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Ralph E. Platt Individually, and Ralph E. Platt and Ronald R. Platt v. Wayne W. Platt

November 10, 2011

RALPH E. PLATT INDIVIDUALLY, AND RALPH E. PLATT AND RONALD R. PLATT CO-TRUSTEES OF THE RALPH E. PLATT RANCH REVOCABLE TRUST, DATED THE 11TH DAY OF MAY, 2006, APPELLANTS (PLAINTIFFS),
v.
WAYNE W. PLATT, INDIVIDUALLY; WAYNE W. PLATT AS TRUSTEE OF THE PLATT RANCH TRUST DATED OCTOBER 10, 1991; WAYNE W. PLATT AND GEORGIA PLATT AS TRUSTEES OF THE WAYNE W. PLATT AND GEORGIA PLATT REVOCABLE TRUST DATED THE 13TH DAY OF FEBRUARY, 2007; AND ALICE A. PLATT, FORMERLY ALICE A. CREIGHTON, APPELLEES (DEFENDANTS).



Appeal from the District Court of Carbon County The Honorable Steven R. Cranfill, Judge

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

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

NOTICE: 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] Appellants Ralph E. Platt and Ronald R. Platt challenge an order from the district court modifying a partition of land made by court-appointed commissioners. Appellants contend that the district court did not have authority to modify the partition. We affirm.

ISSUE

[¶2] Appellants present the following issue:

Is a district court authorized, as a matter of law, to unilaterally -- without review or approval of the commissioners -- modify the partition made by commissioners appointed pursuant to Wyoming Statute § 1-32-104, rather than simply accepting or rejecting the commissioners' partition as a whole?

FACTS

[¶3] Upon their father's death, Appellant Ralph E. Platt and Appellee Wayne W. Platt, together with their siblings, inherited the ranch near Encampment, Wyoming that is the subject of this dispute. As a result of subsequent transfers between the siblings, Ralph and Wayne jointly owned and operated one half of the ranch, and they eventually placed that land in the Platt Ranch Trust. Over time, disputes arose between the brothers as to the operation of the Trust and management of the property. These disputes led to the current litigation, which was initiated when Appellants filed suit against Appellees in district court, asserting a breach of trustee's duties, among other claims, and seeking a partition of the ranch. In this appeal, we are asked to address only that portion of the proceedings relating to the district court's order of partition.

[¶4] After finding that Appellants were entitled to part of the estate, the district court appointed three commissioners to make a partition of the property pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-32-104 (LexisNexis 2009). In June of 2009, the parties submitted proposed instructions to guide the commissioners in partitioning the property. After receiving and considering objections to the proposed instructions, the district court issued Instructions to Commissioners setting forth the duties of the commissioners and the general manner in which the property was to be divided. Pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-32-106 (LexisNexis 2009), the commissioners were instructed to "examine the property and set apart the same in such lots as will be most advantageous and equitable, having due regard for the improvements, situation and quality of the different parts." The instructions also permitted the commissioners to create easements for the benefit of any party.

[¶5] Following their inspection of the property, the commissioners submitted a report of their recommended partition. The commissioners generally divided the property into northern and southern parcels. Appellants were awarded the southern portion of the ranch, encompassing 2,213 acres, including 248 acres of irrigated lands, and valued at approximately $1,138,908.00. The lands awarded to Appellants incorporated in-holdings owned separately by Ralph and Ronald Platt. Appellants were also awarded 320 acres of a BLM grazing permit. Appellees were awarded the northern portion of the ranch, encompassing 1,772 acres, including 291 acres of irrigated lands, and valued at approximately $1,138,967.00. The lands awarded to Appellees incorporated an in-holding owned separately by Wayne W. Platt. In addition, Appellees were awarded 640 acres of the BLM grazing permit.

[¶6] The land awarded to Appellants also included a parcel known as the King Field, which was not contiguous with the bulk of their property. In conjunction with this award, the commissioners proposed to establish "Easement 3" across property set over to Appellees so that Appellants would have easier access to the King Field. Easement 3 ran along an existing road, which was described as "a little bit better than a two-track road, but not much." The King Field, however, could also be reached by means of a road providing access from the east side of the parcel, and by a county road providing access from the west. Nonetheless, the commissioners initially determined that Easement 3 was appropriate because it provided a much shorter route for access to the King Field than the county road. The commissioners also proposed to establish "Easement 2" for the benefit of Appellants, which crossed the corner of a parcel awarded to Appellees.

[¶7] Following the submission of the commissioners' report, both parties objected to the creation of Easement 3. Appellants objected on the grounds that the easement crossed property owned by the Harriet Platt Revocable Trust, which was not owned in common and was not subject to the partition. Appellants noted that "This creates title issues and access issues relative to Easement Access 3." Appellees, on the other hand, objected on the grounds that the easement was "largely unnecessary and impracticable" to Appellants' access and use of the property. They also claimed that "the use, maintenance, or improvement of the easement will substantially interfere with the [Appellees'] headgates and water rights."

[¶8] The district court held a two-day hearing to consider the parties' objections to the partition. At the hearing, the commissioners acknowledged the likelihood of future disputes relating to the construction and maintenance of Easement 3. One of the commissioners stated "[T]hat is something we overlooked. We thought we were solving the problem by allowing access to go through there, but it has probably created a lot of problems on who is going to build it, who is going to maintain it, and who is going to -- and that probably needs to be worked out, certainly, as part of it."*fn1 In light of the possibility that Easement 3 would give rise to further disputes between the parties, Appellants' counsel questioned the commissioner about a potential solution advocated by Appellants, which was to grant Easement 3 to Appellees, and set the 13.15 acres subject to the Easement over to Appellants:

Q: . . . Do you believe that a modification of your report that provided to set over the 13.15 acres to the Platt -- to Ralph Platt and the plaintiffs provided that there is also an easement to Alice Platt for irrigation purposes, do you think that that would be a reasonable way to resolve those issues and future problems?

A: I do. I think it would take care of a lot of those things. We kind of created a problem there. I realize that there has to be access to the water, and I realize that there's got to be access to the property, too, and it's some kind of an exchange. I guess, as a commissioner, it would have really helped us if we could have come up with a proposal. And I know the Court has got its way of working, but if we could have come up with a proposal, talked with the plaintiffs and defendants and then said, What is wrong with this and what is right with it, and readjusted it, we ...


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