Woodward v. Valvoda, 011121 WYSC, S-20-0094

Docket Nº:S-20-0094
Opinion Judge:FOX, JUSTICE.
Party Name:JUDITH M. WOODWARD, Appellant (Defendant), v. THOMAS J. VALVODA, Appellee (Plaintiff).
Attorney:Representing Appellant: Judith M. Woodward, pro se. Representing Appellee: Brian D. Artery, Sherard, Sherard, Artery & Johnson, Attorneys & Counselors at Law, Wheatland, Wyoming.
Judge Panel:Before DAVIS, C.J., and FOX, KAUTZ, BOOMGAARDEN, and GRAY, JJ.
Case Date:January 11, 2021
Court:Supreme Court of Wyoming

2021 WY 5

JUDITH M. WOODWARD, Appellant (Defendant),

v.

THOMAS J. VALVODA, Appellee (Plaintiff).

No. S-20-0094

Supreme Court of Wyoming

January 11, 2021

Appeal from the District Court of Platte County The Honorable F. Scott Peasley, Judge

Representing Appellant: Judith M. Woodward, pro se.

Representing Appellee: Brian D. Artery, Sherard, Sherard, Artery & Johnson, Attorneys & Counselors at Law, Wheatland, Wyoming.

Before DAVIS, C.J., and FOX, KAUTZ, BOOMGAARDEN, and GRAY, JJ.

FOX, JUSTICE.

[¶1] Thomas Valvoda and Judith Woodward are neighbors in Glendo, Wyoming. Mr. Valvoda's home is along the property line and several of his window wells encroach on Ms. Woodward's property. He filed a claim to quiet title in the window wells based on adverse possession. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court found for Mr. Valvoda, and Ms. Woodward appealed. We affirm.

ISSUES

[¶2] We rephrase and consolidate the issues:

I. Did Ms. Woodward raise a genuine issue of material fact to dispute Mr. Valvoda's prima facie claim for adverse possession?

II. Did Ms. Woodward make a prima facie claim for adverse repossession?

III. Did the district court err by dismissing or not responding to Ms. Woodward's various other filings?

FACTS

[¶3] Mr. Valvoda purchased his residence at 104 North Yellowstone Highway, Glendo, Wyoming, in 1999. Ms. Woodward acquired an interest in and began to reside at 108 North Yellowstone Highway in 2005. The north wall of Mr. Valvoda's home is on the south border of Ms. Woodward's property. The building has seven window wells, which are 42 inches wide, 18 inches deep, and extend 14-16 inches onto Ms. Woodward's property.

[¶4] Mr. Valvoda purchased his property in 1999 from Susanne Clifton and her former husband, Joseph Tridle, who purchased the property in 1995 (the Tridles). Ms. Clifton executed an affidavit stating the window wells were part of the Valvoda property while they owned it. Ed Foster owned the property from 1975 to 1983, and his daughter, Jodie Foster, executed an affidavit stating she recalled window wells being present when she played in the basement of the building as a child. The record does not reveal who owned the property from 1983 to 1995. The Tridles did not conduct a survey or know the exact location of the northern property line. Mr. Valvoda surveyed his property in 2002 and discovered the location of the property line, and that his window wells encroached on the property to the north. He did not reveal the location of the property lines to his neighbor, or seek permission for or alter his use of the window wells.

[¶5] Ms. Woodward has been the sole owner of her property since 2008. From 2005 to 2008, Ms. Woodward owned her property as joint tenants with her daughter, Stefanie Holcomb, and her daughter's husband, Lawrence Holcomb. Mr. Holcomb purchased the Woodward property in 1995 from Mae Pulver. Mae Pulver and her late husband, Jim Pulver, (the Pulvers) purchased the Woodward property in 1967. Ms. Pulver and Mr. Holcomb executed affidavits stating the window wells were present, visible to them, and used exclusively by owners of the Valvoda property from 1967 to 2008 without permission.

[¶6] The parties' relationship was neighborly until August 2018, when Mr. Valvoda sent Ms. Woodward a letter, explaining that her sprinklers were causing damage to his home by spraying water directly onto his windows and walls, and asking her to water by hand along the property line. Ms. Woodward responded with a letter demanding payment for his use of her property for the window wells. A few months later, Ms. Woodward sent Mr. Valvoda a "Final Notice of Ejectment," warning him if he did not remove the window wells, she would hire someone to do so at his expense.

[¶7] In late 2018, Mr. Valvoda filed a complaint in district court requesting declaratory judgment that he is the owner of the window wells by virtue of adverse possession, [1] a decree quieting title in his name, and a preliminary injunction preventing Ms. Woodward from removing the window wells or otherwise damaging his house. Ms. Woodward filed a pro se motion to dismiss along with a supporting brief. On the same day, the district court held a hearing on Mr. Valvoda's motion for a preliminary injunction, and granted it, enjoining Ms. Woodward from "removing, damaging, altering, tampering or interfering with [Mr. Valvoda's] residence, windows, window wells, [and] North sidewall . . . ." The court also ordered Ms. Woodward to "refrain from applying an excessive amount of water to the property adjacent to [Mr. Valvoda's] residence, and . . . use the amount of water for irrigation that is reasonably necessary for maintenance of the vegetation." Finally, it granted Mr. Valvoda temporary use of a two-foot strip of her property so that he could maintain the window wells and install temporary window well covers to mitigate the effects of Ms. Woodward's irrigation.

[¶8] The subsequent procedural history is difficult to parse, however we identify these statements from Ms. Woodward's filings relevant to her knowledge of the window wells:

- January 14, 2019 Defendant's Motion to Dismiss: "In 2008 [Ms. Woodward] . . . weeded inside the window wells . . . ."

- January 14, 2019 Suggestions in Support of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss: "Until 2018, . . . [Ms. Woodward] (and her predecessors) knew of the window wells and had no objections thereto."

- January 24, 2019 Defendant's Objections to Plaintiff's Proposed [Preliminary Injunction]: "The mere presence of the window wells does not establish the required showing of [adverse] possession. . . . [Ms. Woodward] . . . cared for the disputed land since 2005 . . . ."

- February 25, 2019 Defendant's Request for Leave of Court to Amend Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and Suggestions in Support by Interlineation: "On or about 2005, [Ms. Woodward] took possession of and improved said disputed property by planting grass, plants and flowers, as well as, weeded out the window wells of two feet high weeds."

- February 25, 2019 Defendant's Reply to Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss: "In fact, as [Ms. Woodward] testified at the January 14th hearing . . . she has known of the window wells being on her property, since 2005 and did not object. She was just being a good neighbor. [Ms. Woodward] also testified that she has maintained and possessed the disputed property, including the window wells since 2005."

Finally, in April 2019, Ms. Woodward asserted for the first time, in the Second Affidavit of Judith M. Woodward, [2] that the window wells did not exist before 2009: 11. That I was ready to present at the January 14, 2019 hearing on my Motion To Dismiss my evidence showing that the window wells were created between June 5, 2009 and July 8, 2009 while I was out of town visiting friends in Seattle, Washington and when I returned I saw that Valvoda had taken my red bricks which were stacked along the south side of my house and used them to line some newly dug holes below six of his basement windows and without my permission to use or to take the red bricks.

[¶9] Eventually, the district court held a hearing on all pending motions. Citing W.R.C.P. 12(d), the district court found Ms. Woodward's motion to dismiss must be converted to one for summary judgment because the numerous affidavits that had accumulated by that time were "undoubtedly a 'matter outside' the pleadings."

[¶10] Mr. Valvoda responded with briefing, more affidavits, and his own motion for summary judgment. Ms. Woodward filed an answer and counterclaim to Mr. Valvoda's complaint and a reply to his response to her converted motion for summary judgment. Citing W.R.C.P. 15(a)(2), the district court dismissed her answer and counterclaim because she had not sought leave to amend her original pleadings.

[¶11] The district court found Mr. Valvoda met his burden of making a prima facie showing of adverse possession, and Ms. Woodward failed to show his possession was permissive or to assert a genuine issue of material fact existed, despite her claim the window wells were created in 2009. It concluded there was no dispute the window wells had existed since at least 1967, and Mr. Valvoda met his burden of showing he and his predecessors possessed them openly, notoriously, exclusively, hostilely, and under a claim of right from 1995 to 2005. The district court granted Mr. Valvoda's motion for summary judgment and denied Ms. Woodward's converted motion for summary judgment. Ms. Woodward then filed a Rule 60(b) motion to reconsider or vacate the judgment. One week later, Ms. Woodward appealed the district court's summary judgment order.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶12] We review decisions on summary judgment de novo, affording no deference to the district court's ruling. Varela v. Goshen Cnty. Fairgrounds, 2020 WY 124, ¶ 12, 472 P.3d 1047, 1052 (Wyo. 2020); see also White v. Wheeler, 2017 WY 146, ¶ 14, 406 P.3d 1241, 1246 (Wyo. 2017). The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of establishing a prima facie case and showing "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." O'Hare v. Hulme, 2020 WY 31, ¶ 16, 458 P.3d 1225, 1233 (Wyo. 2020); W.R.C.P. 56(a). If the movant meets his initial burden, the opposing party is obligated to respond with materials beyond the pleadings to show a genuine issue of material fact. O'Hare, 2020 WY 31, ¶ 16, 458 P.3d at 1233 (citing Little Medicine Creek Ranch, Inc. v. D'Elia, 2019 WY 103, ¶ 14, 450 P.3d 222, 227-28 (Wyo. 2019)). "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...

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