Algee v. Hren

Algee v. Hren, 2016 MT 166 (July 12, 2016) (Shea, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the district court properly applied the doctrine of laches to bar all of Algee’s claims not already barred by statutes of limitation.

Short Answer: Yes.

Affirmed

Facts: Algee and Hrens own adjoining properties. Hren have an easement through Algee’s land, including a creek embankment. In August 2010, Hrens began to build a road on their easement to access their property. Algee filed a complaint with the Cascade Conservation District, and the CCD issued a stop work order. Hrens stopped work, changed their plans, and submitted them to the CCD, which further modified them before issuing a 210 permit to continue road construction. In September 2010, Algee received a letter informing him of the approved plan and the issued permit. Hrens completed the road in October 2010, at a cost of approximately $40,000.

In August 2013, Algee sued Hrens over the easement, alleging they destroyed a trail in the process fo constructing the road. The same date, Algee filed a lis pendens, which prevented Hrens from closing on the sale of their property, scheduled for five days later. Hrens filed an answer, counterclaim and request for a permanent injunction in October 2013.

In April 2015, Hrens moved for partial summary judgment. Shortly thereafter, Hrens filed an amended answer and counterclaim without objection. The amended answer raised an affirmative defense of laches.

Procedural Posture & Holding: In July 2015, the district court held that Algee’s trespass and negligence claims were barred by the stautes of limitation, and that Algee’s remaining claims were barred by laches. Algee appeals the holding regarding laches, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: After reviewing its case law on laches, the Court notes that Algee knew or should have known that Hrens were allegedly destroying his access trail at the time they were constructing the road. Nonetheless, he said nothing to anyone and waited three years to file suit. Algee’s delay allowed Hrens to complete their road and put their property on the market, rendering enforcement of his asserted right inequitable. Algee’s lack of diligence in pursuing his claim prejudiced Hrens.