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Bell Canyon Acres Homeowners Association v. McLelland

Supreme Court of Utah

May 21, 2019

Bell Canyon Acres Homeowners Association, [1] Appellants,
v.
Michael Sean McLelland, [2] Appellees.

          On Appeal of Interlocutory Order Third District, Salt Lake The Honorable Gary D. Stott No. 160907281

          Gregory S. Moesinger, Salt Lake City, for appellants

          Dale B. Kimsey, Salt Lake City, for appellees

          Justice Himonas authored the opinion of the Court in which Chief Justice Durrant, Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice Pearce, and Justice Petersen joined.

          OPINION

          HIMONAS, JUSTICE

         INTRODUCTION

         ¶1 Good fences, it appears, stop making good neighbors right about where they start to encroach on bridle paths.[3] In this case we are asked to decide whether the Utah Declaratory Judgment Act requires neighbors objecting to such fences to sue all homeowners whose property is subject to the bridle path easement or just those homeowners who have fences (or other improvements) that are alleged to infringe on the path. The district court thought the Act required joinder of all homeowners and therefore declined to enter summary judgment for appellants. We hold, however, that no such joinder is required and reverse and remand this matter to the district court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Bell Canyon Acres Community is a unique residential neighborhood that is zoned for housing large animals and has historically been used for the housing and enjoyment of horses. Located throughout Bell Canyon Acres is a network of riding easements and rights-of-way that are dedicated as bridle paths for the use of residents. These bridle path easements originate in a series of restrictive covenants that apply to the lots in Bell Canyon Acres. The size and location of the bridle paths are reflected in a series of recorded plat maps.

         ¶3 Appellants brought suit alleging that appellees-four of the approximately one hundred homeowners in Bell Canyon Acres- have intruded upon the bridle path, thereby violating the restrictive covenants. Appellants sought a declaratory judgment determining the parties' rights in the bridle paths, determining the enforceability of the restrictive covenants, and declaring that appellees are encroaching on the bridle paths in violation of the restrictive covenants. Appellees filed a motion to dismiss and appellants later filed a motion for summary judgment. The district court denied both motions. At issue in this case is the denial of appellants' motion for summary judgment.

         ¶4 The district court ruled that it could, as a matter of law, determine that the restrictive covenant establishes a fifty-foot wide bridle path easement over the appellees' lots. The district court also determined that a limitation period set forth in the restrictive covenants did not preclude appellants' enforcement of the bridle path easement. But the district court denied summary judgment because appellants did not join all homeowners in the community whose property is subject to the restrictive covenants and the bridle path easement (collectively, the outsiders). Drawing on the Utah Declaratory Judgment Act, which provides that "[w]hen declaratory relief is sought all persons shall be made parties who have or claim any interest which would be affected by the declaration, and a declaration may not prejudice the rights of persons not parties to the proceeding," Utah Code § 78B-6-403(1), the district court reasoned that a declaration determining the scope of the bridle path easement would also establish the scope of the easement for the outsiders. In the district court's estimation, then, the outsiders have interests that would be affected by the declaration appellants seek. Accordingly, the district court denied appellants' motion for summary judgment.

         ¶5 Appellants filed this interlocutory appeal, asking us to overturn the district court's ruling that section 403 of the Utah Declaratory Judgment Act mandates joinder of the outsiders before appellants can proceed with their action for declaratory relief. Specifically, appellants ask us to determine whether section 403 requires the outsiders-whose lots are subject to the restrictive covenants and the bridle path easement-to be joined in appellants' declaratory action seeking the interpretation and enforcement of the restrictive covenants and easement as against appellees.[4]

         ¶6 We exercise jurisdiction pursuant to Utah Code section 78A-3-102(3)(j).

         STANDARD ...


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