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Goforth v. Fifield

Supreme Court of Wyoming

June 11, 2015

STUART GOFORTH, Appellant (Defendant),
v.
JAMEY FIFIELD, Appellee (Plaintiff)

Page 243

Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County. The Honorable Catherine R. Rogers, Judge.

For Appellant: Bernard Q. Phelan, Attorney at Law, Cheyenne, Wyoming.

For Appellee: David G. Ditto of Associated Legal Group, LLC, Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL, KITE, DAVIS, and FOX, JJ.

OPINION

Page 244

DAVIS, Justice.

[¶1] Appellee Jamey Fifield sued Appellant Stuart Goforth for trespassing on his property. Counsel for both parties attended a scheduling conference at which deadlines, a final pretrial conference, and a trial date were set. Goforth's counsel[1] failed to file the pretrial disclosures required by the scheduling order and he did not attend the pretrial conference. Because counsel did not appear at the conference and otherwise failed to comply with the scheduling order, the district court sanctioned his client by limiting his presentation of evidence at trial to testifying himself and cross-examining witnesses called by Fifield. The court ultimately found in Fifield's favor and awarded actual damages, quieted title, and granted an injunction against further trespass.

[¶2] On appeal, Goforth challenges the district court's sanction limiting his ability to present evidence, its finding that he had trespassed, and the award of damages. We find that the district court's judgment is sound in all respects except for a portion of the damages award. Accordingly, we affirm in part, reverse in part and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

ISSUES

[¶3] Appellant presents three issues for appellate review, which we have rephrased for exactitude:

1. Did the district court abuse its discretion in limiting Goforth's ability to present evidence at trial as a sanction for failure to attend the pretrial conference and to comply with the pretrial order?
2. Did Goforth raise an implied easement claim or present any evidence of such at trial, which could cause the district court's ruling concerning trespass to be in error?
3. Was the district court's decision on the amount of damages clearly erroneous?

FACTS

[¶4] Fifield and Goforth own adjacent lots in Cheyenne, Wyoming.[2] Goforth has a recorded easement for ingress and egress over the west portion of Fifield's property, but for years Fifield allowed him to cross on the east side.

[¶5] Their neighborly relationship deteriorated after Goforth began driving wherever he wanted, widened a road, and trenched a water line on Fifield's property without permission. Goforth also parked a pickup truck and camper just over his property line on the edge of Fifield's property.

[¶6] After paying for a survey and researching land records, Fifield demanded that the water line be removed and that Goforth use the deeded easement on the west side of his property rather than crossing it on the east side. He also demanded that Goforth remove the pickup truck and camper. Goforth did not accede to any of these demands, but instead further aggravated the situation by fencing off the recorded easement on the west side.

[¶7] Fifield filed a complaint seeking damages for trespass, a permanent injunction, and an order quieting title as to the east side access and the water line. He also sought punitive damages. Goforth timely answered, generally denying the allegations. He did not raise any affirmative defenses.

[¶8] The district court set a scheduling conference which counsel for both parties attended. The court then entered a scheduling order which was served on counsel by placing it in the respective attorneys' boxes in the clerk of court's office (commonly referred to as " the clerk's boxes" ) as permitted by Wyoming Rule of Civil Procedure 77(d).

[¶9] Fifield complied with the scheduling order by filing expert designations and a trial summary which included witness designations and exhibit lists. Goforth filed nothing. His counsel also failed to attend the final pretrial conference.

Page 245

[¶10] At the pretrial conference, the district court noted on the record that Goforth's counsel was not in attendance, and that he had not submitted a pretrial memorandum or otherwise complied with the scheduling order. The judge explained to Fifield's counsel that if Goforth's attorney appeared for trial, she would probably not allow him to call any witnesses other than his client. She was uncertain as to whether she would allow Goforth's counsel to cross-examine Fifield's witnesses, and she reserved ruling in case Goforth's counsel contacted the court or otherwise requested a hearing to explain his failure to comply with the order and to appear and was able to provide a satisfactory explanation. Unfortunately, Goforth's counsel did nothing after missing the conference until trial.

[¶11] Both parties and their attorneys appeared for the scheduled trial.[3] At the outset, the following exchange took place:

COURT: . . . As you know, the Court did conduct a pretrial conference last week. You failed to appear for that conference, and you failed to comply with the Court's pretrial order concerning pretrial memoranda. As a result, I announced an intention at the pretrial conference to limit the plaintiff's ability to present evidence in this case and will stand by that decision to limit the plaintiff's ability to present evidence in this case. Mr. [Counsel for Goforth], certainly you can call your client to testify. Other than that, no witnesses and no evidence.
[GOFORTH'S COUNSEL]: I think that will work, Your Honor.

At no point during trial did Goforth's counsel make an offer of proof or indicate that he intended or claimed to be entitled to call witnesses other than his client or present exhibits other than those introduced by Fifield.

[¶12] Fifield testified and called two expert witnesses, and he offered numerous listed exhibits which were received in evidence without ...


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