Reichert v. Daugherty

Decision Date31 August 2018
Docket NumberS-18-0011
Citation425 P.3d 990
Parties Forest G. REICHERT and Jennifer G. Reichert, husband and wife, Appellants (Plaintiffs), v. Jeffrey B. DAUGHERTY and Debra D. Daugherty, husband and wife, Appellees (Defendants).
CourtWyoming Supreme Court

Representing Appellants: Douglas FitzGerald Schultz, Schultz Law Firm, LLC, Jackson, Wyoming

Representing Appellees: James R. Salisbury, The Salisbury Firm, P.C., Cheyenne, Wyoming

Before DAVIS, C.J., and BURKE* , FOX, KAUTZ, and BOOMGAARDEN, JJ.

DAVIS, Chief Justice.

[¶1] Forest and Jennifer Reichert own Lot 8 in the Western Tanager Subdivision in Jackson, Wyoming, and Jeff and Debra Daugherty own Lot 7. The Reicherts filed a quiet title action against the Daughertys challenging the enforceability of a plat restriction that bars Reicherts' use of a portion of Lot 8 and gives exclusive use of and responsibility for that property to the Daughertys. The district court granted summary judgment to the Daughertys, and we affirm.

ISSUES

[¶2] The Reicherts present two issues on appeal, which we summarize and restate as a single issue:

Does the restriction contained in the subdivision's recorded plat create an enforceable covenant appurtenant to Lot 8?
FACTS

[¶3] The Reicherts and Daughertys own adjacent properties in the Western Tanager Subdivision in Jackson, Wyoming. The Reicherts obtained their property by a warranty deed dated September 24, 1996, which described the property as: "Lot 8 Western Tanager Subdivision Second Amendment, Teton County, Wyoming, according to that plat recorded in the Office of the Teton County Clerk on September 12, 1990 as Plat No. 701." The warranty deed conveyed the property "subject to taxes, reservations, covenants, encroachments, conditions, restrictions, rights-of-way and easements of sight and/or record."

[¶4] The Daughertys obtained their property by a warranty deed dated February 21, 2014, which described the property as: "Lot 7 Western Tanager Subdivision, Second Amendment, Teton County, Wyoming, according to that plat recorded September 12, 1990 as Plat No. 701." The warranty deed also conveyed the property "subject to taxes, reservations, covenants, encroachments, conditions, restrictions, rights-of-way and easements of sight and/or record."

[¶5] Both Lots 7 and 8 are located on and accessed via Juniper Lane, with the entirety of Lot 7 located to the west of Juniper Lane. Most of Lot 8 is located to the east of Juniper Lane, but the westernmost portion of Lot 8 is transected by Juniper Lane, leaving a strip of Lot 8 to the west of the road. Lot 6 is configured in a similar manner, with most of it situated to the east of Juniper Lane and a small strip to the west of the road.1

[¶6] The smaller strips of Lots 6 and 8 located to the west of Juniper Lane are each marked on the subdivision's recorded plat (Plat 701) as a "restricted use area," with a reference to the Certificate of Owners located on sheet one of the plat. The Certificate of Owners specifies:

Lot 6 and 8 of the foregoing subdivision shall have no private use or maintenance responsibility within that area of the Juniper Lane right-of-way which is located on the northwesterly side of the actual Juniper Lane road; said private use and maintenance responsibility shall be assigned instead to Lots 4, 5, and 7 of the foregoing subdivision; each of said Lots being assigned the private use of, and maintenance responsibility for the portion of said area which adjoins that Lot, and lies between the easterly extensions of the side boundaries of that Lot.

[¶7] In 2015, the Reicherts and Daughertys began having issues concerning a fence located on Lot 8's restricted use area west of Juniper Lane. The fence existed when the Reicherts purchased Lot 8 in 1996, and both parties claim they have done work to maintain it. The parties disagreed on which of them controlled the fence and what should be done with it. The Reicherts contend the fence should be removed from the Lot 8 restricted use area and relocated to the Lot 7 property line to protect Lot 8 from the Daughertys' livestock and to make room for the Reicherts to store plowed snow. The Daughertys contend that they have the exclusive right to use and maintain the restricted use area, including the fence, and that the Reicherts are improperly plowing their snow onto the property and thereby damaging the fence.

[¶8] The disputed property (restricted use area) and fence are depicted below in relation to the parties' respective properties.

[¶9] The parties were unable to resolve their differences concerning the disputed property, fence, and snow storage, and on March 25, 2016, the Reicherts filed a quiet title action against the Daughertys. The Reicherts sought to quiet title to the restricted use area and requested an order directing the Daughertys to remove the fence from that portion of Lot 8. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court ruled in favor of the Daughertys. The court found the terms and provisions of Plat 701 to be clear and unambiguous and concluded:

Under the plain and ordinary meaning of the language imposing the restrictions under Plat 701, [the Reicherts] may not use, and/or they are restricted from using the Disputed Property for their private use, and they have no maintenance responsibility for the Disputed Property. Conversely, [the Daughertys] may use the Disputed Property for their private use and must maintain or provide for the general repair and upkeep [of] the Disputed Property. This restriction included in Plat 701 was a private agreement that restricts the use of the Disputed Property. Further, [the Reicherts] are bound by the restrictions under Plat 701 since they took the property with notice of those reservations and restrictions.

[¶10] The Reicherts timely appealed the district court's summary judgment ruling to this Court.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶11] This Court reviews a district court's grant of summary judgment as follows:

We review a district court's order granting summary judgment de novo and afford no deference to the district court's ruling. Thornock v. PacifiCorp , 2016 WY 93, ¶ 10, 379 P.3d 175, 179 (Wyo. 2016). This Court reviews the same materials and uses the same legal standard as the district court. Id . The record is assessed from the vantage point most favorable to the party opposing the motion ..., and we give a party opposing summary judgment the benefit of all favorable inferences that may fairly be drawn from the record. Id . A material fact is one that would have the effect of establishing or refuting an essential element of the cause of action or defense asserted by the parties. Id .

Pioneer Homestead Apartments III v. Sargent Eng'rs, Inc. , 2018 WY 80, ¶ 15, 421 P.3d 1074, 1078-79 (Wyo. 2018) (quoting White v. Wheeler , 2017 WY 146, ¶ 14, 406 P.3d 1241, 1246 (Wyo. 2017) ).

DISCUSSION

[¶12] A restrictive covenant is "a private agreement ... that restricts the use or occupancy of real property, especially by specifying lot sizes, building lines, architectural styles, and the uses to which the property may be put." Sonnett v. First Am. Title Ins. Co. , 2013 WY 106, ¶ 11, 309 P.3d 799, 805 (Wyo. 2013) (quoting Black's Law Dictionary 393 (8th ed. 2004) ). "[I]n general, a developer can create covenants in favor of all landowners by clearly including restrictions in an accurate plat of the development that it properly records." 20 Am.Jur.2d Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions § 158 (Aug. 2018 update) ; see also Brumbaugh v. Mikelson Land Co. , 2008 WY 66, ¶ 19 n.1, 185 P.3d 695, 702 n.1 (Wyo. 2008) (looking to plat and declaration of covenants to determine property rights and restrictions). The mark of a covenant is its imposition of a burden and grant of a benefit.

Every covenant has a burden to the covenantor and a benefit to the covenantee. The covenantee or grantee's rights under a covenant are called the "benefit" of the covenant, while the covenantor or grantor's duties are called the "burden."

Sonnett , ¶ 11, 309 P.3d at 805 (quoting 20 Am.Jur.2d, supra , § 1, at 557).

[¶13] A restrictive covenant that runs with the land is one that "inures to the benefit of, or must be fulfilled by, whatever party holds the land at the time when fulfillment is due." Jacobs Ranch Coal Co. v. Thunder Basin Coal Co., LLC , 2008 WY 101, ¶ 12 n.4, 191 P.3d 125, 130 n.4 (Wyo. 2008). A covenant runs with the land if:

1) the original covenant is enforceable; 2) the parties to the original covenant intended that the covenant run with the land; 3) the covenant touches and concerns the land; and 4) there is privity of estate between the parties to the dispute.

Id. ¶ 9, 191 P.3d at 129 (quoting Mathisen v. Thunder Basin Coal Co., LLC , 2007 WY 161, ¶ 14, 169 P.3d 61, 65-66 (Wyo. 2007) ).

[¶14] The Reicherts focus their challenge on the first requirement, the enforceability of the Plat 701 restriction, and do not contest the second through fourth requirements for an appurtenant easement. They contend that the restriction is unenforceable because: 1) the terms "private use" and "maintenance" are so vague as to be illusory; 2) the restriction's ambiguity makes it impossible to measure the proportionality of the benefit to Lot 7 and the burden on Lot 8; 3) the restriction is contrary to public policy in that it prevents them from staking and fencing their property to protect its value; and 4) the restriction conflicts with the access easement provided to all subdivision owners. We will address each argument in turn.

1. "Private Use" and "Maintenance" as Illusory Terms

[¶15] "Covenants are contractual in nature and we therefore interpret them as we would a contract." Gumpel v. Copperleaf Homeowners Ass'n, Inc. , 2017 WY 46, ¶ 29, 393 P.3d 1279, 1290 (Wyo. 2017) (citing Wimer v. Cook , 2016 WY 29, ¶ 22, 369 P.3d 210, 218 (Wyo. 2016) ). Our goal is "to determine and effectuate the intention of the parties, especially the grantor or declarant." Wimer , ¶ 22, 369 P.3d at 218 (quoting Omohundro v. Sullivan , 2009 WY 38, ¶ 9,...

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