Public Lands Access Assn, Inc. v Jones, 03-730, 2004 MT 394 – 12/30/2004
Public Lands Access Assn, Inc. v Jones, DA 06-0523, 2008 MT 12 – 1/16/2008
Public Lands Access Assn, Inc. v Jones, DA 10-0652, 2011 MT 236N – 9/20/2011
Public Lands Access Assn, Inc. v. Jones, DA-12-0289, 2013 MT 394 – 2/12/2013
Public Lands Access Assn, Inc. v. Jones, DA 14-0650 2015 MT 299 – 10/15/2015
In 2000, hunters, including the late PLWA (then PLAAI) stalwart, Jim McDermand of Great Falls, noticed the road to one of their favorite duck hunting spots, Pishkun Reservoir, was blocked and posted. PLWA sued in December 2000 and won a judgment that the Boadle Road was indeed a public road, the first of a number of cases, including 5 MT Supreme Court Cases. The roads provide access to Pishkun Lake Wildlife Refuge, the 918,000 acre Rocky Mountain Front Conservation area, Tunnel Lake, and several Montana state sections – some of the wildest public land in the U.S. There are actually two intersecting roads involved in these cases: a portion of Teton County Road # 213, called Boadle Road, and the Sun River Slope Canal Road.
Around 1998 or 1999, Roger Jones, a resident of Virginia at the time, became interested in purchasing property in Montana. He was interested in property southeast of Piskun Reservoir, which included a county road #213 and a canal road, Sun River Slope Canal Road. Both roads involved public access. “Jones required the seller of the property, Short Stevens, to install locked gates to block public access before Jones would agree to purchase the property. A July 5, 2000, letter from Jones’ agent to Short Stevens, to install locked gates to block public access before Jones would agree to purchase the property. A July 5, 200, letter from Jones’ agent to Short Stevens outlined the basic terms of the sale… It stated that Stevens ‘agrees to install locked gates at the eastern entrance to the ranch and at the bridge crossing the canal a.s.a.p… Upon notice that the locked gates have been installed, the buyer will submit $50,000 in earnest money to cement the transaction.”
PLWA brought legal action, in late 2000, against Roger Jones, the Board of County Commissioners for Teton County, and the Greenfield Irrigation District seeking a declaration that Road No. 213 (Boadle Road), in Teton County, was a county road or, alternatively, that there existed a public prescriptive easement to it. Later, the Irrigation District was dismissed from the lawsuit.
“At trial, the portion of Road No. 213 running from Highway 287 to the Sun River Slope Canal Road, near the eastern boundary of Section 23, Township 22 North, Range 7 West, was referred to as the ‘Boadle Road,’ in reference to the family that owned the ranch for many years prior to the time Jones acquired the ranch in 2000. The remainder of Road No. 213, which runs in a northwesterly direction and ends at the Pishkun Reservoir in Teton County, was referred to as the ‘Sun River Slope Canal Road’ (‘Canal Road’) during trial.”
During litigation a fire burned down the Boadle Road bridge, around February 2002, which Jones replaced around April 2002, in the same location.
Judge Marc Buyske declared, on July 9, 2003, the Boadle Road to be a public road through prescriptive easement, in use since the early 1900s. “[t]he road located in Section 24, Township 22 North, Range 7 West, commonly known as the ‘Boadle Road’, is a public road and until abandonment may be used by the general public without interference from the owner of the underlying land.”
Then landowner Roger Jones blocked a further section of the road known as the Canal road with a locked gate and chain. Again, PLWA sued on October 10, 2003 for a prescriptive easement and an injunction against Jones further attempts to block access. After the complaint was filed, PLWA found that the Greenfield Irrigation District held an easement on the Canal Road. In late 2005, PLWA discovered that the United States of America Bureau of Reclamation held an easement on the Canal Road, joining the Bureau to the suit as a defendant on Dec. 6, 2005. Later on March 17, 2006, the Bureau and PLWA entered into a stipulated agreement that the Bureau owned a nonexclusive easement of right-of-way and had never blocked the public from access. The Bureau was then dropped from the suit. Jones then filed for the case to be dismissed based on the federal jurisdiction, the District Court granted Jones’ motion and dismissed PLWA’s suit with prejudice. PLWA appealed and the MT Supreme Court reversed the District Court’s dismissal of PLWA’s suit, remanding PLWA’s suit back to the District Court for further proceedings (PLAA II / PLWA #2). “Upon conclusion of the remanded case, the District Court determined that the public had acquired a prescriptive easement over Canal Road and Jones could not block the portion of the road that traversed his property.”
Jones also appealed the District Court ruling to the Supreme Court again (PLAA III / PLWA #3), with the Supreme Court affirming the District Court’s ruling. As a result of the rulings, Jones tore out his replacement bridge in 2011, relocating it to a part of his property the public did not have an access easement on (captured by satellite in 2011), on the basis that if he built it he could do whatever he wanted with it.
PLWA again went to the courts, on November 22, 2011, arguing that one cannot destroy an improvement on a public road regardless of how it came about. PLWA also claimed “tortuous interference” with the road and asked for damages and attorney fees. The District Court ruled against PLWA on all counts. PLWA then appealed to the Montana Supreme Court who reversed the District Court’s order and remanded the case back for further proceedings on February 12, 2013 (PLAA IV / PLWA #4).
A jury trial was held June 23-25, 2014. The Jury returned a verdict in favor of PLWA on , finding Jones liable for both PLWA’s claim of tortious interference with an easement and their claim of public nuisance. The jury also determined that Jones acted with malice and awarded punitive damages. The court concurred with the findings of the jury on Sept. 11, 2014.
Again, Jones appealed to the Supreme Court about the damages awarded and PLWA appealed the District Court’s decision to not award reasonable attorney fees and costs. The Supreme Court affirmed the supplemental relief and restoration damages to PLWA and reversed the District Courts decision that the attorney fees were to come out of the bridge restoration funds, remanding the case back to the District Court for PLWA’s attorney fees on October 15, 2015. (PLAA V, PLWA #5).
Altogether it went to the Montana Supreme court 5 times.
Settlement funds are dedicated to bridge replacement and, when complete, the road will again be open to the public.
The new bridge was completed in 2017. PLWA, who is not in the bridge owning business, turned the bridge over to Teton County, who accepted it. Unofficially, PLWA named the Boadle Bridge, Jim McDermand Bridge, after Jim McDermand, who unfortunately died on June 13, 2014, never getting to see this access restored.
On December 14th, two PLWA members, John Borgreen and Kathryn QannaYahu, documented the new Boadle Bridge, restoring public access to Pishkun Lake Wildlife Refuge, the 918,000 acre Rocky Mountain Front Conservation area, Tunnel Lake, and several Montana state sections. QannaYahu noted there were still 2 – “Bridge Out, No Access” signs on the road. She contacted Teton County Road Department, sending the pictures and GPS coordinates for their removal, so that the public will know they have restored access.