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Seyler Lane - Adverse Ruling

Kennedy appeals 2008 ruling and law

Madison County Lawsuit - Seyler Lane Portion - Adverse Ruling

Strange Legal Theory Advanced

Headed to Montana Supreme Court - PLWA appeals - Kennedy cross appeals

In a finding of April 15, 2012 Judge Loren Tucker of the 5th Judicial District Court of Madison County ruled against PLWA. The court held the prescriptive easement for the road was in effect, two easements - one a public easement for just the road surface itself and a secondary easement of the full 60 feet for repair and maintenance. Thus, there would be no recreational legal access at bridges on prescriptive roads if this ruling holds.

PLWA strongly disagrees with this theory and, on advice of the Goetz law firm, will appeal this ruling ruling to the state supreme court. We believe that case law supports the policy that prescriptive rights include all legal uses within the prescriptive right-of-way. if the two easement theory were to hold would it not mean school kids waiting for a bus would be trespassing - or a guy pulled off the road to fix a flat would be trespassing ?

In the latest event of this case, on May 30 2012, Kennedy cross appealed , and included constitutionality of the 2008 Tucker decision in his appeal . It is clear he will not be happy until our bridge access laws are gone.

Montana is lucky to enjoy the best stream access in the U.S. We cannot stand by and see it eroded by this case or any other cause. Keep in mind that our current stream access law came about when an adverse lower court ruling was overruled by the supreme court. Many times the lower courts deliver a "home town" verdict.

The George Grant Chapter of TU has started a Stream Access Defense fund for this case with a contribution of $1,500 . Please consider chipping in generously. You can send it by mail to the address at the bottom of this email - do it on line at www.plwa.org .


The original Madison county suit involved bridges over three bridges on the Ruby River. In 2008 the court ruled for PLWA on two of the roads. Duncan Road and Lewis Lane - which were established county roads. The court ruled that the right of way did not narrow at the bridges and thus the stream access law was in full force at the bridge abutments. However, the court did not rule on Seyler Lane until 2012 .

Seyler Lane is an old established road, probably used for over 100 years by all sorts of uses. It has also been maintained by the county and bridges on the road have been built by the county. It is clearly a public prescriptive easement and that has been stipulated (agreed upon) by the other side. So the prescriptive status was not an issue.

The key issues for Seyler lane are the scope and width of the easement created during the prescriptive period.

SCOPE. The opposing attorneys argue that the scope of the easement is just for ordinary vehicular travel for a 16ft right of way. PLWA contends that the scope of use on the easement includes all legal uses such as herding cattle, road maintenance involving the borrow pit, recreational use, etc., - all of which require much more that 16 ft.

WIDTH. The other side contends that the width of the road is the travel way or the 16 or so feet of the hard surface unlike county roads which have a 60 foot right of way. PLWA contends that it is at least 40 feet based on historical use during the prescriptive period, . PLWA also contends that whatever the width of the prescriptive road, it does not narrow at a bridge.

WHAT THIS MEANS. The stakes are high. There are many, many roads used by the public and maintained by the public which are neither fish nor fowl. They have not been officially accepted by the county as county roads but have also not been through the courts and found to be public prescriptive easements. If PLWA prevails, it will set a precedent for all public prescriptive easements, and the bridge access law will presumably apply as it does to all county roads. If the other side prevails, it could mean years of litigation on a case by case basis and the presumption that the bridge access law does not apply to public prescriptive roads.

related articles

Ruby River Stream Access Victory
( 07/01/2016 )   7/1/2016PLWA, once again, has been victorious in the battle for the public's stream access on the Ruby River, from the Seyler Lane Bridge, likely the original stagecoach route from Salt Lake City, north to Virginia City and Helena.It has been over a decade that PLWA (formerly known as PLAAI) has been involved in a lawsuit over public access to the Ruby River from Seyler Lane and the Seyler Bridge, a public prescriptive easement right-of-way in Madison County.

"Dark Money" Brought to Light
( 07/01/2016 )   The June-July, Newscasts section of Fly Fisherman reported on the recent investigation by Montana's Commissioner of Political Practices, Jonathan Motl, into a dark money campaign that could overturn Montana's Stream Access.Fly Fisherman recounted the Montana Growth Network's campaign contributions to District Judge Laurie McKinnon's run for our Montana Supreme Court.

public land issues

Seyler Lane Update
9/24/2015Seyler Bridge Easement - More Than Just RecreationUpdate - Kennedys attorney requested a postponement of the September 21 hearing.

Tenderfoot - Four Years and Counting
9/24/2015Tenderfoot Creek is a tributary of the Smith River, joining the Smith a mile or so north of Camp Baker.

    18 more public land issues

Seyler Lane


Public Land/Water Access Association Inc. or PLWA, is a citizen group organized and operated under the Montana nonprofit corporation act.

Articles and Information on this site represent the opinion of the writer and are not intended as legal advice. Legal counsel may be needed in dealing with specific access situations and issues.
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