Friday, April 06, 2012

Summary 2012 WY 49

Summary of Decision April 5, 2012

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Docket Number: S-11-0143

Appeal from the District Court of Uinta County, Honorable Dennis L. Sanderson, Judge

Representing Appellant (Plaintiff/Defendant):  Phillip William Lear of Lear & Lear, LLP, Salt Lake City, UT; James S. Lowrie; and Nathan D. Thomas of Jones Waldo Holbrook & McDonough, PC, Salt Lake City UT.  Argument presented by Mr. Lowrie.

Representing Appellee (Plaintiff/Defendant): Anna Reeves Olson and Weston W. Reeves of W.W. Reeves, Casper, WY; Mark W. Gifford of Gifford & Brinkerhoff, Casper, WY; and Clayton Thomas, Evanston, WY.  Argument presented by Mr. Gifford.

Date of Decision: April 5, 2012

Facts: This is the second time the present case has been appealed to this Court.  In the first appeal, the Court reversed a judgment on the pleadings and remanded for proceedings to examine the facts and circumstances surrounding Union Pacific’s reservations of timber in deeds from the early 1900s in order to determine the parties’ intent with regard to the duration of the timber estates.  Ecosystem Resources, LC v. Broadbent Land & Resources, LLC, 2007 WY 87, 158 P.3d 685 (Wyo. 2007) (Ecosystem I).  After a bench trial, the district court concluded “in using the term ‘timber,’ Union Pacific intended to reserve only those trees (1) in existence at the time of the grant and (2) of sufficient size to be suitable for use in construction.”  The district court also concluded from the facts and circumstances that the parties intended Union Pacific to have a reasonable time to harvest the timber from the encumbered properties.  It ruled that Union Pacific’s timber reservations had expired because the reserved timber was no longer located on the properties and, in any event, more than a reasonable time had passed.  The district court also ruled, in the alternative, that Broadbent had acquired title to the timber by adverse possession.  It, therefore, granted judgment in favor of the surface owner, Broadbent Land & Resources, LLC[1] and against the timber estate owner, Ecosystem Resources, L.C.

Issues: Ecosystem raised the following issues on appeal: Whether the trial court erred in concluding that the facts and circumstances surrounding the deeds at issue [dated] 1906, 1908 and 1909 indicate an intent of the parties to those deeds to limit the duration of the timber reservation set forth therein. Whether the trial court erred in finding that [Broadbent] had removed timber on disputed lands for a period sufficient to support a finding of adverse possession.

Broadbent offered a more detailed statement of the issues: Whether the district court’s finding that the facts and circumstances surrounding the execution of the timber deeds demonstrated an intent to limit the duration of the timber reservation to a reasonable time was clearly erroneous. Whether the district court’s finding that the timber reservations applied only to timber existing at the time of the deeds was clearly erroneous. Whether the district court erred in construing the deeds against the drafter. Whether the district court erred in considering the subsequent conduct of the parties. Whether the district court’s findings that Broadbent proved the elements of adverse possession [were] clearly erroneous.

Holdings:  Resolving Ecosystem’s appeal, the Court concluded that the district court properly ruled, on the evidence before it, that Union Pacific intended its reservation of “timber” to include only trees of a suitable size which existed on the subject properties at the time of the deeds.  The evidence presented at trial clearly established that such timber no longer exists on the properties.  Consequently, the Court affirmed the district court’s order granting judgment in favor of Broadbent.

Justice Hill delivered the opinion for the court.

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