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Nielson v. Talbot

Supreme Court of Idaho

April 4, 2018

GLEN WAYNE NIELSON and CHERYL E. NIELSON, husband and wife, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
ROBERT TALBOT and MICHELE TALBOT, husband and wife; PAUL PARKER and SAUNDRA PARKER, husband and wife, Defendants-Respondents.

         2018 Opinion No. 29

          Appeal from the District Court of the Sixth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Franklin County. Hon. Robert C. Naftz, District Judge.

         The district court's judgment is affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. Costs on appeal are awarded to Talbots.

          Atkin Law Offices, PC, Clifton, for Appellants. Blake S. Atkin argued.

          Racine, Olson, Nye & Budge, Pocatello, for Respondents. Lane V. Erickson argued.

          BEVAN, Justice.

         I. Nature of the Case

         This is a property line dispute. Appellants, Glen and Cheryl Nielson (the "Nielsons"), challenge a district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Respondents, Robert and Michele Talbot (the "Talbots") and Paul and Saundra Parker (the "Parkers"). The Parkers and Talbots were neighbors. The Parkers sold their property to the Nielsons by warranty deed. Shortly after purchasing the property, the Nielsons filed a complaint against the Talbots arguing that, according to the legal description in the warranty deed, the Talbots' shed, carport, and driveway extended over the property line and onto the Nielsons' property. The Nielsons also filed a complaint against the Parkers arguing that the Parkers were obligated to defend the title of the property that they had sold. The two cases were consolidated and the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Talbots and the Parkers. We affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         In 1979, Craig and Sue Shaffer (the "Shaffers") purchased a large parcel of land that they subsequently divided into two pieces: one containing a pasture that was enclosed by a fence (the "Talbot Property"), and a second that contained the remaining property (the "Nielson Property").

         a. Factual Background of the Talbot Property

         In 1985, the Shaffers sold the fenced pasture to the Murdocks. At the time of the sale, the Shaffers and the Murdocks agreed that the fence line was the property line. A legal description of the land sold to the Murdocks was included in the deed, and both parties believed that the legal description reflected their agreement that the fence line was the property line.

         In 1992, the Murdocks sold the property to the Whiteheads, who were home builders. The Murdocks informed the Whiteheads that the fence line was the property line. The Whiteheads owned the property for approximately six months during which time they built a house on the land. The fence was taken down sometime during the Whiteheads' ownership of the Talbot Property.

         In 1993, the Whiteheads sold the property to the Larsens. The same legal description that was in the deed from Shaffers to Murdocks was included in the deed, which the Larsens believed reflected the property line between their property and what is now referred to as the Nielson Property. At the time of the sale, the Talbot Property was bare dirt except for the house. Conversely, the Nielson Property, which was owned by the Cromwells at the time, was landscaped with grass and lilac bushes. Mr. Larsen discussed his intention to landscape the Talbot Property with Mr. Cromwell, and the two men agreed that Mr. Larsen would landscape the Talbot Property up to the property line, which the men believed was established by Mr. Cromwell's landscaping, i.e., groomed grass and lilac bushes. Thereafter, Mr. Larsen installed a sprinkler system and planted and maintained grass up to the lilac bushes. The Cromwells and the Larsens maintained their yards under the belief that the lilac bushes established the property line. Sometime later, Mr. Larsen built a shed on the back corner of his property. Mr. Larsen built the shed so that the back side of it was on what he believed to be the property line.

         In 1995, the Larsens sold their property to the Talbots. Mr. Larsen testified that, at the time he sold the property to the Talbots, the property line between the Talbot Property and the Nielson Property, which was still owned by the Cromwells, was "well defined by lilac bushes, grass, yards, sprinkler system, and shed that existed on either our property or the Cromwell property." After purchasing the Talbot Property, the Talbots spoke with Mr. Cromwell about their desire to build a carport and driveway on their property, which would border the property line. The two parties discussed the appearance of the carport and agreed that it would border the property line, i.e., the lilac bushes. Mr. Talbot testified that "[f]rom the time we moved onto our property and after installing the driveway and carport, the boundary line that existed continued to be well defined by the lilac bushes, grass, sprinkler system, shed, driveway and carport that existed on either our property or the Cromwell's [sic] property. . . . We were neighbors with the Cromwells for nearly 10 years. During all of this time the boundary line that existed between our property and the Cromwell's [sic] property was always the same and was defined by the lilacs, grass, yards, sprinkler system, shed, driveway and carport."

         b. Factual Background of the Nielson Property

         In 1986, the Shaffers sold the property that they had retained (i.e., the Nielson Property) to Beneficial Life Mortgage Company. Approximately three months later, Beneficial Life Mortgage Company sold the property to the Cromwells. A legal description was included in the deed, which the Cromwells believed reflected the fence line as the property line between the Nielson Property and the Talbot Property. At the time the Cromwells purchased their property, the Talbot Property was still a fenced pasture owned by the Murdocks. Immediately after purchasing the property, the Cromwells began maintaining grass up to the fence line. Additionally, Mr. Cromwell planted several lilac bushes along the fence to create a natural privacy barrier. Mr. Cromwell testified that Mr. Whitehead took the fence down in 1992. Mr. Cromwell testified that, although he did not have any discussions about the property line with the Whiteheads, the lilac bushes and maintained yard established a clear property line. The Cromwells owned the Nielson Property for approximately eighteen years during which time the Talbot Property was owned by the Murdocks, the Whiteheads, the Larsens, or the Talbots. Mr. Cromwell testified that while he owned the Nielson Property,

[T]he boundary line that existed between our property and the Talbot's [sic] property was always the same and was defined by the fence, or once it was removed, by the lilacs, grass, yards, sprinkler system, shed, driveway and carport. Every neighbor . . . that lived on the Talbot property . . . agreed to the boundary line through their maintenance of the boundary line. There was never any dispute about the boundary line between the properties.

         In 2004, the Cromwells sold the Nielson Property to the Heaps. The Heaps believed that the lilac bushes and the carport marked the property line. In 2006, the Heaps sold the Nielson Property to the Parkers. The Parkers believed that the property line was marked by the lilac bushes and the carport. The Parkers owned the Nielson Property for approximately seven years. In 2013, the Parkers sold the Nielson Property to the Nielsons.

         c. Factual Background of the Dispute

         Shortly after purchasing their property, Mr. Nielson measured his lot according to the legal description in the deed and discovered for the first time that the Talbots' carport encroached upon his property by approximately thirteen feet. Mr. Nielson believed that the lilac bushes were planted to cover the carport and did not indicate a property line. Mrs. Nielson stated that when they purchased the property there was nothing on the ground that appeared to be a property line. Mrs. Nielson testified ...


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