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Winnie Development LLLP v. Reveling

Supreme Court of North Dakota

February 22, 2018

Winnie Development LLLP, Plaintiff and Appellant
v.
Jeffrey C. Reveling, Josh Pretzer, Danielle Pretzer, Paul Steven Wyum, Britni Dale Wyum, Bryan Stein, The City of Horace, and all other persons unknown claiming any estate or interest in, or lien or encumbrance upon, the property described in the complaint, Defendants and Benjamin B. Hendricks and Stephanie L. Hendricks, Defendants and Appellees

         Appeal from the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable John C. Irby, Judge.

          Lynn M. Mesteth, Fargo, ND, for plaintiff and appellant.

          Jacob C. Hendricks, Minneapolis, MN, for defendants and appellees Benjamin B. Hendricks and Stephanie L. Hendricks.

          OPINION

          Crothers, Justice.

         [¶ 1] Winnie Development, LLLP appeals from a district court judgment holding it has no interest in a parcel of land in the City of Horace. Winnie argues it has a legal interest allowing access to its property adjacent to the disputed parcel. We reverse and remand to the district court for entry of judgment, providing that Winnie holds fee title to the disputed parcel subject to the City's access rights.

         I

         [¶ 2] Carroll and Mary Lou Orth owned certain real property in Cass County and in 1979 platted the Orth-Golberg Second Addition to the City of Horace. The Horace City Council approved the plat on June 4, 1979 and recorded it on July 2, 1979. Block 1, Lot 14 ("Parcel 1") of the subdivision is labeled on the plat as "City Dike Access." Parcel 1 is a 20-foot wide lot extending from a road on its east side to the west edge of the subdivision. The Dedication of the plat does not mention Parcel 1. By comparison, a park identified on the plat as Block 2, Lot 14 includes a specific dedication for "the use of the public." Parcel 1 was not on Cass County property tax rolls until Winnie sought and obtained a quitclaim deed from Mary Lou Orth in 2014.

         [¶ 3] This litigation arose after Winnie sought access over Parcel 1 to reach an adjacent 1.6-acre piece of land ("Parcel 2"). Parcel 2 is not in the Orth-Golberg Second Addition. It lies between the Sheyenne River and several other privately owned lots in the subdivision. Parcel 2 can be accessed only via Parcel 1, crossing the Sheyenne River or crossing privately owned property in the subdivision. Winnie brought this action to quiet title in Winnie to both Parcel 1 and Parcel 2, to declare an easement by necessity in Winnie's favor over Parcel 1, or to reform the plat and declare Parcel 1 dedicated to the public subject to access rights not inconsistent with the plat's "City Dike Access."

         [¶ 4] Some defendants owning land in the vicinity of Parcel 1 made no answer to Winnie's complaint. One defendant answered but did not otherwise litigate the issues. The district court ultimately entered judgment barring these defendants from further claiming any interest in Parcel 1. Stephanie and Benjamin Hendricks own the property immediately south of Parcel 1. The Hendricks counterclaimed against Winnie, arguing they owned all or part of Parcel 1 and Winnie was trespassing on their property by using Parcel 1 to access Parcel 2. The district court rejected both of the Hendricks's counterclaims. None of the parties contests Winnie's claim to Parcel 2, and the district court quieted title in Winnie to that property.

         [¶ 5] The City of Horace also answered and counterclaimed, alleging it had an interest in Parcel 1 to access City dikes. The district court subsequently granted the City's motion for summary judgment, holding the City has a right to use Parcel 1 to access the City's dikes regardless of ultimate disposition of the property. The district court held:

"The property rights of the plaintiff and/or the other defendants in and to [Parcel 1] are subject to the right of the City of Horace to cross [Parcel 1] for the purpose of accessing City dikes.
"The interest of the City of Horace, in and to [Parcel 1], shall be recognized in the final judgment in the above-entitled quiet title action, brought before the Court by Winnie Development LLLP."

         [¶ 6] The district court conducted a bench trial in November 2016. The court found the designation of Parcel 1 as "City Dike Access" divested Mary Lou Orth of any title, and thus the quitclaim deed Winnie obtained from her in 2014 conveyed no interest. The district court also found Winnie failed to meet its burden of proof establishing an easement by necessity, and found Winnie incorrectly claimed an easement over the land of a third party. Judgment was entered in March of 2017 and Winnie timely appealed.

         II

         [¶ 7] Winnie argues the district court erred by finding the City of Horace is the only party with any interest in Parcel 1, by finding Winnie had no right in Parcel 1 to access Parcel 2, and by finding Winnie did not prove an easement by necessity. The Hendricks are the only other party participating in the appeal and argue the district court did not err finding ...


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