Justia Idaho Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law

by
Four appeals arose from a consolidated subcase that was a part of the broader Coeur d’Alene-Spokane River Basin Adjudication (CSRBA). The United States Department of the Interior (the United States), as trustee for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe (the Tribe), filed 353 claims in Idaho state court seeking judicial recognition of federal reserved water rights to fulfill the purposes of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s Reservation (the Reservation). The Tribe joined the litigation. The State of Idaho (the State) and others objected to claims asserted by the United States and the Tribe. The district court bifurcated the proceedings to decide only the entitlement to water at this stage, with the quantification stage to follow. After cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court allowed certain claims to proceed and disallowed others. The district court specifically allowed reserved water rights for agriculture, fishing and hunting, and domestic purposes. The district court allowed reserved water rights for instream flows within the Reservation, but disallowed those for instream flows outside the Reservation. The district court determined priority dates for the various claims it found should proceed to quantification, holding generally the Tribe was entitled to a date-of-reservation priority date for the claims for consumptive uses, and a time immemorial priority date for nonconsumptive uses. However, in regard to lands homesteaded on the Reservation by non-Indians that had since been reacquired by the Tribe, the district court ruled the Tribe was entitled to a priority date of a perfected state water right, or if none had been perfected or it had been lost due to nonuse, the Tribe’s priority date would be the date-of-reacquisition. The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Supreme Court determined the district court improperly applied the controlling case law's rule of "primary-secondary" distinction and instead should have allowed aboriginal purposes of plant gathering and cultural uses under the homeland purpose theory. Furthermore, the Court determined the priority date associated with nonconsumptive water rights was time immemorial. The Court affirmed the remainder of the district court’s decisions and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Idaho" on Justia Law

by
This appeal stemmed from a disputed water right relating to the St. Joe River in Benewah County, Idaho, between a landowner and the tenants who put the water to beneficial use. The license at issue described the water right as “appurtenant to the described place of use.” The landowner argued the water right was appurtenant to his land, while the tenants contended the right was developed and owned by their predecessors in interest and now belonged to them by virtue of their having purchased the interest. The district court ultimately adopted the Special Master’s report and issued a partial decree, which listed the tenants as the owner of the license. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "McInturff v . Shippy" on Justia Law

by
Eagle Creek Irrigation Company (“Eagle Creek”) appealed a district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of A.C. & C.E. Investments, Inc. The dispute centered on 15 shares of Eagle Creek stock which authorized the holder to divert 30 cfs of water (or 15 miner’s inches) of Eagle Creek’s water right. AC&CE Investments purchased 15 acres (“the Property”) located within Eagle Creek’s boundaries. The prior property owners also owned 15 shares in Eagle Creek stock. The question presented on appeal was whether the 15 shares passed as an appurtenance to the Property. The district court ruled that AC&CE Investments acquired 15 shares in Eagle Creek when it acquired title to the Property because the shares passed as an appurtenance to the Property. Eagle Creek appealed. The Idaho Supreme Court determined the district court erred in granting summary judgment to AC&CE Investments because the district court did not look to Eagle Creek’s governing documents. The Supreme Court therefore vacated the portion of the district court’s final judgment which stated that the 15 shares of the Eagle Creek stock were appurtenant to the Property. View "Eagle Creek Irrigation v. A.C & C.E Investments" on Justia Law

by
This appeal centered on the distribution of water to water right 95-0734 in the Twin Lakes-Rathdrum Creek Drainage Basin. Sylte Ranch, LLC, was the current claimant on water right 95- 0734, which dated from 1875 and provided natural flow stockwater from Rathdrum Creek. In September 2016, Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) issued a letter of instructions to the local watermaster in response to a complaint that he was releasing storage water from Twin Lakes contrary to a 1989 Final Decree that established all existing rights to Twin Lakes’ surface waters, tributaries, and outlets. These instructions led Sylte to file a Petition for Declaratory Ruling, arguing that IDWR should set aside and reverse the instructions because they improperly limited water right 95-0734 to Twin Lakes’ natural tributary inflow. Twin Lakes Improvement Association, et al., and Twin Lakes Flood Control District intervened in the case. Following cross motions for summary judgment, IDWR issued a Final Order, in which it upheld the instructions and granted intervenors’ motion for summary judgment. Sylte then sought judicial review and the district court affirmed IDWR’s Final Order. Sylte timely appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court. The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s determination to uphold IDWR’s Final Order because the instructions complied with the plain language of the 1989 Final Decree. View "Sylte v. IDWR" on Justia Law

by
The issue this case presented for the Idaho Supreme Court’s review centered on whether and to what extent an uphill landowner could send irrigation wastewater across a downhill landowner’s property. This case began when Lemhi County filed suit against the owners of both ranches seeking to relieve flooding along one of its roads. Phillip Moulton owned and operated a ranch that was on higher ground than the adjacent ranch that Verdell Olson operated. Surface and irrigation water that began on Moulton’s ranch made its way to the Lemhi River through various channels. The one at issue in this case was a steep draw that sent water across a county road and through the downhill ranch that Olson operated. Lemhi County reached a settlement with Olson, and the remaining issue for the district court was whether an easement or a natural servitude permitted Moulton to send water down the draw. The district court held that both an easement and natural servitude permit Moulton to send up to 3.25 cubic feet per second of water down the draw. Olson appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed the district court to the extent it provided for an easement and natural servitude, but remanded for specification of the location of the drainage basin on Olson’s property. View "Olson v. Moulton" on Justia Law

by
Gary and Glenna Eden sought to file a late notice of claim for their Water Right No. 37-864 which was not claimed during the pendency of the Snake River Basin Adjudication (“SRBA”), and therefore was decreed disallowed. In the SRBA, the Edens alleged that the SRBA’s Final Unified Decree and the Closure Order should have been set aside as void because they did not receive sufficient notice of the SRBA proceedings to satisfy due process. Further, the Edens argued they were not personally served with the required notice of default pursuant to Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2). Furthermore, the Edens claimed that unique and compelling circumstances justify relief from the final judgment under Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6). The SRBA court disagreed and denied the Edens’ relief on any of these grounds. Finding no reversible error in the SRBA court's judgment, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Eden v. Idaho" on Justia Law

by
This water rights appeal stemmed from two consolidated subcases, litigated in the Snake River Basin Adjudication (SRBA). The subcases concerned the United States’ late claims (Late Claims) filed in January 2013, which asserted “supplemental beneficial use storage water rights” claims under the constitutional method of appropriation to store water in priority after flood-control releases. The special master recommended that the State’s motion for summary judgment be granted, concluding the Late Claims should be disallowed because, as the Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources (Director) recommended, the Late Claims asserted rights that had not been claimed when the underlying water rights were adjudicated and decreed. Alternatively, the special master concluded the Late Claims should be disallowed because, as intervenor Black Canyon Irrigation District (BCID) asserted, the decreed water rights already authorized the rights the Late Claims were asserting, thus, unnecessary. The district court agreed with the special master insofar as the Late Claims were precluded. However, the district court rejected the special master’s alternative recommendation that the Late Claims were duplicative of the rights already decreed and unnecessary. The district court entered judgment reflecting these conclusions. BCID timely appeals and the Idaho Supreme Court affirm the district court’s conclusion the special master exceeded the district court’s orders of reference by making the “alternative basis” recommendation. View "Black Canyon Irrig Dist v. State / Suez Water" on Justia Law

by
This water rights appeal stems from two consolidated subcases, numbers 65-23531 and 65-23532, litigated in the Snake River Basin Adjudication (SRBA). The subcases concerned the United States’ late claims filed in January 2013, which asserted “supplemental beneficial use storage water rights” claims under the constitutional method of appropriation to store water in priority after flood-control releases. The special master recommended that the State’s motion for summary judgment be granted, concluding the Late Claims should be disallowed because, as the Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources (Director) recommended, the Late Claims asserted rights that had not been claimed when the underlying water rights were adjudicated and decreed. Alternatively, the special master concluded the Late Claims should be disallowed because, as intervenor Black Canyon Irrigation District (BCID) asserted, the decreed water rights already authorized the rights the Late Claims now assert, and hence, the Late Claims were unnecessary. The district court agreed with the special master insofar as the Late Claims were precluded. However, the district court rejected the special master’s alternative recommendation that the Late Claims were duplicative of the rights already decreed and unnecessary. The district court entered judgment reflecting these conclusions. The United States appealed the district court’s ruling on preclusion, but finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "United States v. Black Canyon Irrigation Dist." on Justia Law

by
Philip Hudson appealed a district court’s grant of partial summary judgment in favor of the State of Idaho, the Idaho State Board of Land Commissioners and the Idaho Department of Lands (collectively, the “State”). The district court found that Hudson violated the Idaho Lake Protection Act (the “LPA”) when he placed fill in the bed of Priest Lake without a permit. Hudson disputed the location of the Ordinary High Water Mark (the “OHWM”) and argued the fill was placed on his own property to protect it from erosion. Hudson argued that there was an issue of material fact regarding the location of the OHWM, which made summary judgment improper. Finding the dispute regarding the OHWM was not a material fact in determining whether Hudson violated the LPA, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed summary judgment. View "Idaho Board of Land v. Hudson" on Justia Law

by
At issue in this matter was landowners’ recourse against an irrigation district for diverting a portion of their water source to other landowners within the district. The appellants-landowners owned farms in Jerome County; A&B Irrigation District (the “District”) distributed water to these farms and others throughout its service area in Jerome and Minidoka Counties. The District serves two distinct sub-areas in its district: Unit A and Unit B. The water the District distributes comes from two sources: (1) surface water from the Snake River and associated reservoirs, and (2) groundwater from the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer. These two water sources were historically what separated Units A and B, and many owners based their land choices in the 1950s on the water source. Unit A farms have received surface water exclusively since the District’s inception. For decades Unit B farms received only groundwater, but the District converted approximately 1400 Unit B acres to surface water in the 1990s in response to decreasing groundwater supply. Appellants claimed the Project primarily benefited Unit B landowners at the expense of Unit A by diverting a portion of Unit A’s sole water source (surface water) onto Unit B land and “diluting” their annual water supply. Additionally, the District divided Project costs equally among all landowners despite what Appellants claim was the Project’s primary purpose: to help sustain Unit B farms as their groundwater supply continues to decline. The landowners brought an action for a declaratory judgment regarding their constitutional water and property rights. They also sought injunctive relief against the irrigation district for a breach of fiduciary duty. The district court granted the irrigation district’s motion to dismiss on all three of the landowners’ claims. The landowners’ appeal centered on two issues with respect to their three claims against the District: the legal standard under which the district court dismissed Appellants’ claims, and the court’s substantive determinations under that standard. Appellants contend the district court erred both procedurally and substantively in dismissing all three counts in its amended complaint. Procedurally, they claimed the district court improperly considered matters outside the pleadings in dismissing all three claims under Rule 12(b)(6), rather than converting to the Rule 56 summary judgment standard. Substantively, Appellants contended that Counts I and III were justiciable as presented on the face of their amended complaint, and that res judicata did not bar relief under Count II. The Idaho Supreme Court found after review that the landowners failed to demonstrate justiciable claims in their Counts I and III, and that the district court erred in dismissing their property rights claim in Count II by considering matters outside the pleadings under Rule 12(b)(6). View "Paslay v. A&B Irrigation District" on Justia Law