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Cahill v. Papa's Cabin, LLC

Supreme Court of Montana

January 3, 2017


          Submitted on Briefs: November 10, 2016

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Third Judicial District, In and For the County of Powell, Cause No. DV 14-22 Honorable Ray Dayton, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: R.J. "Jim" Sewell, Jr., Craig D. Charlton, Scott H. Clement, Smith Law Firm, P.C., Helena, Montana

          For Appellee: Marcel A. Quinn, Hammer, Quinn & Shaw, PLLC, Kalispell, Montana

          Beth Baker Justice.

         ¶1 Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c), Montana Supreme Court Internal Operating Rules, this case is decided by memorandum opinion and shall not be cited and does not serve as precedent. Its case title, cause number, and disposition shall be included in this Court's quarterly list of noncitable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and Montana Reports.

         ¶2 Papa's Cabin, LLC, appeals the Third Judicial District Court's order granting summary judgment on Appellees' claim that they possessed a prescriptive easement on a road crossing Papa's Cabin's property.[1] We affirm.

         ¶3 The Evanses-parents of one of the Claimants, Pat Cahill-owned land that now constitutes all of Claimants' respective properties. In order to access their property, the Evanses constructed a roadway in 1954 across the property of their neighbors, the Parkers-the property now owned by Papa's Cabin. The Evanses did not ask the Parkers' permission before they built the road.

         ¶4 The Evanses lived and operated a sawmill business on their property from 1954 to the 1970s. Their family, friends, and customers used the road almost daily during that time. The road sat in close proximity to the Parkers' cabin. The first time the Evanses met the Parkers was after they built and had started using the road; they later agreed to the Parkers' request to move the road farther from the cabin.

         ¶5 In August 2013, Papa's Cabin locked a gate on its property to prevent Claimants from using the road. Cahill then filed a petition for a permanent prescriptive easement. Cahill's claim was consolidated with claims of the remaining Appellees over Papa's Cabin's objection.

         ¶6 The District Court granted summary judgment to Claimants. It concluded that no genuine issue of fact existed as to whether Claimants' use of the road was open, notorious, exclusive, continuous, or uninterrupted and that Papa's Cabin had failed to present facts showing that Claimants' use of the road was permissive. Finally, the court found that the original scope of the prescriptive easement encompassed both residential and commercial use and that the easement's current residential use did not exceed its original scope.

         ¶7 On appeal, Papa's Cabin contends that Claimants bore the burden of demonstrating that their use of the road was adverse and that they failed to satisfy that burden. Alternatively, Papa's Cabin argues that even if it bore the burden of demonstrating that Claimants' use of the road was permissive, it presented sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact on this question. Lastly, Papa's Cabin asserts that the District Court erred by expanding the scope of the original easement and by permitting joinder of the parties and consolidation of their actions for trial.

         ¶8 We review de novo a district court's ruling on summary judgment, applying the criteria of M. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(3). Citizens for a Better Flathead v. Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs, 2016 MT 256, ¶ 10, 385 Mont. 156, 381 P.3d 555. Summary judgment is proper only when no genuine issues of material fact exist and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Harrington v. Crystal Bar, Inc., 2013 MT 209, ¶ 9, 371 Mont. 165, 306 P.3d 342. Once the moving party meets its initial evidentiary burden demonstrating facts to support its entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to present substantial evidence, as opposed to mere denial, speculation, or conclusory statements, raising a genuine issue of material fact. Ternes v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 2011 MT 156, ¶ 27, 361 Mont. 129, 257 P.3d 352. We review a district court's determination of judgment as a matter of law for correctness. Roe v. City of Missoula, 2009 MT 417, ¶ 14, 354 Mont. 1, 221 P.3d 1200.

         ¶9 A party seeking to establish a prescriptive easement must show "open, notorious, exclusive, adverse, continuous[, ] and uninterrupted use of the claimed easement" for a period of five years. Lemont Land Corp. v. Rogers, 269 Mont. 180, 183, 887 P.2d 724, 726 (1994). It is well established that a presumption of adverse use arises once the claimant establishes the other five elements; the burden then shifts to the landowner opposing the prescriptive easement to prove that the use was permissive rather than adverse. Lemont, 269 Mont. at 185, 887 P.2d at 727-28; Brown & Brown of MT, Inc. v. Raty, 2012 MT 264, ¶ 19, 367 Mont. 67, 289 P.3d 156; Albert v. Hastetter, 2002 MT 123, ¶ 20, 310 Mont. 82, 48 P.3d 749; Larsen v. Richardson, 2011 MT 195, ¶ 57, 361 Mont. 344, 260 P.3d 103; Glantz v. Gabel, 66 Mont. 134, 141, 212 P. 858, 860 ...

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