Niles v. Eldridge - No. 20120294
Joan Eldridge appeals a district court judgment after a bench trial finding Rex Niles, Lloyd Lester, and Kyle Dragseth had easements over her land and an ownership interest in an artesian well on her land.
In 1981, Lloyd Lester, Herman Johnson, and Karl Langwald split the cost to dig an artesian well on Herman Johnson's land and run pipelines to supply water to their houses. No formal, written agreement was made about the well or the pipelines. Joan Eldridge, the daughter of Herman Johnson, acquired his land from him in 1985. Kyle Dragseth eventually acquired the land owned by Karl Langwald, which connected to the well. At some point, Eldridge sold a portion of her land to Rex Niles, who then paid $2700.00 as contribution toward the initial cost to drill the well and paid to extend the pipeline to the land he purchased. Niles, Lester, and Dragseth sued Eldridge, seeking a declaratory judgment that they have an easement over Eldridge's land for the pipelines and an ownership interest in the well on her land. Eldridge argued that the plaintiffs did not have an easement over her land, because there was no written contract granting them an easement as required by the Statute of Frauds, and that the plaintiffs had only a license to use her land that she could revoke at any time. The district court found that although there was no written contract granting the plaintiffs an easement, the Statute of Frauds did not apply, because the plaintiffs paid consideration, took possession of the land, and made significant improvements. Therefore, the district court found that Niles, Lester, and Dragseth had an easement over Eldridge's land for the pipelines and that each owned an interest in the artesian well.
On appeal, Eldridge argues that the district court erred by ruling the Statute of Frauds does not apply and that, in the absence of a writing, the district court should have determined the plaintiffs have only a license to use the land for the pipelines.