Law change maintains easement

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COEUR d’ALENE — A law change coupled by a recent Supreme Court decision will allow a prominent Kootenai County Republican to cross his neighbor’s property.

In a decision this week, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled in favor of Brent Regan — Kootenai County Republican Central Committee chairman and Idaho Freedom Foundation board member — who sued his Sunnyside neighbor over access through a property his neighbor purchased in a tax sale.

The lawsuit started in Coeur d’Alene’s First District Court after Jeff D. and Karen Owen, Regan’s neighbors, purchased a small parcel of land from Kootenai County after a tax sale.

A dispute arose when Regan, who argued an express, or written easement was in place on the parcel, was barred from driving over the property. Regan wanted to establish a prescriptive easement, one that is gained because of regular use.

In a back-and-forth court battle that began in 2013, the Owens were eventually granted a summary judgment in District Court.

The court ruled that tax deeds convey property free of all encumbrances and therefore any easements attached to the property before the Owens purchased it were extinguished.

The Regans appealed the First District Court decision to the Idaho Supreme Court. After they filed their appeal, the Idaho Legislature amended the law.

A bill “to clarify the scope and effect of Idaho’s statutes governing tax deeds,” sponsored in 2016 by Sen. Bart M. Davis R-Idaho Falls, was passed unanimously in both the House and Senate and signed into law by Gov. Butch Otter.

The bill named the Regan and Owen lawsuit as an example of why easements need to be maintained, and contained a lengthy statement why the District Court’s decision to extinguish the easement should be rejected, Justice Robyn Brody wrote in her decision.

Because of the new law, Brody and Justices Roger S. Burdick, Warren E. Jones, and G. Richard Bevan ruled in favor of vacating the earlier District Court decision.

Justice Joel D. Horton was the lone dissenter.

“In my view,” Horton wrote. “The District Court properly applied the law.”

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