Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County The Honorable Thomas T.C. Campbell, Judge
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Voigt, Justice.
Before KITE, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, VOIGT, and BURKE, JJ.
This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in Pacific Reporter Third. Readers are requested to notify the Clerk of the Supreme Court, Supreme Court Building, Cheyenne, Wyoming 82002, of any typographical or other formal errors so that correction may be made before final publication in the permanent volume.
[¶1] American National Bank (ANB), acting as Trustee of the Louise J. Sara Irrevocable Trust, appeals the district court's denial of ANB's motion to enforce a settlement agreement between Louise J. Sara and Joseph D. Sara (Joseph). ANB is also appealing the district court's denial of attorneys' fees and costs associated with filing the motion to enforce. Finding that the district court erred in denying ANB's motion to enforce, we will reverse that portion of the district court's order with further instructions as detailed below, but we will uphold the district court's denial of an award of attorneys' fees and costs.
[¶2] 1. Did the district court err in finding that the current action was a quiet title action and therefore the district court did not retain jurisdiction to decide the matter?
2. Did the district court err in finding that the Release, Waiver and Satisfaction of All Claims did not discharge the mortgage and note at issue in this case?
3. Did the district court abuse its discretion by ordering the parties to pay their own attorneys' fees and costs?
[¶3] The history of this case and the development of the current conflict dates back to 2000. A series of lawsuits, countersuits, and motions were filed in late 2000 and beyond, between members of the Sara family, against each other, personally, and in their capacity as personal representatives and trustees of various family trusts. The actions involved numerous issues arising out of squabbles over ownership and control of various real and personal property owned by the Sara family and trusts controlled by members of the Sara family. The disputes ultimately led to a Release, Waiver and Satisfaction of all Claims (Release), which Release was signed in October 2001, by all of the parties, both personally and in their capacity as personal representatives or trustees. As a result of the Release, the parties filed a Stipulation for Dismissal with Prejudice of all the actions previously filed by the parties. The district court then entered an Order of Dismissal with Prejudice, signed by all of the parties, dismissing with prejudice all of the parties' lawsuits. In addition to dismissing all of the lawsuits, and at the request of the parties, the district court also ordered that it would retain jurisdiction over the action in order to enforce the Release in the future.
[¶4] In May 2009, ANB, acting as Trustee of the Louise J. Sara Irrevocable Trust, filed a Motion to Enforce Release, Waiver and Satisfaction of All Claims.*fn1 ANB's motion was in response to a demand by Joseph for payment on a note secured by a mortgage on property belonging to the Louise J. Sara Irrevocable Trust. The property, located at 422 West 3rd Avenue in Cheyenne, was transferred to the Louise J. Sara Irrevocable Trust pursuant to the Release. Prior to the property being transferred, it was part of the Restated Dominic Sara Living Trust Agreement, controlled by Joseph as the Trustee. ANB's motion to enforce argued that the note and mortgage were discharged pursuant to the Release and Joseph's attempts to collect on the note violated the Release. The motion requested that the district court enforce the Release and find that the note and mortgage had been discharged by the Release. ANB also sought attorneys' fees and expenses associated with ANB's motion. The district court denied ANB's motion to enforce, holding that ANB's motion to enforce was actually a quiet title action and that the district court did not retain jurisdiction over such an action. The district court further ruled that to the extent it retained jurisdiction over any portion of ANB's motion to enforce, the Release did not discharge the note and mortgage. The district court also denied ANB's request for attorneys' fees and expenses. This appeal by ANB followed.
Did the district court err in finding that the current action was a quiet title action and therefore the district court did not retain jurisdiction to decide the matter?
[¶5] This question of whether a district court lacks jurisdiction to decide a matter is reviewed de novo. See William F. West Ranch, LLC v. Tyrrell, 2009 WY 62, ¶ 9, 206 P.3d 722, 726 (Wyo. 2009); Douglass v. Wyo. Dep't of Transp., 2008 WY 77, ¶ 9, 187 P.3d 850, 853 (Wyo. 2008). The law in Wyoming relating to retained jurisdiction is clear: a court may retain jurisdiction over a stipulation or settlement agreement for the purpose of enforcing the terms of the stipulation or settlement agreement, if the order of dismissal so provides and the parties agree. Rawlinson v. Wallerich, 2006 WY 52, ¶ 12, 132 P.3d 204, 208-09 (Wyo. 2006) (citing 8 [James Wm. Moore et al.,] Moore's Federal Practice [§] 41.34[[a], at 41-122, [h], at 41-125 (3d ed. (2010)]).
[¶6] In response to ANB's Motion to Enforce Release, Waiver and Satisfaction of All Claims, the district court determined that ANB's motion was a quiet title action and, based on the Release, the district court did not retain jurisdiction over such an action. We disagree with the district court and hold that ANB's motion was not a quiet title action but, rather, was a motion to enforce the Release, which is exactly the kind of action over which the district court retained jurisdiction. The Release provides that "[t]he parties agree that the Court will retain jurisdiction in this matter for the purpose of enforcing the terms and conditions of this Release." Additionally, the subsequent Stipulation for Dismissal with Prejudice entered by the parties ...