STEPHEN AND SHARON WIEGELE, Plaintiffs, Appellees, and Cross-Appellants,
WEST DRY CREEK RANCH, LLC, Defendant and Appellant.
Submitted on Briefs: August 14, 2019
FROM: District Court of the Sixth Judicial District, In and
For the County of Park, Cause No. DV-15-51 Honorable Robert
G. Olson, Presiding Judge
Appellant: Bruce M. Jacobs, Law Offices of Bruce M. Jacobs,
LLC, Bozeman, Montana
Appellees: J. Troy Redmon, Keeley McKay, Redmon Law Firm, PC,
West Dry Creek Ranch, LLC, and Stephen and Sharon Wiegele own
adjacent properties in Park County, Montana. Both assert an
express easement over one another's property, and both
deny that their properties are burdened by the other's
claimed easement. The Sixth Judicial District Court concluded
that each holds an express easement over the other's
property based on their predecessor's easement agreement
and that agreement's subsequent incorporation into later
conveyances. Both parties appeal. We affirm.
AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Stephen and Sharon Wiegele (the
"Wiegeles") are residents of Minnesota who own
property in Section 31 of Township 5 South, Range 7 East,
M.P.M., Park County, Montana. West Dry Creek Ranch, LLC,
("West Dry Creek") is a Wyoming limited liability
company whose members are Michael Surak and Philip Nichols.
West Dry Creek owns property in the same section. Forest
Service lands in Park and Gallatin counties surround Section
31. The Wiegeles own, among other parcels, the SE1/4 of
Section 31 (known by the parties as "the 160").
West Dry Creek owns, among other parcels, the N1/2 of Section
31 as well as the N1/2N1/2N1/2SW1/4 of Section 31 (known as
the "Cabin Property"). Diagram 1 shows the general
layout of Section 31.
Omitted) DIAGRAM 1
West Dry Creek accesses its Cabin Property via the road that
crosses the Wiegeles' 160. The Wiegeles access public
lands over the road that crosses West Dry Creek's N1/2 of
In 1980, Stanley "Stan" Clark acquired the entirety
of Section 31. In 1981, he and Yellowstone Valley Ranch and
Recreation Properties, the then-owners of property in Section
5, created an express easement agreement titled Easement and
Right-of-Way Agreement ("1981 Easement Agreement")
addressing access rights with respect to their respective
On October 1, 1982, Clark conveyed the S1/2 of Section 31,
excepting the Cabin Property, to Roger Dauner. The conveyance
incorporated the 1981 Easement Agreement by reference. The
Wiegeles purchased the 160 from Dauner in 2003.
West Dry Creek's predecessor, Dry Creek Partnership,
purchased the Cabin Property from Clark in 2000 and later
conveyed it to West Dry Creek.
In 2005, West Dry Creek improved the road in preparation for
construction of a cabin on the Cabin Property. Testimony at
trial established that on the day West Dry Creek began work
on the road, Phillip Nichols (a member of West Dry Creek) and
Stephen Wiegele had a conversation about the work being done,
including the access road to the Cabin Property. Mr. Nichols
and Mr. Wiegele specifically discussed the construction of
the cabin on the Cabin Property at the end of the road.
During this conversation, Mr. Nichols represented to Mr.
Wiegele that West Dry Creek possessed an easement for the
purpose of accessing the Cabin Property over the 160. Mr.
Wiegele did not challenge this representation until 2013,
bringing suit in 2015.
Both parties testified to using Dry Creek Road in the N1/2 of
Section 31 for recreational access to the public lands in
Section 36. According to the Wiegeles, West Dry Creek
constructed a gate across Dry Creek Road in 2013, preventing
the Wiegeles from accessing the public lands.
In 2015, the Wiegeles brought this action in the District
Court seeking a declaration of an express easement for
ingress and egress over the N1/2 of Section 31 and an
injunction requiring West Dry Creek to remove all
obstructions interfering with their use of the easement. The
Wiegeles also sought damages for intentional and continuing
trespass and negligence, and an injunction requiring West Dry
Creek to cease use of the Cabin Property's access road
over the 160.
In response, West Dry Creek denied that the easement over the
N1/2 exists and asserted that it had an easement over the
The action proceeded to a bench trial at which the District
Court considered: (1) whether West Dry Creek had an easement
over the 160 to access the Cabin Property, and (2) whether
the Wiegeles had an easement over the N1/2 of Section 31 to
access public lands. The District Court conducted a site
visit the day after trial.
The court entered its findings of fact and conclusions of law
on November 2, 2018. It held that West Dry Creek had an
express easement over the Cabin Property access road over the
160 and that the Wiegeles had an express easement for use of
the roads in the N1/2 of Section 31.
After the District Court entered judgment, West Dry Creek
filed a motion to amend the judgment pursuant to M. R. Civ.
P. 59(e) to clarify the location of the Wiegeles'
easement over the N1/2 of Section 31. The Wiegeles did not
oppose the motion, and the District Court entered an order
amending the judgment, declaring that the Wiegeles have an
express easement over the N1/2 of Section 31 as set forth in
the 1981 Easement Agreement.
We review a trial court's findings of fact to determine
whether they are clearly erroneous. Ganoung v.
Stiles, 2017 MT 176, ¶ 13, 388 Mont. 152, 398 P.3d
282 (citing Clark v. Pennock, 2010 MT 192, ¶
21, 357 Mont. 338, 239 P.3d 922). A finding is clearly
erroneous if it is not supported by substantial evidence, if
the trial court misapprehended the effect of the evidence, or
if our review of the record convinces us that a mistake has
been made. Clark, ¶ 21. "Substantial
evidence is evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion, even if ...