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James E. Koch v. J&J Ranch

April 30, 2013

JAMES E. KOCH, APPELLANT (DEFENDANT),
v.
J&J RANCH, LLC, A WYOMING LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY, APPELLEE (PLAINTIFF).



Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County The Honorable Thomas T.C. Campbell, Judge

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

Before KITE, C.J., and HILL, VOIGT, BURKE, and DAVIS, 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] The parties are two rural landowners who own easements crossing a parcel of ranchland in Laramie County, Wyoming. When Appellant James Koch improved the common roadway and asked his neighbor to contribute to the cost of those improvements, Appellee J&J Ranch, LLC brought suit against Koch in the District Court for the First Judicial District. J&J sought a declaratory judgment as to the parties' respective rights and duties relating to maintenance and repair of the road, as well as injunctive relief and damages for Koch's alleged interference with J&J's use of the easement.

[¶2] Koch responded with similar counterclaims, but also claimed the right to equitable contribution from J&J for the costs he incurred in improving the road. We will affirm the district court's denial of Koch's request for equitable contribution, but reverse its declaration of the parties' rights regarding any future maintenance work and as to the rights of the parties to recover for repair and maintenance they perform.*fn1

ISSUES

[¶3] We restate the questions raised by this appeal as follows:

1. Was the district court's denial of Koch's equitable contribution claim consistent with the principles set out in Rageth v. Sidon Irrigation District, 2011 WY 121, 258 P.3d 712 (Wyo. 2011), and otherwise not clearly erroneous or an abuse of discretion?

2. Did the court err as a matter of law when it declared that:

a. Appellant had no right to repair or maintain the easement?

b. Appellant had no right to recover a portion of the costs of repair or maintenance from Appellee?

c. Appellant's use of the easement could not exceed the boundaries of his grant?

FACTS

[¶4] Dean Fogg was the original owner of the servient estate involved in this case. In July of 1979, Fogg granted a road easement to Jerry Palen, who sold his property (including the appurtenant easement) to Morris and Judy Perkins in 1991. Appellant Koch purchased that property in March 2006. After Fogg died in 2004, the servient property passed through a trust he had created to his daughter, Janet Shatto. J&J purchased an easement over the roadway used by Palen and his successors from Shatto in October of 2007.

[¶5] Koch's road easement describes its width as "a minimum of thirty (30) feet," and it contains no provisions regarding maintenance of the road. J&J's easement limits the width of its road to thirty feet, but it also provides that J&J "agrees to maintain the road easement."

[ΒΆ6] The road used by Koch and J&J begins at Campstool Road east of Cheyenne, and then proceeds south for approximately one mile. The road then reaches a Y, from which Koch has to travel a short distance to the southwest to reach his property. To reach the J&J property from that point one has to drive another mile, first bearing to the southeast, then directly to the east, and then due south. Approximately two-thirds of ...


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