Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Wiegele v. West Dry Creek Ranch, LLC

Supreme Court of Montana

October 22, 2019

STEPHEN AND SHARON WIEGELE, Plaintiffs, Appellees, and Cross-Appellants,
v.
WEST DRY CREEK RANCH, LLC, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: August 14, 2019

          APPEAL 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

          For Appellant: Bruce M. Jacobs, Law Offices of Bruce M. Jacobs, LLC, Bozeman, Montana

          For Appellees: J. Troy Redmon, Keeley McKay, Redmon Law Firm, PC, Bozeman, Montana

          OPINION

          Beth Baker, Justice

         ¶1 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.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Stephen[1] 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.

         (Image Omitted) DIAGRAM 1[2]

         ¶3 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 Section 31.

         ¶4 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 properties.

         ¶5 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.

         ¶6 West Dry Creek's predecessor, Dry Creek Partnership, [3] purchased the Cabin Property from Clark in 2000 and later conveyed it to West Dry Creek.

         ¶7 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.

         ¶8 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.

         ¶9 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.

         ¶10 In response, West Dry Creek denied that the easement over the N1/2 exists and asserted that it had an easement over the 160.

         ¶11 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.

         ¶12 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.

         ¶13 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.

         STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         ¶14 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, ΒΆ 21. "Substantial evidence is evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, even if ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.