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Central Kansas Conservancy, Inc. v. Sides

Court of Appeals of Kansas

May 17, 2019

Central Kansas Conservancy, Inc., Appellee,
v.
Clinton L. Sides and Kimbra D. Sides, Appellants.

          Appeal from McPherson District Court; Marilyn M. Wilder, judge.

          Patrick B. Hughes, of Adams Jones Law Firm, P.A., of Wichita, for appellants.

          Casey R. Law, of Wise & Reber, L.C., of McPherson, and Michael T. Mills, of Michael T. Mills, Chartered, of McPherson, for appellee.

          Terry D. Holdren and Wendee D. Grady, of Kansas Farm Bureau, of Manhattan, and Aaron Popelka and Tucker Stewart, of Kansas Livestock Association, of Topeka, amici curiae.

          Before Green, P.J., Schroeder, J., and Stutzman, S.J.

          OPINION

          Green, J.

         1. A trail created under the National Trails System Act (Trails Act), 16 U.S.C. § 1247(d) (2012) cannot be adversely possessed. Nor can portions of the trail be obtained by prescriptive easement. These trails exist for public use. Thus, K.S.A. 60-509 exempts Trails Act trails from the application of adverse possession and prescriptive easement statute of limitations. 2.

         2. When determining if the party responsible for a Trails Act trail must comply with K.S.A. 58-3213 of the Kansas Recreational Trails Act (KRTA), subsection (d) requires consideration of the date the appropriate federal agency originally approved the railroad and potential responsible party for interim trail use. If the appropriate federal agency approved the railroad and potential responsible party for interim trail use before the KRTA's effective date, the current responsible party has no obligation to comply with the requirements under K.S.A. 58-3213.

         3. Under the plain language of K.S.A. 58-3213(d), it is irrelevant whether the party the appropriate federal agency originally approved to negotiate for interim trail use is the same as the current responsible party maintaining the trail.

         4. K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 58-3215 establishes that when a responsible party violates the KRTA, enforcement of the KRTA is the only available remedy for an aggrieved party.

         5. The party responsible for the trail and the adjacent property owner will split the costs of fencing as stated under K.S.A. 58-3212(a)(10)(D) only when the adjacent property owner does not have the remaining sides of his or her property fenced as stated under K.S.A. 58-3212(a)(10)(C).

         6. Deterioration of a fence does not necessarily exempt the party responsible for the trail from K.S.A. 58-3212(a)(10)(A)'s requirement to maintain fencing already in place along the railroad corridor. The key is if the fence still "exists" and can therefore be maintained.

         7. The plain language of K.S.A. 58-3212(a)(10) underscores that fencing constructed on a trail created under the Trails Act must be constructed on the partition line.

         8. Because the party responsible for a trail has a statutory duty to construct fencing along the trail, the responsible party has the privilege to enter the adjacent landowner's property when constructing partition fencing.

         Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded with directions.

         This case involves a .75-mile stretch of railroad corridor which runs on Clinton L. Sides and Kimbra D. Sides' property in McPherson County, Kansas. The railroad corridor at issue, along with the railroad corridor running north and south of it, have been converted to a trail use easement under the National Trails System Act (Trails Act), 16 U.S.C. § 1247(d) (2012). The Central Kansas Conservancy, Inc. (Conservancy) owns the trail use easement. As a result of this easement, it intends to develop the railroad corridor into a public trail named the "Meadowlark Trail."

         Below, the Sides unsuccessfully challenged the Conservancy's ownership of the trail use easement. The Sides now appeal the trial court's rulings against them, arguing that the trial court's decision to grant the Conservancy's request for quiet title was erroneous for two reasons. First, they argue that they obtained rights over the railroad corridor to the exclusion of the Conservancy through adverse possession or prescriptive easement. Second, they argue that the Conservancy's right to develop the trail no longer exists because the Conservancy violated K.S.A. 58-3213(c) of the Kansas Recreational Trails Act (KRTA). Finally, the Sides argue that the trial court's decision to grant the Conservancy's injunction, which contained rulings about fencing, was erroneous because it contravened the plain language of K.S.A. 58-3212(a)(10).

         We determine the Sides' arguments-that they obtained rights over the railroad corridor through either adverse possession or prescriptive easement and that the Conservancy's lack of compliance with K.S.A. 58-3213(c) caused it to lose the right to develop the trail-are unpersuasive. Nevertheless, we determine the Sides' arguments about fencing have merit. In short, we conclude that the Conservancy owns the trail use easement and has the right to develop the rail corridor into a trail. But under the facts of this case, we conclude that the trial court did not follow the plain language of K.S.A. 58-3212(a)(10) when it made its fence rulings. As a result, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand with directions consistent with this opinion.

         On April 16, 1997, in accordance with the Trails Act, Union Pacific and the Conservancy entered into a line donation contract, where Union Pacific gave the Conservancy a "Donative Quitclaim Deed" to its easement rights over 12.6 miles of railroad corridor in McPherson County. As a result, absent future railbanking, the Conservancy obtained the exclusive right to develop the railroad corridor for recreational trail use. About .75 miles of this railroad ran through the Sides' land; the railroad corridor was about 66 feet wide.

         On September 10, 2015, the Conservancy petitioned the McPherson County District Court for quiet title and an injunction concerning its trail use easement on the Sides' land.

         In its petition, the Conservancy alleged that after it obtained the trail use easement, the Sides "actively and unlawfully interfered with [its] lawful attempts . . . to exercise [its] rights to use and further develop, and to perform its duties with respect to the use and further development of, the Corridor as a recreational trail." Additionally, the Conservancy asserted that the Sides had blocked its access to the railroad corridor with fencing and "machinery and equipment," with no intention of stopping.

         The Sides responded, agreeing that they had blocked the railroad corridor with fencing. They also agreed that they had placed equipment and machinery in the railroad corridor that prevented the Conservancy from entering it. But the Sides asserted that their interference with the Conservancy's right to enter the railroad corridor constituted adverse possession of the Conservancy's ownership of the corridor. Alternatively, they argued that they had obtained a prescriptive easement over the railroad corridor. Moreover, the Sides asserted that the Conservancy's "opportunity to develop and use the railroad right of way for a recreational trail had to be exercised, if at all, within two years of the expiration of the appeal period . . . ." The Sides believed that the Conservancy violated K.S.A. 58-3213(c) of the KRTA's two-year period to develop a trail. As a result, the Sides requested that the trial court not only deny the Conservancy's petition but also grant their counterclaims for quiet title, declaratory judgment, and injunction.

         The trial court held a case management conference on March 21, 2016. After this conference, the parties filed multiple competing summary judgment motions. Those competing motions can be summarized as follows:

         The Sides argued that they were entitled to summary judgment against the Conservancy, and in favor of their counterclaims, for the same reasons they listed in their response-they adversely possessed the railroad corridor, they obtained a prescriptive easement over the railroad corridor, and the Conservancy violated K.S.A. 58-3213(c).

         For their adverse possession and prescriptive easement arguments, the Sides stressed that in addition to the fencing, machinery, and equipment, since the mid-1990s they had farmed, grazed cattle, and hunted on the railroad corridor. Then, the Sides cited federal law holding that recreational trail use does not fall within the original scope of a railroad easement. Thus, the Sides asserted the trail use easement constituted a new easement that they could obtain rights over by adverse possession or prescriptive easement.

         For their argument that the Conservancy violated K.S.A. 58-3213(c)'s two-year time limit, the Sides alleged that these facts were uncontroverted: (1) that the Conservancy had begun planning the construction of the trail on October 14, 1997; (2) that the Conservancy had not physically developed the trail within two years "following the time to appeal from the [Conservancy's] acquisition of the right to develop [the] recreational trail"; (3) that the Conservancy first contacted them about physically developing the trail on the railroad corridor running through their land in August 2013; and (4) that the Conservancy had still not physically developed the trail on the railroad corridor running through their land.

         Last, under K.S.A. 58-3212(a)(9) of the KRTA, the Sides argued that they had "crossing and use rights [over the railroad corridor] even if the [Conservancy was] otherwise empowered to construct a trail and [they had] neither adverse possession nor a prescriptive easement."

         In its motion, the Conservancy argued that the trial court should grant summary judgment in its favor on the issues of quiet title and injunction because the uncontroverted facts established that it had an easement over the railroad corridor. The Conservancy also argued that the Sides' arguments were flawed based on the following: (1) because the "public use" exception under K.S.A. 60-509 prevented the Sides from acquiring additional rights over the railroad corridor through adverse possession or prescriptive easement; (2) because K.S.A. 58-3213(c)'s two-year time limit did not apply given the plain language of K.S.A. 58-3213(d) and the facts of the case; and (3) because the Sides sought a remedy that was unavailable under the KRTA given the plain language of K.S.A. 2016 Supp. 58-3215.

         As for K.S.A. 58-3213(c)'s two-year time limit, the Conservancy pointed out that the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) served its first Notice of Interim Trail Use (NITU) on September 28, 1995, when Union Pacific and the City of Lindsborg, Kansas, entered into negotiations. Meanwhile, K.S.A. 58-3213 went into effect on July 1, 1996. Thus, the Conservancy argued that it was exempt from complying with K.S.A. 58-3213(c) because the ICC approved NITU negotiations before the KRTA went into effect. See K.S.A. 58-3213(d).

         On October 12, 2016, the trial court denied the Sides' motion for summary judgment. It granted the Conservancy's motion in part. In its order, the trial court made the following factual findings:

"[1]. The Union Pacific Railroad acquired a railroad right of way over the Subject
Property in the late 1800s. The parties do not agree as to whether the right of way was acquired by condemnation or purchase but have not made the manner of acquisition an issue in their motion for summary judgment.
"[2]. On June 5, 1995, Union Pacific sought an exemption from the [ICC] to abandon
12.6 miles of rail line between milepost 518.0 and 530.6 near Lindsborg, all in McPherson County. A portion of that rail line traverses the Subject Property. Union Pacific certified at that time that no local traffic had moved [on] the line for at least two years. (The [ICC's] functions has been transferred to the successor body, the [STB].)
"[3]. The railroad right-of-way/trail corridor is 66 feet in width and runs generally north and south.
"[4]. On August 18, 1995, the City of Lindsborg, Kansas requested that a [NITU] be
issued for the subject rail line under the National Trails System Act, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d).
"[5]. On September 20, 1995, the [ICC] issued a Decision and Notice of Interim Trail
Use or Abandonment allowing for negotiation of an interim trail use/rail banking agreement.
"[6]. On March 25, 1997, the STB issued a Decision that recited various extensions of
the trail use condition and the various parties that participated in obtaining those extensions, ultimately ending with the Plaintiff, Central Kansas Conservancy, Inc., and granted Plaintiff's request to extend the interim trail use negotiation period to April 20, 1997, thereby allowing Plaintiff to continue to negotiate a trail use/rail banking agreement with UP.
"[7]. On April 16, 1997, Plaintiff reached an agreement with Union Pacific for use of
rights-of-way, including the right-of-way over the Subject Property, for trail purposes. This agreement was embodied in a Line Donation Contract meeting the conditions of 16 U.S.C. 1247(d). The Line Donation Contract provided in part 'In the event reactivation of rail service upon the Property is necessary, Donee agrees to transfer the Property back to UP by executing a quit claim deed in recordable form.'
"[8]. On April 16, 1997, Union Pacific Railroad provided Plaintiff with a Donative
Quit Claim Deed to, inter alia, the right-of-way over the Subject Property, subject to the April 16, 1997 Line Donation Contract and the terms and conditions of the ICC Decision and Notice of Interim Trail Use in Docket AB-33. On May 30, 1997, Union Pacific Railroad provided Plaintiff with a Correction Donative Quit Claim Deed to, inter alia, the right-of-way over the Subject Property, subject to the April 16, 1997 Line Donation Contract and the terms and conditions of the ICC Decision and Notice of Interim Trail Use in Docket AB-33.
"[9]. The Defendants obtained a portion of the Subject Property by warranty deed dated December 17, 1994 and leased the grass portion adjoining the then unused railroad right-of-way running through that quarter section. At that time there was no current railroad-related activity evident on the right of way. (No written lease was provided to the Court so the Court makes no determination regarding the validity or terms of that lease.)
"[10]. Defendants acquired additional property adjoining on both sides the right-of-way by warranty deed dated December 17, 1997, and on August 24, 2000 acquired additional property also subject to the right-of-way.
"[11]. By warranty deed dated July 2, 2001, Defendants acquired the remainder of the property in the southeast quarter of Section 29, Township 18 South, Range 3 West of the Sixth P.M. that they had not acquired in the previous transactions.
"[12]. Since the mid-1990s, access to the Subject Property from Pawnee Road on the south, and from the north, has been fenced off by [the Sides]. In addition, [the Sides] erected 'no trespassing' signs on the fence blocking access to the Subject Property and have parked farm equipment on the Subject Property to further block access from Pawnee Road.
"[13]. The [KRTA], K.S.A. 58-3211 et seq. was passed into law by the Kansas legislature and was effective as of July 1, 1996."

         Based on the preceding facts, the trial court rejected each of the Sides' arguments. First, the trial court rejected the Sides' arguments that they could obtain rights over the railroad corridor to the exclusion of the Conservancy through adverse possession or prescriptive easement. The trial court held that under K.S.A. 60-509, Kansas law prevented the taking of lands held for public use. The trial court ruled that railbanking easements and trail use easements constituted easements for public use based on the United States Supreme Court decision in Preseault v. I.C.C., 494 U.S. 1, 19, 110 S.Ct. 914, 108 L.Ed.2d 1 (1990). Second, the trial court ruled that K.S.A. 58-3213 of the KRTA, including K.S.A. 58-3213(c)'s two-year time limit on trail development did not apply. The trial court noted that K.S.A. 58-3213(d) stated that the section applied only to "recreational trails for which approval to enter into negotiations for interim trail use [was] received from the appropriate federal agency on or after the effective date of [the] act." Yet, the ICC approved the Union Pacific's and Lindsborg's negotiations for NITU on September 20, 1995, before K.S.A. 58-3213's enactment on July 1, 1996.

         Next, the trial court determined that the Sides' argument about whether they had a right to use the railroad corridor under K.S.A. 58-3212(a)(9) was not properly before the court. The trial court found that because the parties had not "elucidated the rights of [the] landowners in respect to a trail easement," the court would not make "findings on that issue." The trial court would later speculate that "there would seem to be no reason why the [Sides] couldn't . . . [continue] to store machinery on the [railroad corridor] until the time that [the Conservancy was] ready to begin work on the [corridor]." Yet, the trial court barred the Sides from excluding the Conservancy by posting no trespassing signs, fencing, or in any other way, as it started to develop the trail.

         On July 10, 2017, upon the request of the parties, the trial court clarified its summary judgment order. The trial court stated that it denied the Sides' motion for summary judgment in all respects. Next, the trial court stated that although it granted the Conservancy's summary judgment motion on quiet title, it denied the Conservancy's summary judgment motion on the injunction.

         After entering this order, the parties filed several motions debating whether the Sides had a right to access the corridor. The Conservancy also alleged that the Sides (1) were seeking to relitigate issues that the trial court had already decided against them and (2) were actively ...


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