Hutchins v. Payless Auto Sales, Inc., 00-12.

Decision Date25 January 2002
Docket NumberNo. 00-12.,00-12.
Citation2002 WY 8,38 P.3d 1057
PartiesJosephine Lovato HUTCHINS, Appellant (Defendant), v. PAYLESS AUTO SALES, INC., a Wyoming corporation, Appellee (Plaintiff).
CourtWyoming Supreme Court

Georg Jensen of Law Offices of Georg Jensen, Cheyenne, WY, Representing Appellant.

John C. Patton of Patton & Davison, Cheyenne, WY, Representing Appellee.

Before LEHMAN, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, and KITE, JJ.

LEHMAN, Chief Justice.

[¶ 1] Appellant Josephine Lovato Hutchins (Hutchins) appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment for the plaintiff Payless Auto Sales (Payless). Payless sought foreclosure and forced sale of the joint tenancy interest in Hutchins' home held by its judgment debtor, her daughter Sandra Hutchins McDonald (McDonald). Hutchins cross-claimed seeking reformation of the quitclaim deed granting joint tenancy to McDonald on the grounds of mutual mistake. The district court denied her motion for summary judgment. Although we do not approve the reasoning of the district court, we affirm its grant of summary judgment for Payless.


[¶ 2] Appellant presents this statement of the issues:

1. Did the court err in finding for the plaintiff and against the defendant on motions for summary judgment where the defendants presented uncontroverted evidence regarding the parties' intent and the existence of mutual mistake?
2. Did the court err in granting summary judgment for the plaintiff based solely on reference to documents in the public record and without any evidence to dispute the sworn allegations of the defendants regarding their complaint for reformation?
3. Should the court pick and choose between conflicting affidavits in rendering a decision on a motion for summary judgment?
4. In order to prevail on a defense of Laches or Waiver is it necessary to plead the same as an affirmative defense?

Appellee restates the issue thusly:

Whether the District Court's ruling that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the Appellee was entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law for foreclosure was proper under Wyoming law.

[¶ 3] On July 13, 1993, Hutchins executed a quitclaim deed conveying the subject real property to herself and her daughter McDonald as joint tenants with right of survivorship. The next day this deed was properly recorded in the public records of Laramie County where the property is located. Two years later, on October 14, 1995, Payless Auto Sales made a loan to McDonald and her husband evidenced by a promissory note in the principal amount of $8,639.83. At the time the note was executed McDonald and her husband and three children were residing in the home. On November 26, 1996, Payless was granted a default judgment against McDonald and her husband in the amount of $8,579.83 principal, $1,422.37 interest, and $3,145.00 in costs and fees for a total of $13,147.20. A second quitclaim deed was filed in Laramie County on August 26, 1997, conveying the property from Hutchins and McDonald as joint tenants to Hutchins and her son Timothy M. Hernandez as joint tenants with a right of survivorship.

[¶ 4] On October 28, 1997, McDonald and her husband filed their "Third Amended Chapter 13 Plan" in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Wyoming. This plan listed Payless Auto Sales as a 3(a) claimant with a "claim secured by property of another paid in full through the plan." The home was listed as collateral under this subsection of the plan with a fair market value of $35,000,2 and the claim listed as $13,147.20. Subsequently, the McDonalds made payments under the terms of the bankruptcy plan which were applied to the Payless judgment. However, on September 9, 1998, the Bankruptcy court dismissed the McDonalds' case for failure to comply with plan payments. As a consequence, on May 24, 1999, Payless filed a complaint for foreclosure on the real property at issue to recover the $9,320.93 still owed on its judgment. Hutchins answered the complaint and cross-claimed seeking reformation of the quitclaim deed on the basis of mutual mistake. She contended the quitclaim deeds were an estate-planning device intended as a substitute for probate and did not accurately reflect the intent of the parties. Hutchins further alleged that neither McDonald nor Hernandez had paid any consideration for the conveyance. In support of her motion for summary judgment, Hutchins, McDonald, and Hernandez submitted affidavits which stated that the parties' intent at all times was to preserve a life estate for Hutchins in the property and to name McDonald, and later Hernandez, as trustees to the property to be held in trust for McDonald's three minor children. They asked that the district court recognize their mutual mistake and equitably reform the deeds to reflect the parties' true intent.

[¶ 5] The district court granted summary judgment for the plaintiff Payless on its claim of foreclosure on November 5, 1999. This timely appeal followed. In March of 2000, while this appeal was pending, McDonald's undivided one-half interest in the home was sold at a foreclosure sale.3


[¶ 6] This case comes to us on a grant of summary judgment for Payless, coupled with a denial of Hutchins' motion for summary judgment. This court has recognized the general rule that a denial of a motion for summary judgment is an interlocutory order and as such is not subject to appeal. Matter of Adoption of MSVW, 965 P.2d 1158, 1161 (Wyo.1998); State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Shrader, 882 P.2d 813, 820 (Wyo.1994). However, we have adopted the exception that, "when the district court grants one party's motion for a summary judgment and denies the opposing party's motion for a summary judgment and the district court's decision completely resolves the case, both the grant and the denial of the motions for a summary judgment are subject to appeal." Lieberman v. LLC, 11 P.3d 353, 356 (Wyo.2000); McLean v. Hyland Enterprises, Inc., 2001 WY 111, ¶ 17, 34 P.3d 1262, ¶ 17 (Wyo.2001). Therefore, we will review Hutchins' argument regarding the denial of her summary judgment motion for reformation of the quitclaim deed.

[¶ 7] Summary judgment is appropriate if the record, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, reveals that no genuine issues of material fact exist and the prevailing party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Worley v. Wyoming Bottling Co., Inc., 1 P.3d 615, 620 (Wyo.2000); Terry v. Pioneer Press, Inc., 947 P.2d 273, 275 (Wyo.1997); Davis v. Wyoming Medical Center, Inc., 934 P.2d 1246, 1250 (Wyo.1997); W.R.C.P. 56(c). A fact is material if it establishes or refutes an essential element of a claim or defense. Tidwell v. HOM, Inc., 896 P.2d 1322, 1324 (Wyo.1995). In evaluating summary judgment, we apply the same standards as the trial court, without affording any deference to the trial court's decisions on issues of law. Wilder v. Cody Country Chamber of Commerce, 868 P.2d 211, 216 (Wyo.1994).


[¶ 8] The district court in its order granting summary judgment for Payless found that Payless had made a prima facie showing that the property was subject to its judgment lien; that Defendant McDonald's undivided one half interest became subject to the lien; that subsequent events had not discharged the lien; and that it should be foreclosed in satisfaction of the judgment. The district court then, relying on Claassen v. Nord, 756 P.2d 189, 194 (Wyo.1988), determined that once a prima facie case had been made the burden shifted to the party opposing the motion to present specific facts showing that a genuine issue of material fact was present. It was at this point the court decided that

[t]he only evidence offered by the Defendants are their self-serving affidavits that this was all a mistake and they were really intending to set up a trust for the children of Defendant, McDonald. This in the face of clear record evidence and actions of Defendant, McDonald, in her bankruptcy to the contrary, and no evidence that there was, is, or is going to be a trust. To entertain the self-serving posturing of the Defendants would destroy any ability to rely on the public record. The deeds are clear and unambiguous. At least one was notarized by, if not drafted by, an attorney and are plain on their face in the public record. The Court finds the affidavits ingenuous [sic],4 and the Court finds that the Court is not required to entertain the self-serving affidavits of the Defendants with not a single fact supporting their contentions, which are just that, contentions not statements of facts that can in any way be supported by the record or their conduct. Claassen v. Nord, 756 P.2d 189 (Wyo.1988) at page 194.

[¶ 9] It is difficult to ascertain by the foregoing language precisely what action was taken by the district court in regard to the defendants' affidavits.5 However, if the court determined that it was free to strike the affidavits in question from consideration on the basis that they are "self-serving" or conclusory in the context of mutual mistake in the drafting of a quitclaim deed, then we think this reasoning by the district court is erroneous as an overbroad application of the holding of Claassen v. Nord. In Claassen this court simply reaffirmed its general holdings that self-serving affidavits not based in fact may be insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact in a particular context. 756 P.2d at 194. In that case we held the affidavits in question did not sufficiently support a claim of negligence because they failed to include any facts that went directly to the knowledge of the defendants necessary to show breach of the duty of care.

[¶ 10] The analysis of whether a party's affidavit sets forth specific facts adequate to survive a motion for summary judgment, though interrelated, is discrete from the analysis required to determine whether an affidavit may be properly stricken from the court's consideration...

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