Idaho Supreme Court Awards Attorneys Fees in Easement Case
Another Idaho easement case…
Unfortunately, easements are the equivalent of a full-time employment act for land use attorneys. You can just count on a dispute arising over an improperly located or undefined easement. The following case gives us some guidance on not only easements but also on why a court will award attorney’s fees in a frivolously filed case.
On January 23, 2015, the Supreme Court of Idaho issued its decision in The Jim & Maryann Plane Family Trust v. Skinner, Docket No. 41448.
In an appeal from Bear Lake County, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s decision denying the Jim and Maryann Plane Family Trust’s motion to void a portion of an earlier stipulated judgment regarding a ten-foot wide driveway easement. The parties’ predecessors in the case stipulated to an entry of a judgment creating a five-foot driveway easement over land currently belonging to Jason and Janae Skinner with the other five-foot of the driveway easement being located on land that might (according the parties’ predecessors) be State highway right-of-way. Already you can see the potential problem for future landowners.
The Plane Family Trust argued the stipulated judgment was void for lack of jurisdiction and illegal because the State was not a party to the stipulated judgment. The Trust asked the district court to delete portions of the stipulated judgment referring to the location of the driveway on the State highway right-of-way. This would have had the effect of doubling the width of the Trust’s easement across the Skinners’ property.
The Supreme Court determined that Rule 60(b)(4) did not authorize the district court to modify a judgment in such a fashion and that the judgment was not void or illegal. The Supreme Court also ruled the district court had not abused its discretion when it awarded attorney fees to the Skinners for their defense of a frivolous action. The Supreme Court found the appeal to be frivolous, and imposed sanctions against the Trust and its attorneys, ordering them to pay the attorney fees and costs incurred by the Skinners in the defense of the appeal.
It should be noted that the Trust failed to mention the State had granted the Trust a license to use the State highway right-of-way for purposes of ingress and egress to the Trust’s property. While this is not discussed in-depth in the decision, I cannot help but think this played a critical role in the award of attorneys fees.
The case is a good read and can be found in its entirety at: