Ruddy-Lamarca v. Dalton Gardens Irrigation Dist.

Ruddy-Lamarca v. Dalton Gardens Irrigation Dist., 291 P.3d 437 (Idaho 2012) (holding that the less intrusive installation method defined a permissible width of the easement and the district court’s order directing the dominant estate owner to make every effort to preserve trees and drain field was consistent with the principle of reasonableness).

Dalton Gardens Irrigation District (“District”), a dominant estate owner of an express easement over Ruddy-Lamarca’s (“Lamarca”) land, unsuccessfully appealed a claim to determine the width of the easement.  District’s easement provided it a “right-of-way for the construction, enlargement and maintenance of all canals, flumes and water tanks of the vendor, heretofore constructed or hereafter to be constructed, over and across said lands for the irrigation of other lands.”  Historically, District owned a four-inch buried pipe on the easement across Lamarca’s five acre tract of land located in Kootenai County, Idaho.  District sought to replace the existing pipe with a ten-inch pipe.  District’s proposed method of replacing the existing pipe would require approximately thirty to forty feet of width, and may have killed two, forty to fifty-year-old, maple trees and caused Lamarca’s septic system to fail.  The Supreme Court of Idaho (“Court”) affirmed the district court’s decision that the easement was sixteen feet in width and that District must make every effort to preserve the maple trees and septic drain field when replacing its pipe.

The Court first defined the relevant case law.  Idaho defines an indefinite express easement by the “intent of the parties as demonstrated by the easement’s initial use.”  It also describes an easement by prescription by the continuous and uninterrupted use during the prescriptive period.  A secondary easement provides the right to enter and repair and “do those things necessary to the full enjoyment of the easement.”  Use of a secondary easement must be reasonable, pursuant to Idaho case law.

First, District argued that the “initial use” aspect of its express easement should include the initial method of construction, which was forty feet wide.  The Court disagreed because all previous cases on point defined “initial use” by the constructed size, not by the method of construction.  In other words, District’s “initial use” was not the forty foot wide construction area, but rather the existing four-inch pipe.

Second, District argued that its secondary easement rights should allow the proposed installation of the ten-inch pipe.  The Court noted that, historically, trees had not unreasonably interfered with District’s secondary easement.  While District’s proposed method of installation required three pieces of heavy machinery and forty feet of width, Lamarca’s proposed alternative method only required one piece of heavy machinery and sixteen feet of width.  As such, the Court concluded that a sixteen foot width was reasonable for District’s purposes.

The Court concluded that the requirement that District make every effort to preserve the maple trees and septic drain field was in line with burdening the servient estate “as little as possible.”  Therefore, the Court affirmed the district court’s decision, concluding that the easement had a sixteen foot width and that District had to make every effort to preserve the maple trees and septic drain field.