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Sikora v. City of Rawlins

Supreme Court of Wyoming

May 15, 2017

CLARE SIKORA, Appellant (Plaintiff),
CITY OF RAWLINS, Appellee (Defendant).

         Appeal from the District Court of Carbon County The Honorable Wade E. Waldrip, Judge

          Representing Appellant: Nancy D. Mullin and Gay Woodhouse of Woodhouse Roden Nethercott, LLC, Cheyenne, WY. Argument by Ms. Woodhouse.

          Representing Appellee: Kylie M. Rangitsch and Thomas A. Thompson of MacPherson, Kelly & Thompson, LLC, Rawlins, WY. Argument by Mr. Thompson.

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

          HILL, Justice.

         [¶1] Clare Sikora filed a declaratory judgment action against the City of Rawlins challenging the City's issuance of a building permit to her next door neighbors, Jared and Kasandra Ramsey. The district court ruled in favor of the City, finding: 1) Ms. Sikora failed to exhaust her administrative remedies; 2) Ms. Sikora failed to join indispensible parties (the Ramseys) in the litigation; and 3) the Rawlins Municipal Code allows for the type of construction undertaken by the Ramseys. We affirm.


         [¶2] Ms. Sikora does not challenge the district court's finding that the Ramseys were indispensible parties to this litigation. Her challenge is to the court's other two rulings, and she frames her issues concerning those rulings as follows:

I. The district court erred, as a matter of law, in granting summary judgment by concluding the newly constructed building retained its grandfathered-in status.
II. The district court erred in finding that Appellant failed to exhaust her administrative remedies because the time period triggering Appellant's right to appeal a city staff decision is uncertain.


         [¶3] Jared and Kasandra Ramsey own real property at 410 10th Street in Rawlins, Wyoming (the 410 property). The 410 property is located in a commercial zone and zoned C-2, which means it may be used for, among multiple other purposes, a parking structure/garage. Clare Sikora owns a home next door to the 410 property and resides there with her adult son, Gene Sikora.[1]

         [¶4] When the Ramseys purchased the 410 property in June 2014, the only structure on the property was a large dilapidated garage that had been cited on multiple occasions for building code violations related to its dangerous condition. The Ramseys purchased the 410 property, which was just two blocks from their primary residence, intending to improve the existing garage and use it to store personal belongings such as their four-wheelers, snow machines, and camper.

          [¶5] Although the garage that existed on the 410 property when the Ramseys purchased the property was an allowed use of the property, the garage was not situated in compliance with setback requirements that had been enacted by ordinance in 1989. Because the existing garage was in place before the setback requirements were enacted, however, it was not considered a nonconforming structure under the Rawlins Municipal Code. In other words, the existing garage was a grandfathered structure.

         [¶6] Because the existing garage was a grandfathered structure, the Ramseys consulted with Rawlins officials to determine whether and how they could replace the garage. In a meeting with DeShann Gordon, a Rawlins building inspector, and Ms. Gordon's supervisor, Adam Mendenhall, Mr. Mendenhall advised the Ramseys that if they replaced the existing building one wall at a time, followed by the roof, and kept the new building within the existing building's footprint, the new building would have the same grandfathered status as the existing building. In accordance with the City's instructions, the Ramseys applied for a building permit to replace the existing building's roof. The City issued that building permit on September 11, 2014, but site preparation and winter conditions delayed the Ramseys' construction until May of 2015.

         [¶7] When the Ramseys finally began construction in May 2015, DeShann Gordon visited the site to inspect the work being done. At the time of Ms. Gordon's inspection, the Ramseys were proceeding with the reconstruction of the garage in a piecemeal fashion and had removed the roof and one wall. In Ms. Gordon's view, this approach created safety concerns, and because Ms. Gordon had never agreed that the piecemeal construction should have been a condition to maintaining the building's grandfathered status, and Adam Mendenhall was no longer with the City, Ms. Gordon discussed the situation with interim city manager, Scott Hannum. Mr. Hannum agreed that the piecemeal construction was not required and that as long as any new structure was kept within the existing structure's footprint, the structure would remain grandfathered.

         [¶8] Ms. Gordon thereafter directed the Ramseys to stop the piecemeal construction and to proceed with a full demolition and replacement of the existing structure. The Ramseys then, on May 21, 2015, submitted a building permit application for the demolition work, and the demolition permit issued that same day. On June 2, 2015, after the demolition work was complete, the City issued the Ramseys a "New Construction" building permit for construction of the new garage. The Ramseys constructed the new garage within the same footprint as the old structure, and the completed structure passed final inspection on October 16, 2015.

         [¶9] During the Ramseys' demolition of the old garage and construction of the new garage, Gene Sikora contacted DeShann Gordon several times with complaints concerning the project. Regarding construction of the new garage, Mr. Sikora complained that the new structure did not comply with current setback requirements. Ms. Gordon informed him that she had approved the new garage as a grandfathered structure subject to the requirement that the garage be built within the same footprint as the garage that had been removed. Ms. Gordon further informed Mr. Sikora that if he disagreed with her decision, he could take those concerns to the Board of Adjustment, the city council, or to the interim city manager, Scott Hannum.

         [¶10] Clare Sikora did not seek administrative review of the City's approval of the Ramseys' new construction. Instead, on September 4, 2015, Ms. Sikora filed a declaratory judgment complaint against the City of Rawlins, followed by an amended complaint on October 5, 2015. Through her amended complaint, Ms. Sikora sought injunctive relief to either stop the Ramseys' construction or require that it be completed in compliance with current setback requirements. She also sought a declaration that any construction on the 410 ...

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