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Davison v. Wyoming Game and Fish Commission

August 25, 2010

COREY AND KATHRYN DAVISON; RONALD AND STACEY RICHNER; AND MARTON RANCH, INC., APPELLANTS (PLAINTIFFS/COUNTER-DEFENDANTS),
v.
WYOMING GAME AND FISH COMMISSION AND THE WYOMING GAME AND FISH DEPARTMENT, APPELLEES (DEFENDANTS/COUNTER-PLAINTIFFS).



Appeal from the District Court of Natrona County The Honorable David B. Park, Judge.

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

Before KITE, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, VOIGT*fn1, and BURKE, JJ.

[¶1] Appellants (Landowners) seek reversal of the district court's decision granting summary judgment in favor of the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (collectively the Commission) in their dispute over the interpretation of an easement the Commission has over a portion of the Landowners' properties. We affirm.

ISSUES

[¶2] The Landowners state their issues this way:

1. Whether the District Court erred in denying Appellants' Motion for Ruling as a Matter of Law.

2. Whether the District Court erred in denying the Appellants' Motion for Summary Judgment as to the Counterclaims.

3. Whether the District Court erred in finding that the November 20, 1964 "Permanent Easement for Public Fishing, Migratory Waterfowl Hunting, and Boat Launching," (Lusby Easement) is ambiguous; thus accepting extrinsic evidence in order to "interpret" it in a manner that is contrary to its terms.

4. Whether the Appellees can claim an easement by prescription under Wyoming law.

5. Whether the District Court erred in finding that the parties had an oral agreement to modify the Lusby Easement with regard to the location of the boat ramp.

The issues stated by the Commission can be summarized this way:

A. Does the plain language of the easement and the available extrinsic evidence show that the parties intended to grant access to the middle of the river so the public can fish, hunt, and launch boats along the easement?

B. Should this Court render an advisory opinion on the Commission's authority to acquire rights by prescription?

C. Can the landowners complain about the location of the boat launch after they asked that it be moved?

FACTS

[¶3] This recitation is based largely on the statement of undisputed facts contained in the district court's decision letter. On June 17, 1964, the Commission entered into a sales contract with Clarence and Frances Lusby for an easement along the North Platte River in Natrona County, Wyoming. The contract stated that its purpose was to grant to the Commission "for the use of the public, a permanent walking easement . . . for public hunting and fishing in and to the North Platte River." The contract specified that:

Said easement shall extend from midstream of the said North Platte River outward to a point 100 feet above and beyond the high water line to the left of said river looking downstream.

The purchase price was listed as $10,000.00. The Commission received federal funding for a portion of this purchase price. In the process of obtaining the funding, the Commission certified to the Secretary of the Department of the Interior that the Commission had entered into an obligation to purchase the Easement. The certification specified that the Easement extended from the "centerline of the North Platte River."

[¶4] On November 20, 1964, the Lusbys executed a "Permanent Easement for Public Fishing, Migratory Waterfowl Hunting, and Boat Launching." Included in this Lusby Easement were a "walking easement," two access roadways, two parking lots, and a boat launching ramp. With specific regard to the walking easement, the Lusbys granted to the Commission:

A permanent public walking easement, one hundred (100) feet in width, for public fishing and migratory waterfowl hunting on the North Platte River, as particularly described in the Plat and Survey by Worthington, Lenhart and Assoc., Inc., . . . which Plat and Survey is expressly made a part of this instrument and by reference incorporated herein.

In the Plat and Survey, the walking easement is described as:

A strip 100 feet in width, as measured 100 feet to the right from the right and northerly high water line of the North Platte River (as one looks upstream) and being parallel to said high water line as said river traverses the W1/2 , Section 1 and the E1/2 NE1/4 , Section 2, T.30 N., R. 82 W. and the S1/2 SE1/4 , Section 35, T.31 N., R. 82 W. of the Sixth Principal Meridian, Natrona County, Wyoming.

The Plat and Survey then recite a detailed description, by angles and distances, of an "easement line having a total length of 10,977.1 feet or 2.08 miles, more or less." They also include detailed descriptions of the separate easements for the two access roads, two parking lots, and boat launching ramp.

[¶5] After purchasing the Lusby Easement, the Commission completed its application for federal funding by certifying to the Secretary of the Department of the Interior that it had obtained "a permanent public fishing, migratory waterfowl hunting and boat launching easement." Once again, the Commission certified that the Easement extended to "the centerline of the North Platte River."

[¶6] The Landowners are the successors in interest to the Lusbys, and their properties remain encumbered by the Lusby Easement. In October 2007, representatives of the Commission met with some of the Landowners and other interested parties to discuss concerns, including dogs being allowed to run freely on the Easement, dust from the access roads, and slow responses by Commission representatives to the Landowners' concerns. In addition, the Landowners suggested that the wording of the Lusby Easement allowed access only to the high water line of the river, not to the middle of the river. After reviewing its documentation, the Commission sent letters to the Landowners stating its position "that the easement extends from midstream of the river outward one-hundred feet from the high water line." This disagreement over the extent of the Lusby Easement led the Landowners to file this suit on September 8, 2008.

[ΒΆ7] After various pretrial proceedings, the district court held a hearing on September 21, 2009, to consider cross motions for summary judgment. The district court took the matter under advisement, and issued its decision letter on October 12, 2009. It ruled against the Landowners and granted summary judgment in favor of the Commission. A final ...


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