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Randall Sinclair and Carmen v. the City of Gillette

February 9, 2012

RANDALL SINCLAIR AND CARMEN SINCLAIR, APPELLANTS (PLAINTIFFS),
v.
THE CITY OF GILLETTE, WYOMING, AND STETSON ENGINEERING, INC., A WYOMING CORPORATION, APPELLEES (DEFENDANTS).



Appeal from the District Court of Campbell County The Honorable Marvin L. Tyler, 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] Randall and Carmen Sinclair brought an action against the City of Gillette asserting three claims for relief, including a claim for damages under the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act. The City asserted governmental immunity and moved to dismiss that claim. The district court granted the motion to dismiss, and the Sinclairs appealed. We agree with the district court that the Sinclairs' claim is not cognizable under the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act, and will affirm the district court's order dismissing the claim.

ISSUES

[¶2] The Sinclairs raise two issues:

1. Did the district court err when it concluded that the Sinclairs' damages claims against the City of Gillette are barred by the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act?

2. Does the application of immunity based on the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act as applied to negligence, trespass, and forcible taking of property claims which arise in the operation of public utilities and services violate the due process, equal protection, and open court protections of the United States and Wyoming Constitutions?

FACTS

[¶3] The Sinclairs own property in Campbell County, Wyoming, near the City of Gillette.*fn1 In the early summer of 2008, the Sinclairs noticed survey crews setting up instruments on their property. The surveyors were working under a contract with the City to develop an expansion of the City's storm drain system. The Sinclairs objected, asserting that the City had no right to install the storm drain across their property. Despite the Sinclairs' protests, the surveyors continued their work. The Sinclairs took their complaint to the City, still maintaining that it had no easement or other legal right to locate the storm drain on their property. According to the Sinclairs' complaint, the engineering staff "forcefully" disagreed.

[¶4] During the summer of 2008, City employees and contractors made a large excavation across the Sinclairs' property. They installed a concrete storm drain approximately five feet tall and fourteen feet wide. They refilled the excavation and graded the lot. The Sinclairs continued to protest that the City had no legal right to install the storm drain across their property, but to no avail.*fn2 The storm drain currently remains in place.

[¶5] Pursuant to the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act, specifically Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-39-113 (LexisNexis 2009), the Sinclairs presented notice of their claim to the City. They followed up by filing a complaint in the district court, setting forth three claims for relief. In the first, they sought an injunction ordering the City to remove the storm drain and restore the property. In the second, entitled "Statutory Damages," they requested compensation pursuant to Wyoming's Eminent Domain Act, specifically Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 1-26-506 -- 508.*fn3 In the third, entitled "Alternative Damages," the Sinclairs claimed that, if they were not granted injunctive relief, they were entitled to an award of damages, including the loss in value of the land, punitive damages against the City's contractor, and attorneys' fees and litigation costs.

[¶6] Pursuant to W.R.C.P. 12(b)(6), the City filed a motion to dismiss the Sinclairs' third claim. It asserted that the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act preserves governmental immunity with certain specified exceptions, and that the Sinclairs' claim did not fit within any of the statutory exceptions. The City conceded that the Sinclairs may be entitled to compensation pursuant to the Wyoming Eminent Domain Act, but maintained that the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act barred the Sinclairs' third claim for relief. The Sinclairs opposed the City's motion to dismiss, contending that the claim fit within one of the Act's exceptions, and that the City was not immune from suit.

[ΒΆ7] After briefing and oral argument, the district court concluded that the Sinclairs' third claim was not authorized under the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act, and granted the City's motion to dismiss the claim. In response to the Sinclairs' unopposed motion, the district court certified pursuant to W.R.C.P. 54(b) that this dismissal was a final judgment as to the Sinclairs' third claim, and that there was no just reason to delay entry of final judgment on the claim. The Sinclairs ...


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