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Lucky Gate Ranch, L.L.C. v. Baker & Associates

May 28, 2009

LUCKY GATE RANCH, L.L.C., A WYOMING LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY, APPELLANT (PLAINTIFF),
v.
BAKER & ASSOCIATES, INC., A NEBRASKA CORPORATION, AND JOHN T. BAKER, AN INDIVIDUAL, APPELLEES (DEFENDANTS).



Appeal from the District Court of Goshen County. The Honorable Keith G. Kautz, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Burke, Justice.

Before VOIGT, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, KITE, and BURKE, JJ.

[¶1] Appellant, Lucky Gate Ranch, L.L.C., filed suit against Appellees, John Baker, and Baker and Associates, Inc., ("Baker"), seeking damages resulting from Baker‟s failure to provide engineering and surveying services. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Baker finding that the litigation was not commenced within the statute of limitations mandated by Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-3-107 (LexisNexis 2007). Lucky Gate challenges that decision. We affirm.

ISSUES

[¶2] Lucky Gate states the issues presented for our review as follows:

1. Whether the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Appellees based on an alleged failure to timely file suit.

a. Whether the cause of action accrued and suit was filed within the applicable statute of limitations period.

b. Whether the district court erred in determining that equitable estoppel does not bar Appellees‟ statute of limitations arguments.

FACTS

[¶3] Baker is a Nebraska corporation that provides engineering and surveying services. John Baker is an officer of Baker and is a civil engineer licensed as a Professional Engineer by the Wyoming Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Professional Land Surveyors. Lucky Gate engages in farming and ranching operations in Goshen County, Wyoming. Historically, Lucky Gate has farmed corn, alfalfa, and soy beans using flood irrigation supplied by a water right in Horse Creek. To make more efficient use of its water, Lucky Gate wanted to switch from flood irrigation to a center pivot sprinkler system and offset some of the costs of that switch by participating in the federal government‟s Environmental Quality Incentives Program, under which part of the cost of conversion would be paid for by the Department of Agriculture. This conversion required authorization from the Wyoming State Engineer to change the point of use.

[¶4] Lucky Gate hired Baker to perform a land survey and to prepare the materials required to change the point of use. Lucky Gate entered into a written contract with Baker on March 29, 2004. According to the terms of the written contract, the parties agreed that:

Deliverables: Upon completion of this project, Baker & Associates will provide the Client the following:

a. A map suitable for submission to the Wyoming State Engineer‟s Office. (Exhibit)

b. Property corners marked in accordance with State Law and corner records will be filed at the County Court House. (Note: This survey requires the subdivision of Sections 30 and 31 and the location of canal easements)

c. A petition for the State Engineer‟s Office to change the point of use. (Exhibit)

Scheduling: The above-described Scope of Work will be completed within 30 working days from authorization to proceed. . . .

Baker estimated the total cost for this project to be between two and five thousand dollars. Baker began the project shortly after the agreement was signed. On April 24, 2004, Lucky Gate received a bill from Baker in the amount of $1,326.40. Lucky Gate paid the bill in full. Although the contract required Baker to provide Lucky Gate a "map suitable for submission to the Wyoming State Engineer‟s Office" and a "petition for the State Engineer‟s Office to change the point of use," it is undisputed that Baker never provided those documents to Lucky Gate. Instead, Baker told Lucky Gate that it had submitted the documents directly to the State Engineer‟s Office. Throughout the summer, Lucky Gate asked Baker about the status of the application. Baker repeatedly assured Lucky Gate that a decision from the State Engineer‟s Office would be forthcoming in the near future. As time passed with no action, Lucky Gate became increasingly concerned and, in the fall of 2004, contacted the State Engineer‟s Office directly to determine the status of the application. They were told that no application had been filed.

[¶5] When confronted, Baker did not deny that it had failed to submit the application. Baker assured Lucky Gate that the point of use would be changed in time for the 2005 growing season. In an apparent attempt to fulfill their obligation to Lucky Gate, Baker hired High Plains of Wyoming to complete the project. High Plains submitted an invoice to Baker, dated February 18, 2005, for $3,609.67 for the work it had performed through that date. Baker forwarded the invoice to Lucky Gate with an accompanying letter dated March 1, 2005. The letter stated:

The work has been completed on the above listed project and a final bill from High Plains of Wyoming is enclosed along with a copy of the invoice from us, which has been paid.

In the agreement that was between Baker & Associates and . . . Lucky Gate Ranch the fee would be between $2,000 and $5,000. As you will see Baker & Associates[‟] bill which has been paid was in the amount of $1,326.40 and the invoice from High Plains of Wyoming is for the amount of $3,609.67 these two figures add up to $4,936.07. We would ask that you forward your payment [directly] to High Plains of Wyoming.

[¶6] On March 3, 2005, Lucky Gate‟s attorney sent Baker two letters. The first letter generally requested more specifics regarding the work performed by High Plains and reflected in its invoice. The second letter stated, in relevant part:

This letter is to put you on notice that by failing to timely complete its work, as required by its contract with Lucky Gate, Baker & Associates has caused Lucky Gate at least a year‟s delay in relocating its use of irrigation water. Because the 2005 crop year is just beginning, we do not know if Baker & Associates‟ breach of contract will damage Lucky Gate, and result in a claim. . . . [I]f 2005 is not an unusually wet year, there is a good chance that such damages ...


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