Dow v. Honey Lake Valley Resource Conservation Dist.Annotate this Case
In Dow v. Lassen Irrigation Co. 216 Cal.App.4th 766 (2013, "Dow I"), the Court of Appeal resolved an ambiguity as to the “or” in the a portion of paragraph 21 of the 1940 Susan River Water Right Decree (decree) : “except further, that Lassen Irrigation Company shall be entitled to divert, or store up to the present capacity of its reservoirs, estimated at 31,500 acre-feet, from the natural flow of Susan River between March 1 and July 1 of each year when the flow of said Susan River is in excess of 20 cubic feet per second . . . .” The Court concluded the “or” was intended to function as a disjunctive connector. In this case, the Court was again called on to resolve a second ambiguity created by the same “or.” Jay Dow, as trustee for the Dow-Bonomini 2013 Family Trust, appealed the trial court’s denial of the trust’s motion challenging the decision of Honey Lake Valley Resources Conservation District, serving as the watermaster administering the decree, finding Lassen Irrigation Company could simultaneously exercise its rights to divert and store water, as provided in the paragraph 21 exception. The trust argued the watermaster’s and trial court’s interpretation of the paragraph 21 exception conflicted with the principles of law espoused in Dow I and was unreasonable given the plain language of the decree, resulting in absurdity and unfairness. The trust believed the “or” had to be read in the exclusive sense such that the Irrigation Company could exercise only one of its rights at a time. The Court of Appeal concluded the “or” in the paragraph 21 exception was appropriately interpreted to apply in the inclusive sense. Thus, the Court affirmed.