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Lawrence v. City of Rawlins

January 25, 2010

JOAN COZORT LAWRENCE, A/K/A JOAN LAWRENCE, A/K/A JOAN COZORT, APPELLANT (DEFENDANT),
v.
CITY OF RAWLINS, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, APPELLEE (PLAINTIFF), AND TRANSPORTATION COMMISSION OF WYOMING, APPELLEE (THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT).



Appeal from the District Court of Carbon County The Honorable Wade E. Waldrip, Judge.

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

Before VOIGT, C.J., and HILL, KITE, and BURKE, JJ, and ARNOLD, D.J.

[¶1] This is an appeal from two related district court orders in a declaratory judgment action between the Appellant and the City of Rawlins (City) over a junkyard, which action was consolidated with the appeal of the Appellant's municipal court conviction for violation of a nuisance ordinance. The first order granted the City partial summary judgment. The second order was entered after a bench trial on the issues left undecided by the summary judgment. We will affirm in part and reverse in part, remanding for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

ISSUES

[¶2]1. Whether the district court erred as a matter of law in concluding that the Appellant was bound by a certain settlement agreement?

2. Whether the Appellant has a "grandfathered" right to use as a junkyard certain areas of her property not zoned industrial?*fn1

3. Whether the Appellant has abandoned or discontinued the use as a junkyard of certain areas of her property zoned industrial?

FACTS

[¶3] Tom Lawrence began operating a junkyard in the contested area in 1958. Mr. Lawrence and the Appellant were married in 1972, after which they jointly operated the junkyard in the same location. The Appellant became sole owner and proprietor of the business after her husband's death in 1999. The record is unclear as to the exact location of the junkyard over the years, nor does it explain how the Lawrences began operation of the junkyard several years before they purchased any of the parcels upon which the junkyard was being operated or had previously been operated at the time of trial.*fn2

[¶4] The Lawrence property is comprised of eight parcels, generally configured as follows:

[¶5] The City first adopted a zoning ordinance in 1973. That ordinance was readopted in 1989 after the district court found it invalid, in an unrelated matter, due to lack of publication.*fn3 In the interim, two matters of significance had occurred. In 1979, at Mr. Lawrence's request, the City redesignated a large part of his property as an industrial zone. This area included all of parcels 1, 2, and 5, the western part of parcel 3 (south of parcel 5), and all but the northern portions of parcels 4 and 6. Under the 1973 ordinance, the northern portions of parcels 4 and 6 were zoned residential. Parcel 7 and the eastern portion of parcel 3 (the area south of parcels 1, 2, and 6) were zoned highway business. Parcel 8 was zoned industrial.

[¶6] The second significant occurrence between 1973 and 1989 was that in 1982, the City and Mr. Lawrence settled a lawsuit over the operation of the junkyard by filing a Settlement Agreement. In the Settlement Agreement, Mr. Lawrence agreed never to deny the validity of the 1973 zoning ordinance, agreed that he had no "grandfathered" rights in certain areas zoned residential and highway business, and agreed to fence and otherwise organize his business, known as Tom's Body Shop, located on parcel 8 shown above. See supra ¶ 4. The Settlement Agreement also provided that its terms would be considered covenants running with the land described in attached exhibits. It is notable that this lawsuit was filed shortly after the 1979 zoning change, and that the effect of the Settlement Agreement was Mr. Lawrence's admission that he had no right to operate the junkyard in the areas not contained in the industrial zone defined in that zoning change, and in parcel 8, which was also zoned industrial.

[¶7] At some unspecified time, Mr. Lawrence erected a fence running generally east-and-west along a hilltop, approximately halfway between the north and south borders of parcels 5 and 6, south of parcel 4, and just south of the northern border of parcel 2, shown by a dotted line on the above sketch. See supra ¶ 4. The main portion of the junkyard lies south of this fence and north of the south border of parcel 3. Perhaps the most significant aspect of this fence, as it relates to these proceedings, is that it created an area in the northern part of parcel 5, in the northern part of parcel 6 south of the residential zone, in the part of parcel 4 not in the residential zone, and in the very northern part of parcel 2, all of which area is in the industrial zone, but which is outside of the fenced area of the junkyard.

[¶8] In 2007, the City issued the Appellant a citation in municipal court for violation of a nuisance ordinance for having "derelict vehicles" and junk on parcel 7. The Appellant's defense to that citation was that she had a grandfathered right to use parcel 7 in her junkyard business. That defense was rejected, and she was convicted. She appealed to the district court, where her appeal was stayed by stipulation of the parties so that it could be heard along with this action.

[¶9] Both parties filed motions for summary judgment in the declaratory judgment action. The district court's Order Granting Partial Summary Judgment contained the following findings and conclusions:

1. Genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether the Appellant has abandoned her use of the property.

2. Genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether the junkyard was a legal use at the time the zoning ordinance was adopted in 1989.

3. The 1982 Settlement Agreement is, as a matter of law, valid and enforceable against both parties.

4. The Appellant is subject to the City's abatement of dangerous building ordinances.

5. Genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether the junkyard violates the City's licensing ordinance.

6. The Wyoming Junkyard Control Act, found at Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 33-19-101 through 33-19-110 (LexisNexis 2009), applies to the junkyard.

Based upon these findings and conclusions, the Appellant was ordered to suspend operations in, and remove inventory from, any residential areas, and to ...


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