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Galvin v. City of Middleton

Supreme Court of Idaho

February 8, 2019

MARTIN C. GALVIN and PATRICIA L. GALVIN, Plaintiffs-Respondents,
v.
CITY OF MIDDLETON, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the District Court of the Third Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Canyon County. Hon. George A. Southworth, District Judge.

         The judgment of the district court is affirmed.

          Borton & Lakey, Meridian, for Appellants. Victor S. Villegas argued.

          Barker, Rosholt & Simpson, LLP, Boise, for Respondents. Scott Magnuson argued.

          HORTON, JUSTICE.

         The City of Middleton (the City) appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment to Martin and Patricia Galvin on their claim of prescriptive easement and its award of attorney fees to the Galvins pursuant to Idaho Code section 12-117. We affirm.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On June 28, 2016, the Galvins filed a complaint against the City of Middleton for quiet title, declaratory judgment, and a permanent injunction concerning their use of Willis Road, a private road that the City acquired in 2015. The Galvins alleged that their use of Willis Road since 1949 created a prescriptive easement entitling them to use the road for ingress, egress, and farming and irrigation purposes. The City's answer denied the existence of the easement but did not dispute that the Galvins had used the road for the past sixty years.

         The Galvins moved for summary judgment on November 23, 2016. The City opposed the motion, arguing that genuine issues of material fact regarding abandonment of the easement and the easement's dimensions precluded summary judgment. The City's primary argument was that the Galvins had abandoned the prescriptive easement by applying for and receiving a zoning change for the property.

         The district court granted summary judgment for the Galvins, observing that "[a]lthough the parties have emphasized different facts, there does not appear to be an actual dispute as to the facts in this case." The district court found that the Galvins had demonstrated the creation of a prescriptive easement, that the Galvins had not abandoned the easement, and that the City's defense of the case was "without a reasonable basis in law or fact."

         The City filed a motion to reconsider the grant of summary judgment and award of attorney fees. At the same time, the Galvins moved to amend the judgment to include a full description of the length and width of the easement which the district court granted without permitting the City to respond. Although the district court denied the City's motion to reconsider, it set a hearing to determine the dimensions of the easement. At the hearing, the City disputed whether the width of the easement should be sixteen or twenty feet. The Galvins offered to stipulate to a sixteen-foot-wide easement to settle the matter, but the City refused unless the district court disallowed the previous award of attorney fees. The basis for the City's challenge to the award of attorney fees relied on a line of caselaw first articulated in Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District v. Washington Federal Savings, 135 Idaho 518, 20 P.3d 702 (2001), abrogated by Idaho Military Historical Soc'y, Inc. v. Maslen, 156 Idaho 624, 329 P.3d 1072 (2014). "The entire course of the litigation must be taken into account and if there is at least one legitimate issue presented, attorney fees may not be awarded even though the losing party has asserted other factual or legal claims that are frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation." Coward v. Hadley, 150 Idaho 282, 289-90, 246 P.3d 391, 398-99 (2010).

         After a protracted fight over attorney fees, the district court issued an order awarding attorney fees to the Galvins pursuant to Idaho Code section 12-117, reducing the amount awarded because the Galvins "submitt[ed] the first legal description that contained an erroneous legal description." The City timely appealed.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When reviewing an order granting summary judgment, this Court applies the same standard used by the court in ruling upon the motion. Morgan v. New Sweden Irrigation Dist., 156 Idaho 247, 253, 322 P.3d 980, 986 (2014). Summary judgment is warranted when "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 are resolved in favor of the non-moving party, but "when an action will be tried before the court without a jury, the judge is not constrained to draw inferences in favor of the party opposing a motion for summary judgment but rather the trial judge is free to arrive at the most probable inferences to be drawn from uncontroverted evidentiary facts."

In re Contest of Election, 164 Idaho 102, 105, 425 P.3d 1245, 1248 (2018) (quoting Barnes v. Jackson, 163 Idaho 194, 197, 408 ...


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