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Logging injunction near Lake Monroe splits Court of Appeals

March 11, 2019

A trial court’s injunction halting logging on land on Lake Monroe south of Bloomington was reversed Monday by a split panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals. A dissenting judge, however, would have upheld the injunction and called the majority’s recommendation that the case be referred for mediation “imprudent.”

The majority of an appellate panel lifted the preliminary injunction issued by Senior Judge J. David Holt in Monroe Circuit Court, which blocks logging in more than 230 acres of forestland owned by trusts in the names of William J. Huff II and Nicole E. Huff. 

The Huffs’ property partially adjoins Lake Monroe and abuts the Shores subdivision. Neighbor Michael O. Cain moved for a preliminary injunction after logging began on the Huff real estate after the Monroe County Planning Department denied a permit. The contractor, Tri-State Timber, said it believed it had a right under state law to log the land because 98 percent of the land was outside an urban area.

Cain testified that the Huffs did not have permission to use the Shores’ easements to access the land for logging purposes. William Huff testified that the trees were being harvested in preparing for the future use of the land in accordance with a stewardship plan that had been developed in concert with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry.

The trial court granted an injunction that prohibited the Huffs from using the easements for anything other than the construction, development and use of single-family structures and blocked use of the easements for “commercial logging or for hauling logs or trees, or forestry activity.”

But two of three Indiana Court of Appeals judges overruled the trial court Monday, finding that language “overbroad as it enjoined the Huffs from activities on the Huff Real Estate that would be necessary to develop the property and effectively prohibits them from accomplishing what is explicitly granted in the Grant of Easement. Based on this, we vacate the trial court’s order granting the preliminary injunction.”

Judge James Kirsch, writing the majority opinion joined by Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik, also took the unusual step of recommending the case be mediated on remand to Monroe Circuit Court. 

“Based on the evidence presented, we recommend that this case be referred to mediation to allow the parties to hopefully find a middle ground in this dispute. Prudent logging of the Huff Real Estate is essential for the reasonable use and development of the property, and as the Huff Real Estate is landlocked, the easements will need to be used to facilitate this prudent logging. Some sort of middle ground should be sought between the parties to accomplish this end, and this court urges the trial court to consider on remand whether the covenants on which a middle ground cannot be found are contrary to law and should be vacated,” Kirsch wrote.

Dissenting Judge Patricia Riley, however, disagreed that the language of the trial court’s injunction was overbroad and with her colleagues’ instructions on remand. She would affirm the trial court, noting Cain had demonstrated the likelihood of irreparable harm from the Huffs’ logging.
“The trial court’s order prohibited the Huffs from using the Easements for ‘commercial logging or for hauling logs or trees, or forestry activity.’ … It is this last term which the majority finds to be overbroad. However, at the preliminary injunction hearing, the Huffs maintained that their commercial logging operations were part of the implementation of a forestry plan they had developed by the DNR. Regardless of their motives in logging their land, the logging is what precipitated the controversy between the parties. The trial court’s inclusion of the term ‘forestry activity’ was a reasonable description of the implementation of the forestry plan the Huffs described, and so I disagree with the majority that the term was overbroad for the purpose of preserving the status quo between the parties. Furthermore, while I agree with the majority that the Grant of Easement furnished the Huffs with the right to use the Easements to construct, develop, and use six single-family residential structures, it was undisputed that the Huffs were not in the process of constructing, developing or using residential structures when they undertook their commercial logging activities. Therefore, I disagree with the majority that the trial court’s order prohibited the Huffs from exercising their rights.

“… In its decision the majority recommends ‘that this case be referred to mediation to allow the parties to hopefully find a middle ground in this dispute’ and urges ‘the trial court to consider on remand whether the covenants on which middle ground cannot be found are contrary to law and should be vacated.’ … I find that these observations are imprudent in that they border on offering an opinion on ongoing litigation and overstep our role in this review of a grant of preliminary injunctive relief. For these reasons, I dissent.”

The case is William J. Huff, II Revocable Trust Declaration, Dated June 28, 2011 and Nicole E. Huff Revocable Trust Declaration, Dated June 28, 2011 v. Michael O. Cain and Linda A. Raymond, 18A-PL-1123. 

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