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In re Quigley

Supreme Court of Montana

November 14, 2017

JAMES C. QUIGLEY and LINDA M.S. QUIGLEY, Claimants, Objectors and Appellants, RICHARD L. BECK, Claimant, Counter-Objector and Appellee, AVISTA CORPORATION, Objector.

          Submitted on Briefs: September 6, 2017

         APPEAL FROM: Montana Water Court, Cause No. 76F-75 Honorable Russ McElyea, Presiding Judge

          For Appellants: Ryan K. Mattick, Moore, O'Connell & Refling, PC, Bozeman, Montana

          For Appellee: John E. Bloomquist, Bloomquist Law Firm, P.C., Helena, Montana

          Beth Baker Justice

         ¶1 James C. Quigley and Linda M.S. Quigley (Quigley) and Richard L. Beck assert conflicting claims of ownership over four water rights for irrigation from Nevada Creek. After presiding over a trial and conducting a site inspection, the Water Master issued a report dividing the four rights between Quigley and Beck based on a ratio of the irrigated acres owned by each party. Quigley filed objections with the Water Court. The Water Court largely adopted the Water Master's report. Quigley appeals the Water Court's order. We affirm.

         ¶2 We restate the issues on appeal as follows:

1. Whether the Water Court erred in its interpretation of the 1909 Geary v. Raymond decree;
2. Whether the Water Court erred in applying the clear error standard to the Water Master's findings of fact.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 Quigley and Beck own adjoining ranches, which John W. Blair once owned as a single property known as Finn Ranch. Finn Ranch, situated in the Blackfoot River Basin, included lands in sections 27, 28, 33, and 34 of Township 12 North, Range 9 West. The lands in sections 27 and 28 now belong to Beck, and the lands in sections 33 and 34 now belong to Quigley.

         ¶4 In 1909, when Blair still owned Finn Ranch, the Montana Third Judicial District Court in Powell County issued a decree in the case Geary v. Raymond (the "Geary decree"), declaring the water rights of users of Nevada Creek and its tributaries. Among the rights that the district court decreed to Blair were four water rights for irrigation from Nevada Creek. In 1912, Finn Ranch was split and sold. It has remained in separate ownership to the present day. No deed transfer for the properties in the ensuing years has reserved specific water rights as appurtenances to the land.

         ¶5 Quigley's predecessor timely filed water rights claims, including four Nevada Creek claims[1] based on the water rights decreed to Blair in the Geary decree. Beck's predecessor also filed four water right claims[2] for Nevada Creek based on water rights decreed to Blair in the Geary decree. During its review of claims in preparation for the Blackfoot River Basin Temporary Preliminary Decree, the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) noted that the eight claims were based on the same four water rights and that each party was claiming the entirety of each of the four rights. As a result, the rights claimed exceeded the total appropriations and the DNRC attached a "decree exceeded" issue remark to the eight claims from Quigley and Beck.

         ¶6 Quigley filed objections against the Beck claims, and Beck filed counterobjections against the Quigley claims. The claims and objections were consolidated and assigned to a Water Master for adjudication. After discovery, the Water Master presided over a two-day trial and conducted a site visit. In his report, the Master concluded that both Quigley and Beck were successors to a portion of Blair's four Nevada Creek water rights. The Master proportionally split the flow rates of each decreed right between Quigley and Beck based on the historic number of acres irrigated on each property, using the formula provided in Spaeth v. Emmett, 142 Mont. 231, 383 P.2d 812 (1963). Under this formula, Beck received 70 percent of the decreed rights and ...


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