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Ganoung v. Stiles

Supreme Court of Montana

July 18, 2017

ASHLEE GANOUNG and AMBER MASON, Plaintiffs and Appellees,
v.
BONNIE L. STILES and KRISTA BERRY as Co-Guardians and Conservators for MATTHEW E. STILES and THE STILES FAMILY TRUST, Defendants and Appellants. BONNIE L. STILES and KRISTA BERRY as Co-Guardians and Conservators for MATTHEW E. STILES and THE STILES FAMILY TRUST, Counterclaimants and Appellants,
v.
ASHLEE GANOUNG and AMBER MASON, Counterdefendants and Appellees.

          Submitted on Briefs: April 5, 2017

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Fifth Judicial District, In and For the County of Madison, Cause No. DV 29-2014-52 Honorable Jon A. Oldenburg, Presiding Judge

          For Appellants: Lori A. Harshbarger, Attorney at Law, Whitehall, Montana

          For Appellees: John Warren, Attorney at Law, Dillon, Montana

          JAMES JEREMIAH SHEA JUSTICE

         ¶1 Defendants Bonnie Stiles (Bonnie) and Krista Berry (Berry), as co-guardians of Matthew E. Stiles (Matthew) and conservators for the Stiles Family Trust, appeal the June 9, 2016 Findings of Facts, Conclusions of Law and Judgment by the Twenty-First Judicial District Court, Ravalli County. We restate the issues as follows:

Issue One: Whether the District Court erred in determining the location, width, and scope of the Stiles' express easement across the Ganoung and Mason property.
Issue Two: Whether the District Court erred by requiring the Stiles to pay the cost of fencing a new road on Ganoung and Mason's property if the Stiles choose to relocate the easement.
Issue Three: Whether the District Court erred by not defining the location and scope of Ganoung and Mason's easement across the Stiles property.

         ¶2 We affirm in part, and reverse in part.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 This case concerns a family dispute regarding once commonly held property that was subdivided and jointly used, then fenced. The property at issue is the southwest quarter of Section 15, Township 6 South, Range 3 West, P.M.M. Madison County, Montana. The Plaintiffs, Ashlee Ganoung (Ganoung) and Amber Mason (Mason), own the southern half of the property (Ganoung and Mason property). The Defendants own the northern half of the property (Stiles property).

         ¶4 In the late 1940s, Lester and Mary Stiles, later divorced, purchased the property at issue. In 1982, Mary held the property in her name and divided the property in half, conveying "together with easement for access over the lands of the grantor" an undivided one-half interest in the southern half of the property to her daughter Addie, and an undivided one-half interest in the northern half of the property to her son Matthew. In 2004, Mary conveyed her entire interest in the southern half of the property to Addie and her entire interest in the northern half to Matthew. Both deeds again provided "together with easement for access over lands of grantor." Mary passed away in January 2008.

         ¶5 On November 1, 2013, Addie conveyed her property to her daughters, Ganoung and Mason, by quit claim deed creating a joint tenancy with right of survivorship. Addie passed away in December 2013. After this action began, Matthew conveyed his property to himself and to the Stiles Family Trust, of which Bonnie is trustee. On March 23, 2015, Matthew, having suffered from Multiple Sclerosis for much of ...


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