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Hilliard v. Murphy Land Company, LLC

United States District Court, D. Idaho

December 9, 2019

JAMES C. HILLIARD, an individual, Plaintiff,
MURPHY LAND COMPANY, LLC, an Idaho Limited Liability Company; Defendant.




         Pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Murphy Land Company, LLC (“Murphy Land”). Dkt. 21. On November 15, 2019, the Court held oral argument and took the motion under advisement. Upon review, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court finds good cause to GRANT Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         II. BACKGROUND[1]

         On December 30, 2010, Plaintiff James Hilliard and Defendant Murphy Land entered into a Real Estate Option to Purchase Agreement (the “Agreement”).[2] Murphy Land granted Hilliard the option to purchase back the Crystal Springs Farm property (the “Property”) “for, and only for, the location of a nuclear power plant facility” (the “Option”). Agreement, § 4. Under the Agreement, and the accompanying Memorandum of Real Estate Option to Purchase Agreement, if Hilliard failed to exercise his option to purchase the Property by December 30, 2016, the Agreement would expire and Hilliard would no longer have any claim or interest in the Property.

         From 2014 to 2016, the purchase price of the Property was $13, 680, 000 unless (in the intervening time since the Agreement was signed) Murphy Land had erected capital improvements on the Property. In that case, Murphy Land was required to provide a review of its capital improvement payments and receipt documentation to Hilliard, and the purchase price of the Property would be increased by the amount Murphy Land had expended.

         On May 6, 2016, Hilliard emailed Murphy Land a request for documentation of any funds expended to erect capital improvements. In response, Murphy Land requested documentation of Hilliard's nuclear power plant development plans. On July 27, 2016, Hilliard gave notice that he was exercising the Option pursuant to Section 4 of the Agreement.

         From May 6, 2016, to September 12, 2016, both parties continued to make their requests for the desired documentation. After September 12, 2016, all communication between the parties stopped. Murphy Land never sent Hilliard the requested backup documentation and tax returns. Hilliard never sent Murphy Land the requested documentation related to nuclear power plant development. Additionally, Hilliard never tendered payment to Murphy Land nor put any purchase amount in escrow. Furthermore, he did not complete the purchase of the Property under the Agreement and no instrument of conveyance of the Property was recorded prior to December 30, 2016.

         On or about April 17, 2017, Murphy Land sold the Property to Global AG Properties II USA, LLC. The transfer of the Property's title was duly recorded in the Owyhee County Recorder's Office in Idaho. Dkt. 23-4.

         On May 29, 2018, Hilliard filed his “Complaint for Declaratory Relief” against Murphy Land in federal court based on diversity of citizenship jurisdiction. Dkt. 1. Hilliard is a citizen of California and Murphy Land is a citizen of Idaho. Hilliard alleges in his Complaint that he had exercised the Option to purchase the Property on July 27, 2016, and that Murphy Land subsequently failed to provide the capital improvements documentation relating to the purchase price as required.

         On October 5, 2018, Murphy Land filed the pending motion for summary judgment. Dkt. 21. Murphy Land asserts it is entitled to summary judgment because Hilliard is only seeking declaratory judgments as his remedy and such judgments would be moot because the time for performance of the contract has come and passed without Hilliard performing his obligations under the Agreement. Additionally, it should be entitled to summary judgment since Hilliard failed to properly exercise the Option before the Agreement terminated as of December 30, 2016.


         Summary judgment is appropriate when the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, demonstrates “there is no genuine issue of any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Galen v. County of Los Angeles, 477 F.3d 652, 658 (9th Cir. 2007). Evidence includes “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits . . . .” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)).

         The moving party initially bears the burden to show no material fact is in dispute and a favorable judgment is due as a matter of law. Id. at 323. If the moving party meets this initial burden, the non-moving party must identify facts showing a genuine issue for trial to defeat the motion for summary judgment. Cline v. Indus. Maint. Eng'g & Contracting Co., 200 F.3d 1223, 1229 (9th Cir. 2000). The Court must grant summary judgment if the nonmoving party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.


         Before analyzing the Agreement, the Court first reviews whether there is a justiciable controversy before it or if Hilliard is essentially seeking an advisory opinion from the Court.

         In his Complaint, Hilliard “prays for judgment as follows”:

1) For a declaration that plaintiff has properly exercised the Option;
2) For a declaration that the purchase price of the property pursuant to Section 5 of the Option is $13, 680, 000 and that defendant is not entitled to an increase in the purchase price of the property.
3) For a declaration that plaintiff is entitled to the value of all growing crops on the property as of September ...

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