New Case Summary – UAMPS v. 3 Dimentional Contractors

March 21, 2024

Utah Court of Appeals

2024 UT App 35 (click for full text of opinion)

The Utah Court of Appeals reversed a decision by the district court that a developer could not relocate a utility easement taken by eminent domain.

3 Dimensional Contractors, Inc. and Benzer Development Solutions (collectively known as Benzer) applied for approval of its development, Zions Gate Estates, for which Hurricane City approved a final plat. A mistake made jointly by the City and Benzer dedicated a street directly on top of a utility easement with active infrastructure managed by Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), which had been obtained through the exercise of eminent domain. Additionally, one of the lots planned a home just inches from an electrical tower support wire (known as a guy wire). Benzer asserted that Utah statute gave them affirmative rights to realign UAMPS’s guy wire easement. When Benzer and UAMPS failed to resolve the issue, litigation ensued, during which Benzer began construction of the home within the easement area. The district court ruled in favor of UAMPS and against Benzer on its statutory realignment claim.

Benzer appealed several aspects of the district court’s ruling, including the realignment issue. In response, UAMPS asserted that the district court had correctly dismissed Benzer’s realignment claim because, in its view, the realignment statute was inapplicable, arguing:

1) As an interlocal entity, the realignment act doesn’t apply to UAMPS, as the statute’s plain language refers specifically to “municipalities.”

2) The act only allows landowners to relocate easements, not existing infrastructure.

3) Benzer can’t use the act to protect itself from its commencing construction in the easement, which they argued is a violation of the “unclean hands” doctrine.

The Utah Court of Appeals disagreed with UAMPS on each point. First, the Court cited state code 11-13-103(19), finding that interlocal entities are subject to the same benefits, rules, and restrictions as cities and towns. As such, UAMPS is under the same restrictions as any municipality. Therefore, the realignment act applies to them.

Second, the Utah Court of Appeals found no “meaningful difference” between the ability to relocate an easement and relocating the infrastructure within the easement. “Nothing in the statute limits its reach to only pre-construction situations.” The court rejected this second argument for failing to provide any basis for the claim.

Lastly, the Utah Court of Appeals held that availability of Benzer’s statutory right did not turn on the applicability of equitable doctrines like the “unclean hands” doctrine, but instead solely on the language employed in the statute. The court therefore rejected UAMPS’s assertion that Benzer’s construction of the house in violation of the easement operated to forfeit its right to invoke the realignment statute. 

Concluding that the realignment statute did apply in this case, the Court reversed the district court’s dismissal of Benzer’s claim, nullifying the injunction to tear down the portion of the building built within the easement.