Thursday, December 22, 2011

Liston v. Liston

The Utah Court of Appeals recently issued its decision in Liston v. Liston. Although primarily a divorce case, a portion of the opinion addresses an issue of water law.

In the case, the husband and wife went through divorce proceedings. One of their assets was a home. The couple also had four shares of stock in Holliday Water Company. As part of a mediation agreement, the wife agreed to quitclaim her interest in the home to the husband for $10,000. The husband later asserted that the four shares were appurtenant to the home, and therefore belonged to him pursuant to the mediation agreement and the quitclaim deed from the wife. The trial court disagreed, and held that only one share was necessary to supply water for the home, and that this share therefore went to the husband along with the home. The trial court further held that the other three shares were not appurtenant to the home, and therefore the husband and wife were each entitled to half of the value of the shares, which was determined to be $5,000 per share.

In the appeal, the husband asserted that the trial court was incorrect in its conclusions regarding the three shares. The Court of Appeals, however, affirmed the trial court's holding. The Court of Appeals noted that Utah Code section 73-1-11(4) provides that shares of stock in a mutual water company are not deemed appurtenant to land. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals concluded that the three shares could not have passed with the home when the wife quitclaimed her interest in the home to the husband. Thus, the wife was entitled to $7,500, representing half of the value of the three shares.

As an interesting note, the Court of Appeals included a footnote in its opinion that points out that the parties in the case had confused water shares and water rights. The Court of Appeals made it a point to clarify the difference between a water share and a water right.

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