Ruling against LaGrange County in irrigation dispute upheld on appeal

A LaGrange County farm did not convince the Indiana Court of Appeals on Wednesday that it was wrongly denied a motion to correct error in its dispute brought against a township trustee regarding the use of its irrigation system.

Cross-Road Farms, which operates in Greenfield Township of LaGrange County, sued Peggy Whitlock personally and in her capacity as the township’s acting trustee after she had a fence built around a cemetery adjacent to the farm.

The issue, Cross-Road argued, was that Whitlock’s erection of the fence around the cemetery had prevented Cross-Road Farms from using its “center pivot irrigation system” that “traverses [Whitlock’s] real estate [i.e., the Cemetery] in a circular motion.” Thus, with the fence in the way, Cross-Road was unable to have the outer wheels of its irrigation system cross over the cemetery property as it had been functioning for more than 10 years.

Cross-Road alleged it and the former township trustee had entered into an oral agreement that had given Cross-Road a “perpetual right” to do so, and that it had designed its irrigation system based on the former trustee’s “assurances” that the irrigation system’s wheels could traverse over the cemetery.

Whitlock filed an answer and a joint motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Trial Rule 12(C) and motion to dismiss pursuant to Trial Rule 12(B)(6), prompting Cross-Road to file a response. The trial court ultimately entered an order dismissing with prejudice Count I, breach of contract, and Count III, easement by necessity/prescriptive easement, denying Whitlock’s motions challenging Count IV, unjust enrichment.

Cross-Road later filed a motion to revive dismissed Counts I and III pursuant to Trial Rule 60(B), as well as to reinstate the two counts pursuant to Trial Rule 60(B)(8). But the trial court issued an order denying Cross-Road’s two motions, finding that “Even if [Cross-Road Farms’] mistake in dismissing Counts I and III was ‘excusable neglect’ under Trial Rule 60(B), [Cross-Road Farms] has failed to allege that Counts I and III of its original Complaint are meritorious claims.”

Additionally, when denying Cross-Road’s motion to amend, the trial court found that “no prescriptive right can be obtained against the government and therefore [Cross-Road Farms’] proposed amendment is futile.” Thereafter, Cross-Road filed a motion to correct error, which the trial court also denied.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in a Wednesday decision, finding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion. It first noted that Cross-Road Farms “did not allege, nor even mention, that it had meritorious claims as required under Trial Rule 60(B).”

“Based on this failure, the trial court denied Cross-Road Farms’ Trial Rule 60(B) Motion. We conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion and affirm its denial of Cross-Road Farms’ Trial Rule 60(B) Motion,” Judge Rudolph Pyle wrote for the appellate court.

It further agreed with the trial court’s denial of Cross-Road’s motion to amend in the case of Cross-Road Farms, LLC v. Peggy Whitlock, 20A-CT-106.

“Accordingly, Cross-Road Farms’ proposed amendment to add a prescriptive claim would have been futile. Additionally, Cross-Road Farms’ proposed amendment was futile because Cross-Road Farms had already dismissed its prescriptive claim with prejudice. Because Cross-Road Farms’ proposed amendment to add a prescriptive claim would have been futile, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying Cross-Road Farms’ motion to amend its complaint,” the appellate court concluded.

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