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ARIEL LAND OWNERS, INC. v. DRING

September 30, 2005.

ARIEL LAND OWNERS, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
LORI DRING and NANCY ASARO, Defendants/Counterclaim Plaintiffs, v. ARIEL LAND OWNERS, INC., KARL R. IFFLAND and ALICE L. IFFLAND, et al., Counterclaim Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: A. CAPUTO, District Judge

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court are two motions for partial summary judgment (Docs. 120, 124). For the reasons set forth below, Counterclaim Defendants Karl R. and Alice L. Iffland, et al. and Plaintiff/Counterclaim Defendant Ariel Land Owners, Inc.'s (hereinafter collectively known as "Plaintiffs") motion (Doc. 120) will be granted in part and denied in part. Defendants/Counterclaim Plaintiffs Lori Dring and Nancy Asaro's ("Defendants") motion (Doc. 124) will be granted in part and denied in part. The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

  On May 17, 1999, Ariel Land Owners, Inc. ("ALO") brought an action against the Defendants in Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas to quiet title of the waters of Lake Ariel and Mud Pond and the stream or channel connecting the same ("Disputed Water Area"). (Doc. 121-1 at 3) On September 24, 1999, Defendants filed an answer. (Doc. 121-1 at 4.) ALO filed an amended complaint shortly after January 26, 2001. Id.

  On February 15, 2001, Defendants removed the case to Middle District of Pennsylvania. (Doc.1.) On March 1, 2001, Defendants filed an answer to the amended complaint along with a counterclaim against ALO. (Doc.2.) ALO's March 22, 2001 motion to remand to state court was denied. (Doc. 16.) Defendants' motion to file an amended and supplemental counterclaim was granted on May 16, 2002. (Doc. 45.) Defendants sought this amendment based on their new acquisition of a strip of property running along the West Shore of Lake Ariel. (Doc. 47.)

  On May 22, 2002, Defendants filed a motion to file a second amended counterclaim seeking to add West Shore Landowners as indispensable parties. (Doc. 46) While this motion was pending, on June 19, 2002, ALO and West Shore landowners filed a separate action to quiet title in state court. (Doc.150 at 5.) On July 14, 2002, Defendants filed a motion to enjoin these proceedings. Id. On December 12, 2002, ALO and West Shore landowners filed a second motion to remand the case to state court (Doc. 80.) Which was granted on January 28, 2003. (Doc. 83.) All other pending motions were denied as moot. Id.

  On February 26, 2003, Defendants filed an appeal (Doc.85.) and on January 7, 2004, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed the order granting the remand (Doc. 89.). On August 2, 2004, the Court entered an order enjoining ALO and West Shore landowners (Doc. 96.). On August 3, 2004, Defendants were allowed to file a second amended and supplemental counterclaim to which ALO and West Shore landowners filed an answer to on August 18, 2004 (Doc. 99.). On February 7, 2005, both Defendants and ALO and West Shore landowners filed a motion for partial summary judgment to the opposing parties' respective claims (Docs. 120, 124). Oral arguments were heard from both sides prior to this opinion.

  STANDARD OF REVIEW

  Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (c). A fact is material if proof of its existence or non-existence might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

  Where there is no material fact in dispute, the moving party need only establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Where, however, there is a disputed issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate only if the factual dispute is not a genuine one. See id. at 248. An issue of material fact is genuine if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." See id.

  Where there is a material fact in dispute, the moving party has the initial burden of proving that 1) there is no genuine issue of material fact and 2) she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT & ARTHURR. MILLER, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE: CIVIL 2D § 2727 (2d Ed. 1983). The moving party may present its own evidence or, where the nonmoving party has the burden of proof, simply point out to the court that "the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing of an essential element of her case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). All doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party, and the entire record must be examined in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See White v. Westinghouse Elec. Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to either present affirmative evidence supporting its version of the material facts or to refute the moving party's contention that the facts entitle it to judgment as a matter of law. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-257. The court need not accept mere conclusory allegations or denials taken from the pleadings. See Schoch v. First Fidelity Bancorporation, 912 F.2d 654, 657 (3d Cir. 1990). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

  DISCUSSION

  1. Plaintiffs' Motion

  Plaintiffs move for summary judgment with respect to the claims in Counts II, IV and V of Defendants' Second Amended and Supplemental Counterclaim. These claims together ask the Court to grant Defendants the right to use the Disputed Water Area for the following reasons: (1) Count II: "Defendants and their predecessors in title have acquired appurtenant rights to the . . . [Disputed Water Area] . . . by virtue of Defendants' ownership of a portion of the bed of Lake Ariel and Mud Pond." (Doc. 46 ¶ 21.) Additionally, due to "the operation of saw mills and logging businesses which used the adjacent waters of Lake Ariel and Mud Pond and the stream or channel connecting the same to transport harvested trees to saw mills located or near Lake Ariel or Mud Pond at a time prior to December 13, 1859." (Doc 46 ¶ 22.); (2) Count IV: "Defendants and their predecessors in title have acquired appurtenant rights to use the . . . [Disputed Water Area] . . . by virtue of prescriptive rights." (Doc. 46 ¶ 28). Defendants' predecessors allegedly used the Disputed Water Area to fish, boat, swim and trap. (Doc. 46 ¶ 34.) They also claim to have erected a seventy-five (75) foot fence to use for their working farm. (Doc. 46 ¶ 30-33.) This is all, allegedly, to have been done for more than twenty-one (21) years in a continuous, open, notorious and adverse manner. (Doc.46 ¶ 30-35.); and (3) Count V: "Plaintiff's artificial raising of the elevation of the waters of Lake Ariel and Mud Pond and the resulting trespass on Defendant's property [elevation covered the portion of land owned by Defendants] was accomplished without the consent of Defendants or their predecessors in title and is unauthorized, continuing wrongful trespass on Defendant's property." (Doc. 46 ¶ 54-55.)

  Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment will be granted as to Count II. Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment will be granted as to Count V only in respect to the question of whether owning a small strip of land underneath or land bordering the Disputed Water Area allows Defendants full use of the Disputed Water ...


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