The facts. This case was previously before the Idaho Supreme Court in Latvala v. Green Enterprises, Inc., 168 Idaho 686, 485 P.3d 1129 (2021) (Latvala I). It concerns the scope of a prescriptive easement over a road to reach a land-locked parcel of land. The parcel was originally part of a patented mining claim, and the road was used for that purpose. The Latvalas purchased the parcel and sought an easement to use the road to construct a residence there. Neighboring landowners challenged the easement. In Latvala I, the Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the Latvalas had a prescriptive easement over the road but vacated its determination that the road could be used to construct a residence on the parcel.

On remand, the parties disputed whether Latvala I prohibited the Latvalas’ residential use of the parcel (as argued by the neighboring landowners) or only the use of the road to construct a residence (as argued by the Latvalas). The trial court entered an amended judgment agreeing with the Latvalas, and the neighboring landowners appealed.

The issues. Two main issues were on appeal: (1) whether the neighboring landowners’ appeal ran afoul of the finality of Latvala I or the law of the case doctrine, and (2) whether the scope of the prescriptive easement found in Latvala I prohibited the Latvalas from using the parcel for residential purposes.

The result. The Court rejected the Latvalas’ argument that the law of the case doctrine prohibited the neighboring landowners from challenging the amended judgment. The Court held that the landowners were “merely seeking an interpretation of” Latvala I, not a modification. As for the scope of the prescriptive easement, the Court affirmed the district court’s amended judgment, finding it was consistent with the Court’s decision in Latvala I. As a result, the Latvalas cannot use the road to construct a residence, but they can drive along the road to access a residence.

Practice Pointers.

  1. The law of the case doctrine bars the relitigation of issues in a single case and its subsequent progress, both in the trial court and in subsequent appeals. Here the Court considered its decision in Latvala I and found it did not declare that residential use was prohibited. Thus, the neighboring landowners were not seeking to modify the decision or obtain a different holding. They simply questioned whether the trial court’s amended judgment was consistent with Latvala I.
  2. The Court spent several pages dissecting its holding in Latvala I and unpacking Gibbens v. Weisshaupt, 98 Idaho 633, 638, 570 P.2d 870, 875 (1977). Gibbens is the seminal case addressing the scope of a prescriptive easement and subsequent changes in use. Concluding that the Latvalas may use the road to access a residence on the parcel, the Court clarified that courts must focus on whether an expansion of use would result in an increased burden on the servient estate. The focus is not on the subjective intent of the dominant estate each time they use the easement.