Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Metropolitan Water District of Salt Lake & Sandy v. SHCH Alaska Trust

Supreme Court of Utah

October 16, 2019

Metropolitan Water District of Salt Lake & Sandy, Appellee,
v.
SHCH Alaska Trust, Andrea A. Oveson, Rocky Mountain Holding Trust, [*] Appellants.

          On Direct Appeal Fourth District, Heber The Honorable Jennifer A. Brown No. 130500126

          Shawn E. Draney, Scott H. Martin, Danica N. Cepernich, Salt Lake City, for appellee

          Edwin C. Barnes, Perrin R. Love, Shannon K. Zollinger, Salt Lake City, Kay L. McIff, Richfield, for appellants

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

          Having recused himself, Justice Pearce does not participate herein; Court of Appeals Judge Diana Hagen sat.

          OPINION

          DURRANT, CHIEF JUSTICE.

         Introduction

         ¶1 The Metropolitan Water District of Salt Lake & Sandy (Metro) owns an easement across land owned by the SHCH Alaska Trust (Alaska).[1] Under Utah's easement case law, Metro's status as an easement holder gives it a right to use Alaska's property. And under that case law, neither Alaska nor Metro may unreasonably interfere with the other's rights in the property. The district court found, however, that Metro's status as a limited purpose local district of the State of Utah grants Metro additional authority- authority beyond what is traditionally enjoyed by an easement holder-to impose restrictions on Alaska's use of the property. In other words, the district court found that Metro has authority to impose land use restrictions on real property it does not own. We disagree.

         ¶2 Based on our interpretation of the relevant statutes, we hold that Metro's authority over Alaska's property does not extend beyond the authority it derives from its easement rights. Accordingly, we reverse the district court's grant of summary judgment and remand the case to the district court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         ¶3 The district court also determined that Metro's easement was 200 feet wide. This determination was based on a written description of the easement created by a civil engineer for the Federal Bureau of Reclamation in 1961. This too was error. Although the civil engineer's written description may provide evidence of the scope of the easement, the court erred in concluding that it was dispositive. Accordingly, we also reverse the district court's determination regarding the easement's scope and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         Background

         ¶4 The dispute in this case arose after Alaska attempted to open a commercial zipline course on its property in Wasatch County. After applying for a conditional use permit from Wasatch County, Alaska was informed by Metro that Metro had enacted regulations restricting Alaska's use of Alaska's property within the Salt Lake Aqueduct Corridor.

         ¶5 The Salt Lake Aqueduct Corridor is a forty-two mile area, stretching from the Deer Creek Reservoir to Salt Lake County, through which Metro operates a water pipeline. Although Metro owns some of the land within the Corridor, it has only easement rights for other portions of the Corridor. These easement rights allow Metro to enter onto the easement lands in order to operate and maintain the pipeline as needed. To protect Metro's facilities and operations, Metro purported to enact regulations restricting certain uses of all land within the Corridor. Metro maintains that these restrictions apply to all land regardless of who owns that land.

         ¶6 Metro's regulations prohibit fee owners from constructing buildings, structures, or other encumbrances, and from planting trees and vines, on their own land within the Corridor. Additionally, the regulations contain specifications regarding the types of fences allowed, as well as a list of items that cannot be stored on land within the Corridor. Finally, the regulations require fee owners to obtain licenses from Metro before conducting certain activities on the fee owners' land. Pursuant to these regulations, Metro informed Alaska that Alaska was required to obtain a license before installing its commercial zipline course.

         ¶7 Although Alaska initially considered complying with Metro's demands, it ultimately decided to proceed with its zipline operation without obtaining Metro's approval. Metro filed a complaint in the district court soon after, requesting a mandatory injunction requiring Alaska to comply with Metro's regulations. Metro also requested, among other things, declaratory judgment regarding its property interests and regulatory authority in and over the property. Alaska responded with a counterclaim for declaratory judgment regarding its property interest.

         ¶8 Both parties subsequently filed motions for summary judgment. Alaska argued that Metro did not have an easement across Alaska's property, and that, even if Metro did, Metro did not have authority, as an easement holder, to regulate Alaska's use of that property. Metro, in contrast, argued it had regulatory authority, by statute, to regulate non-Metro property. After multiple hearings on these issues, the district court granted summary judgment in Metro's favor. Title 17B of the Utah Code (Limited Purpose Local Districts Act or Act) governs the authority enjoyed by limited purpose local districts. The court found that, when "read together," the provisions of the Act "confer upon [Metro] the authority to regulate private uses of its aqueduct corridors." The court also found that Alaska, and Alaska's predecessors in interest, had acquired the property subject to an easement 200 feet in width. The parties stipulated to a dismissal of the remaining claims in the case and Alaska appealed. We have jurisdiction pursuant to Utah Code section 78A-3-102(j).

         Standard of Review

         ¶9 We are asked to review the district court's grant of summary judgment. We review a grant of summary judgment for correctness, giving no deference to the district court, and we review the facts, and inferences to be drawn therefrom, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.[2] As part of our review of the district court's grant of summary judgment, we must review the court's interpretation of a statute. Statutory interpretation presents a question of law we review for correctness.[3]

         Analysis

         ¶10 Alaska raises two issues on appeal. First, it argues the district court erred in interpreting the provisions of Utah's Limited Purpose Local Districts Act as authorizing Metro to enact legislation regulating Alaska's use of Alaska's property. Second, it argues the district court erred in determining that Alaska acquired the property at issue subject to Metro's "200-foot" easement. Because no provision in the Act authorizes Metro to regulate Alaska's use of Alaska's property, Metro's ability to restrict Alaska's use of the property is limited to the ability to enforce the rights it derives from its easement. Accordingly, we remand this case to the district court for a determination regarding Metro's easement-based authority. And because the district court's reliance on certain evidence regarding the scope of the easement was misplaced, we also remand for a new determination regarding the easement's scope.

         I. Metro Does Not Have Authority to Directly Regulate Alaska's Use of Alaska's Own Property

         ¶11 Alaska argues the district court's summary judgment ruling was based on a misreading of the Limited Purpose Local Districts Act. The district court relied upon a number of provisions in the Act in determining that, when "[r]ead together," the provisions of the Act "confer upon [Metro] the authority to regulate private uses of its aqueduct corridors," even where a private party owns the land over which the Corridor passes. But the district court misinterpreted the provisions in the Act. Nothing in the Act grants Metro authority to enact legislation regulating the property rights of others. Instead, Metro's authority to regulate property is restricted to property it owns, and, where that regulation intersects with the property rights of others, general property principles govern the parties' respective property rights.

         A. The plain language of the Limited Purpose Local Districts Act does not provide Metro with regulatory authority over the property

         ¶12 Under article XI, section 8 of the Utah Constitution, local districts may exercise only those powers provided by statute. So we must determine whether any provision in the Act confers authority on Metro to enact legislation regulating property it does not own.[4]

         ¶13 Before determining whether Metro has the regulatory authority it claims, we must define the nature of that authority. For this reason, we requested supplemental briefing from the parties regarding how the regulations at issue should be categorized. In their supplemental briefs, both parties agree the authority at issue here is legislative, rather than administrative, in nature. More specifically, Alaska categorizes the regulations as "land use regulations." Metro, on the other hand, declines to characterize the nature of the regulations. Although Metro concedes the regulations govern uses of land, it argues "it is not necessary to put a specific label on [the nature of] its Regulations." In support, Metro points to a number of ordinances Salt Lake City has enacted governing land use in some way but that, according to Metro, do not fall within the category of a "land use regulation" as defined in the municipal land use regulation act.[5] But this argument fails because it overlooks a fundamental difference between the authority of Salt Lake City, a municipality, and Metro, a limited purpose local district.

         ¶14 As we explained above, under article XI, section 8, of the Utah Constitution, a limited purpose local district may exercise only those powers provided by statute. Under article XI, section 5, in contrast, a municipality is granted "the authority to exercise all powers relating to municipal affairs, and to adopt and enforce within its limits, local police, sanitary and similar regulations not in conflict with the general law." Thus a municipal ordinance or regulation is constitutionally valid unless it conflicts with a law of the state. But a regulation of a local district is constitutionally valid only where the authority to enact the regulation has been specifically granted by statute. So even though it may not always be necessary to define the nature of a municipal regulation, we cannot rule on the validity of a local district's regulation without first defining the nature of the authority necessary to enact it.

         ¶15 The regulations at issue are properly characterized as land use regulations. Through the regulations, Metro purports to govern how all land within the forty-two-mile Corridor may be used. The regulations prohibit the construction of buildings, structures, or other "encumbrances," as well as the planting of trees and vines, within the Corridor. They also contain specifications regarding the types of fences allowed, as well as a list of items that cannot be stored on land within the Corridor. And the regulations require fee owners to obtain licenses from Metro before conducting certain activities on the fee owners' land. Each of these restrictions "governs the use or development of land" and thus fits within the definition of a "land use regulation" provided in the city and county land use regulation acts.[6] Accordingly, we must determine whether the Limited Purpose Local Districts Act grants Metro authority to enact land use regulations. We hold it does not.

         ¶16 When we interpret "the meaning of a statute we begin by analyzing the plain language."[7] "But we do not interpret the 'plain meaning' of a statutory term in isolation. Our task, instead, is to determine the meaning of the text given the relevant context of the statute (including, particularly, the structure and language of the statutory scheme)."[8] "If the plain language is unambiguous then we need not look beyond it."[9] In this case, the district court erred in interpreting the Act because it based its interpretation of the Act on what it perceived to be the purpose of a few, isolated provisions, rather than on the meaning of a specific textual provision within the context of the Act as a whole.

         ¶17 In its summary judgment ruling, the district court cited four of the Act's provisions in support of its determination that Metro had authority to regulate Alaska's use of Alaska's property.[10] But the court did not support its assertion with analysis of the meaning of those provisions. Instead, it stated that when "read together" these provisions "confer upon [Metro] the authority to regulate private uses of its aqueduct corridors." This was so, the court explained, because these provisions "reflect the understanding that in order for a local district, such as [Metro], to operate effectively, it must have the freedom to make its own rules and regulations and to establish some uniformity to what it does."

         ¶18 On appeal, Metro defends the district court's summary judgment ruling by citing five of the Act's provisions (the four provisions cited by the district court plus one additional provision). But, like the district court, Metro fails to show that a specific provision grants it authority to regulate Alaska's property. Instead, Metro argues that when "[t]aken together, these provisions clearly establish [its] authority to regulate . . . the terms on which it will and will not agree to allow private individuals to use [Metro's] property, including the fee owners of property over which [Metro] holds an easement." But none of the cited provisions grant Metro such authority, either on their own or when read together. We examine each provision in turn.

         1.Utah Code section 17B-1-103(2)(d)

         ¶19 The first provision cited by Metro is Utah Code section 17B-1-103(2)(d), which grants Metro authority to "acquire or construct works, facilities, and improvements necessary or convenient to the full exercise of [Metro's] powers, and operate, control, maintain, and use those works, facilities, and improvements." Metro does not explain how section 103(2)(d) would authorize it to regulate Alaska's property.[11] And nothing in the language of this provision appears to provide such authority.

         ¶20 Section 103(2)(d) authorizes Metro to "operate, control, maintain, and use . . . works, facilities, and improvements" it has "acquire[d] or construct[ed]." But Alaska has not challenged Metro's authority to use or maintain any "works, facilities, [or] improvements" Metro has acquired. Instead, it has challenged Metro's authority to regulate Alaska's use of Alaska's real property in a way that unlawfully expands Metro's property interests. Because Alaska concedes that Metro has the right, through its easement, to enter the property as is necessary to "operate, control, maintain, and use" Metro's pipeline, section 103(2)(d) is not at issue in this case.

         2.Utah Code section 17B-1-103(2)(t)

         ¶21 Metro also argues that section 17B-1-103(2)(t) authorizes it to regulate Alaska's use of Alaska's property. Section 103(2)(t) states the following:

[U]pon the terms and for the consideration . . . [Metro may] agree:
(i)
(A) with another political subdivision of the state; or
(B) with a public or private owner of property on which [Metro] has a right-of-way or adjacent to which [Metro] owns fee title to property; and
(ii) to allow the use of property:
(A) owned by [Metro]; or
(B) on which [Metro] has a ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.