Direct Appeal Third District, Salt Lake The Honorable Robert
P. Faust No. 100921025
E. Draney, Scott H. Martin, Danica N. Cepernich, Rodney R.
Parker, Salt Lake City, for appellant
M. Belnap, Bradley W. Bowen, Alan R. Houston, Salt Lake City,
Justice Durrant authored the opinion of the Court, in which
Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice Himonas, Justice Pearce
and Justice Petersen joined.
DURRANT, CHIEF JUSTICE
Article XI, section 8 of the Utah Constitution and Utah Code
section 17B-1-103 authorize the creation of
quasi-governmental entities known as limited purpose local
districts. The Metropolitan Water District of Salt Lake and
Sandy (Metro) is one such district, created for the purpose
of operating the Salt Lake Aqueduct (SLA). Metro owns land in
fee and has various easements along the SLA corridor. One of
these easements crosses the backyard of Zdenek Sorf. Metro
claims that it has authority to enact regulations over
non-Metro district use of SLA corridor lands such as Mr.
Sorf's. When Mr. Sorf made improvements to his property
in violation of these regulations, Metro sued for injunctive
relief, among other claims. Mr. Sorf filed a motion for
summary judgment, arguing Metro's claims were not yet
ripe. The district court granted his motion. Because we find
that the parties' claims are ripe, we reverse and remand.
Metro owns and operates the SLA. The SLA transports water
from the Deer Creek Dam to the Salt Lake Valley. Along the
SLA corridor, Metro owns some property in fee and has
easements over other portions. Mr. Sorf owns property
encumbered by a Metro district easement. This easement was
created by deed in 1946 by Elizabeth Colemere, the former
property owner. This deed provides Metro an easement 125 feet
wide "to construct, reconstruct, operate and maintain a
pipeline or pipelines on, over and across" the property.
Metro also claims that, under Utah Code sections 17B-1-103
and 17B-1-301, it has additional authority to adopt
regulations of SLA-related property. With this alleged
authority, Metro has created a set of regulations, including
provisions controlling non-Metro use of the SLA. These
regulations prohibit construction of certain structures, and
prohibit property owners from having trees and vines on the
land covered by the easement. Metro's regulations require
property owners encumbered by Metro's easement to submit
an encroachment application to Metro if they want to make any
of these restricted improvements on their land.
Without Metro's approval, Mr. Sorf began making
improvements to his property. He removed some trees and
landscaping and replaced them with a hot tub and gazebo. He
added garden boxes, a water feature, and a shed. All of these
improvements fall within the boundaries of Metro's
easement. Mr. Sorf also replaced a cinder block wall with a
wood fence and installed a gate in the fence to give Metro
access. He installed another gate between his backyard and
his neighbor's backyard to provide additional access.
Metro filed suit in October 2010, seeking to enjoin Mr.
Sorf's construction and receive a declaration about its
authority to remove the improvements. Mr. Sorf defaulted,
appealed to this court, and we vacated the denial of his
motion to set aside the default judgment.Mr. Sorf later
filed an answer and counterclaim in the district court. Metro
filed a motion for partial summary judgment, seeking a
declaration that it had the regulatory authority it claimed.
Mr. Sorf filed a cross-motion for summary judgment, claiming
that Metro's claims were not ripe "because whether
[Mr. Sorf] has violated [Metro's] easement rights or
[Metro's] necessary rules and regulations cannot
be determined until such time as [Metro] has an actual need
to refurbish or replace the pipeline."
The district court granted Mr. Sorf's cross-motion. It
found that Metro had an easement on Mr. Sorf's property,
that there was no evidence that Mr. Sorf's improvements
to the property unreasonably interfered with the aqueduct,
and that Metro's "assertion of interference with its
rights regarding the potential future refurbishment or
replacement of the pipe [was] purely speculative." The
district court dismissed Metro's claims as not ripe.
Specifically, the district court found that "determining
whether [Mr. Sorf] has unreasonably interfered with the
easement will be entirely speculative until Metro has an
actual plan to refurbish or replace the pipe under [Mr.
Metro appealed the district court's order. We have
jurisdiction pursuant ...