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Hutchinson v. Taft

January 14, 2010

GERALD D. HUTCHINSON, TRUSTEE OF THE VERA J. HUTCHINSON REVOCABLE TRUST DATED OCTOBER 28, 1999, APPELLANT (PLAINTIFF),
v.
CARA J. TAFT, TRUSTEE OF THE TAFT LIVING TRUST DATED AUGUST 19, 1983, AND BARBARA JO HARNEY COCKRELL AND ROBERTA ANNE HARNEY CAUSEY, CO-EXECUTRICES OF THE ESTATE OF LEON THOMSON HARNEY, APPELLEES (DEFENDANTS).
GERALD D. HUTCHINSON, TRUSTEE OF THE VERA J. HUTCHINSON REVOCABLE TRUST DATED OCTOBER 28, 1999, APPELLANT (PLAINTIFF),
v.
CARA J. TAFT, TRUSTEE OF THE TAFT LIVING TRUST DATED AUGUST 19, 1983, AND BARBARA JO HARNEY COCKRELL AND ROBERTA ANNE HARNEY CAUSEY, CO-EXECUTRICES OF THE ESTATE OF LEON THOMSON HARNEY, APPELLEES (DEFENDANTS).



Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County The Honorable Edward L. Grant, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kite, Justice

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

[¶1] Gerald D. Hutchinson's predecessors in interest (the Hutchinsons) leased property owned by Josephine Taft. After leasing the property for about ten years, the Hutchinsons ceased making the lease payments but continued to use the property. When a trustee of the Taft Living Trust and co-executrices of the estate of one of Josephine Taft's heirs (the Tafts) later listed the Taft property for sale, the Hutchinsons filed a claim to quiet title to the property in them on the theory of adverse possession.

[¶2] During a trial to the court, the Hutchinsons presented their witnesses and rested. The Tafts moved for judgment on partial findings. The district court granted the motion and entered a judgment and order for the Tafts. On appeal, the Hutchinsons claim the district court erred in granting the motion for judgment on partial findings, denying admission of an exhibit and denying their motions to amend the findings or for a new trial. We affirm.

ISSUES

[¶3] The Hutchinsons present the issues for this Court's review as follows:

I. Did the Trial Court [err] in granting Appellees' Rule 52 (c) motion?

II. Did the Trial Court [err] in denying admission of Appellant's Exhibit 9?

III. Did the Trial Court [err] in denying Appellant's motion to amend the findings and motion for a new trial?

Although stated differently, the Tafts present essentially the same issues.

FACTS

[¶4] Josephine Taft took title to the Taft property in 1931. Darrold and Vera Hutchinson purchased the Hutchinson property in 1961. The Hutchinson property surrounds the Taft property on the north, east and south sides. The same year the Hutchinsons purchased their property, they entered into a lease agreement with Josephine Taft in which they agreed to pay her $50 per year in exchange for use of her property. From that time forward, the Hutchinsons used the Taft property primarily for grazing and some farming.

[¶5] Josephine Taft died in 1967 and her two heirs inherited the property as tenants in common. The Hutchinsons continued to use the Taft property and paid the rent until the early 1970s. Between 1970 and 1975, they stopped paying the rent but continued to use the property.

[¶6] In 1992, Darrold Hutchinson conveyed his interest in the Hutchinson property to his wife, Vera, who later conveyed all of the property to Gerald Hutchinson, trustee of the Vera J. Hutchinson Revocable Trust. In 1996, Josephine Taft's heirs died, and their respective interests in the Taft property were distributed to their spouses, Cara J. Taft and Leon Thomson Harney. Through these deaths and conveyances, the Hutchinsons, and their third party lessees, continued to use the Taft property primarily for grazing and some farming.

[¶7] In July of 2003, the Tafts listed their property for sale. The Hutchinsons filed a complaint to quiet title to the property in them, claiming they had adversely possessed the property since the early 1970s when they stopped paying rent. The Tafts denied the claim. Both parties filed motions for summary judgment. The district court denied the respective motions and set the matter for a bench trial.

[¶8] On the day of trial, the parties presented opening statements and the Hutchinsons presented their witnesses and rested their case. The Tafts moved for judgment on partial findings pursuant to W.R.C.P. 52(c), which provides:

(c) Judgment on partial findings. -- If during a trial without a jury a party has been fully heard on an issue and the court finds against the party on that issue, the court may enter judgment as matter of law against that party with respect to a claim or defense that cannot under the controlling law be maintained or defeated without a favorable finding on that issue, or the court may decline to render any judgment until the close of all the evidence. That party against whom entry of such a judgment is considered shall be entitled to no special inference as a consequence of such consideration, and the court may weigh the evidence and resolve conflicts. Such a judgment shall be supported by findings as provided in subdivision (a) of this rule.

In support of the motion, the Tafts asserted the Hutchinsons had not shown that their possession of the Taft property was adverse. After hearing argument from both parties, the district court granted the motion.

[ΒΆ9] The district court subsequently entered a judgment and order containing findings of fact and conclusions of law in accordance with Rule 52(c). The Hutchinsons filed motions for a new trial pursuant to W.R.C.P. 59 and for amendment to the district court's findings or additional findings. After a hearing, the district court ...


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