GREGORY D. LAVITT and DEBRA C. LAVITT, Appellants (Defendants),
HARRY E. STEPHENS, Appellee (Plaintiff)
Appeal from the District Court of Albany County. The Honorable Keith G. Kautz, Judge.
For Appellants: Mitchell H. Edwards, Nicholas & Tangeman, LLC, Laramie, Wyoming.
For Appellee: Frank J. Jones, Wheatland, Wyoming.
Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL, KITE, DAVIS, and FOX, JJ.
[¶1] In an earlier proceeding which we affirmed on appeal, the district court determined that the appellee, Harry E. Stephens, forfeited a legally enforceable easement across the property of the appellants, Gregory D. Lavitt and Debra C. Lavitt (Lavitts). Thereafter, Mr. Stephens petitioned the district court to condemn a private road to his landlocked property, proposing a route crossing the Lavitts' property identical to the easement that had been terminated. The district court dismissed the Lavitts from the private road action, finding that Mr. Stephens had created his own lack of access. The Lavitts requested that the district court impose sanctions against Mr. Stephens and his attorney and award them costs and attorney's fees for bringing a second private road
action. The district court declined to do so. We affirm.
[¶2] 1. Did the district court abuse its discretion when it declined to award costs and attorney's fees to the Lavitts pursuant to W.R.C.P. 41(d)?
2. Did the district court abuse its discretion when it declined to impose sanctions against Mr. Stephens and his attorney pursuant to W.R.C.P. 11?
[¶3] We considered the first chapter of this road easement dispute in Stephens v. Lavitt, 2010 WY 129, 239 P.3d 634 (Wyo. 2010). The Lavitts and Mr. Stephens own mountain property near one another in Albany County, Wyoming. Id. at ¶ 3, 239 P.3d at 636. In 2007, Mr. Stephens filed a petition with the Board of County Commissioners of Albany County (Board) requesting that the Board condemn a private road to provide Mr. Stephens access to his land-locked property. In his petition, Mr. Stephens named the Lavitts as affected parties, and proposed a route traversing their property.
[¶4] Thereafter, Mr. Stephens commenced a declaratory judgment action in district court seeking a ruling that he held a valid easement across the Lavitts' property. Stephens, 2010 WY 129, ¶ 4, 239 P.3d at 636. The district court determined that Mr. Stephens did hold a valid easement, but imposed conditions on Mr. Stephens' use of the easement. Id. at ¶ ¶ 6-7, 239 P.3d at 636. Mr. Stephens repeatedly violated these conditions, which resulted in the district court finding that Mr. Stephens had forfeited the easement due to his own bad acts. Id. at ¶ 8, 239 P.3d at 637. In 2009, the district court terminated Mr. Stephens' easement, and on appeal, we affirmed. Id. at ¶ ¶ 8, 22, 239 P.3d at 637, 640.
[¶5] In the meantime, prior to the district court's determination that Mr. Stephens forfeited the easement, the parties stipulated to a dismissal of the Lavitts from the private road action pending in front of the Board. After the district court's termination of Mr. Stephens' easement, the private road action before the Board continued for nearly four years, until July 2013, when Mr. Stephens withdrew his application for a private road and the Board dismissed the proceeding.
[¶6] Mr. Stephens then filed a complaint in district court pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 24-9-101 (LexisNexis 2013), requesting that the court condemn a private road allowing access to Mr. Stephens' land-locked property. Mr. Stephens again named the Lavitts as affected parties and proposed a route traversing the portion of the Lavitts' property where his former easement lay. The Lavitts moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing, among other things, that Mr. Stephens failed to bring the private road action in good faith. The Lavitts also filed a Rule 11 motion requesting that the district court impose sanctions against Mr. Stephens and his attorney. The Lavitts filed an additional motion requesting that the district court award them costs and attorney's fees pursuant to W.R.C.P. 41(d). The district court held a hearing on the Lavitts' motions. At its conclusion, the district court ruled from the bench, finding that Mr. Stephens had created his own lack of ...