A District Court judge has ruled in favor of the town of Culbertson and the local American Legion in a lawsuit against the family of Attorney General Austin Knudsen in a longtime dispute over an easement to a 40-acre park.
District Court Judge David Cybulski ruled Thursday on cross motions for summary judgment in a lawsuit filed by Culbertson and Thomas Mann Post 81 of the American Legion against Knudsen Family Limited Partnership, saying there was decades of use of the access route and while its use has varied, it has never ceased.
“The 70 years of use of the access route confirms the easement by necessity, implication and prescription,” Cybulski, a judge in the 15th judicial district in Plentywood, wrote.
The dispute became an issue during the 2020 attorney general’s race when Democratic candidate Raph Graybill accused Republican candidate Knudsen and his family of blocking access to the park.
Knudsen, who was elected attorney general in November, said he is not party to the lawsuit and not a part of the partnership, according to a statement a spokesman for his office repeated Friday.
Knudsen's mother, Rhonda, is now a Republican state representative for Culbertson. She could not be reached for comment Friday. Listed as directors for KAR Inc., the registered agent for the Knudsen Family Limited Partnership, are Miles and Rhonda Knudsen.
The town and legion filed the lawsuit in 2016.
Clint Jacobs, a Legion member, said they were thankful for the judge’s decision.
“And we’re excited to finally have this case resolved, at least at the district court level,” he said, but added the Knudsen family can still file an appeal with the state Supreme Court.
“We don’t know if we’re entirely out of the woods yet,” Jacobs said.
Emily Jones, an attorney representing the Knudsen family, issued a statement.
“Clearly we disagree with the judge’s findings and are evaluating our options in the case,” she said.
The judge’s decision notes the property was given to the post in 1944 to use “as a park for returning servicemen and the public.” He said park access for the next 70 years was along approximately the same route, which was over property owned by the Swindles. And portions were used by the town for a utility pipeline.
He said the park was used by the public, the Boy Scouts and others.
“Although park use levels have fluctuated, they have never ceased,” Cybulski wrote.
He said the easement was in use through the early ‘90s, when the Knudsen family acquired the property.
“Eventually the issue of access rights slowly gained momentum until coming to a head in 2016,” he wrote.
Cybulski said the family’s argument that the Swindle’s gift did not result in access rights fails.
“There are no genuine issues of material fact regarding the fundamental facts of the park access easement,” he wrote. “The easement in favor of the Legion and the public matured by the mid-1950s, and has not been abandoned.”
Assistant editor Phil Drake can be reached at 406-231-9021.