agreement to provide water to Lot 16; however, a dispute arose in 2015 regarding the Weeces use of such water.

         On March 12, 2015, the Weeces filed a Motion in the Snake River Basin Adjudication (SRBA) for Determination of Deferred De Minimus Domestic or Stock Water Use. The Weeces claimed a right to use the well on Lot 17 because of a prior physical diversion of water and its application to domestic beneficial use with a priority date of February 9, 2000.

         On June 8, 2015, the Idaho Department of Water Resources filed its Director's Report of Deferred De Minimus Domestic and/or Stock Water Use ("Report") regarding the Weeces' claim. The Report recommended a priority date of March 13, 2000. This date was based upon a Central District Mortgage Report for Sewage and Water Systems which indicated that the sewage disposal system on Lot 16 was inspected on March 13, 2000. The Director's Report accepted March 13, 2000 for priority, inferring that water was then available to the home, since the waste disposal system was inspected and found operable.

         On August 3, 2015, the Holdens filed a Standard Form 1 Objection to the director's Report, objecting that the water right "should not exist." The Objection did not include an objection to the priority date. Trial was then held before the special master and the Holdens were allowed to amend their Objection during trial to also object to the recommended priority date of March 13, 2000. Notwithstanding their stated objection, the Holdens initially maintained that the priority date was "unknown." Later during trial they asserted that the priority date could be no earlier than when the Weeces acquired Lot 16 on May 20, 2005, even though Saunders began living in the home in May 2001.

         The special master then issued a special master's Report and Recommendation ("Recommendation") on December 16, 2016. The special master found that the Holdens had failed to rebut the presumption of correctness which was afforded to the Report. The special master therefore found that the priority date for the water right claimed by the Weeces was as set forth in the Report: March 13, 2000.

         The district court then served a notice on all parties, pursuant to SRBA Administrative Order 1, Section 13, indicating that they had until January 28, 2017, to file a Motion to Alter or Amend the Report. The notice further provided: "Failure of any party in the adjudication to pursue or participate in a Motion to Alter or Amend the SPECIAL MASTER'S ...


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