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Estate of Weeks v. Weeks-Rohner

Supreme Court of Wyoming

September 27, 2018

ESTATE OF JACK WINFORD WEEKS, by and through its Personal Representative, Linda Rehm, Appellant (Plaintiff),
v.
JUDY WEEKS-ROHNER, Appellee (Defendant).

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

          Representing Appellant: Holli J. Welch and Tara B. Nethercott, Woodhouse Roden Nethercott, LLC, Cheyenne, Wyoming. Argument by Ms. Welch.

          Representing Appellee: James R. Salisbury, The Salisbury Firm, P.C., Cheyenne, Wyoming.

          Before DAVIS, C.J., and BURKE [*] , FOX, KAUTZ, and BOOMGAARDEN, JJ.

          KAUTZ, J., delivers the opinion of the Court; DAVIS, C.J., files a dissenting opinion.

          KAUTZ, JUSTICE.

         [¶1] Jack Weeks and Judy Weeks-Rohner divorced in 1984. Their divorce decree directed that their jointly owned Sinclair, Wyoming home would remain in Mr. Weeks' possession, subject to a trust for their minor son, Shawn Weeks. Mr. Weeks retained possession of the Sinclair property, but the required trust was never formed.

         [¶2] In 2012, Shawn Weeks died at the age of thirty-three, and in 2015 Jack Weeks died. In 2016, the Estate of Jack Winford Weeks filed a quiet title action against Ms. Weeks-Rohner, asserting adverse possession of the Sinclair property. Ms. Weeks-Rohner counterclaimed, contending that the 1984 divorce decree governed disposition of the property and asking that the district court enforce the decree by quieting title to the property in Shawn Weeks and/or his heirs. On dispositive motions, the district court ruled generally in favor of Ms. Weeks-Rohner, and the Estate appeals. We affirm.

         ISSUES

         [¶3] We restate the issues on appeal as:

1. Did the district court err in ruling that the Estate failed to make the showing required for an adverse possession claim against Ms. Weeks-Rohner?
2. Did the district court err in ruling that Ms. Weeks-Rohner's counterclaim for enforcement of the decree was timely?
3. Did the district court act within its authority to enforce the 1984 divorce decree when it ordered the parties to place the Sinclair property in a trust for the benefit of Shawn Weeks and subject to his probate proceedings?
4. Did the district court err in ruling that a motion to dismiss filed by the Estate was untimely?

         FACTS

         [¶4] Jack Weeks and Judy Weeks-Rohner were married on February 16, 1982 and divorced on February 28, 1984. When they divorced they had one child, Shawn Daniel Weeks. Their 1984 divorce decree awarded Ms. Weeks-Rohner custody of Shawn Weeks during the school year, and Mr. Weeks had the child during the summer, with each having liberal visitation when the other had custody. The decree ordered Mr. Weeks to pay $175 per month for child support, including during the summer months, with those payments due on the first day of each month.

         [¶5] The divorce decree also addressed disposition of the parties' property, both real and personal. The provision central to the present dispute directed:

3. The following property, real and personal, shall be subject to a trust established for the parties' minor child, Shawn Daniel Weeks:
a. Savings bonds;
b. Shaughnessy's;
c. Colorado property;
d. Residence located at [street address omitted], Sinclair, Wyoming, including other half lot.
A professional trustee shall be named to administer said trust.
The defendant [Mr. Weeks] shall have possession of the Sinclair residence beginning February 1, 1984 and shall be responsible for making all mortgage payments on the property for so long as the property remains subject to the trust. In the event that the Sinclair property is rented to a third party, and the rental payments do not cover the mortgage payments, the defendant shall be responsible for making up the difference. In the further event that the rental payments exceed the amount of the mortgage payments, any monies in excess of the mortgage payment shall be placed in the trust.
The trustee, plaintiff [Ms. Weeks-Rohner] and defendant shall comprise a management board to manage Shaughnessy's. The trustee has an absolute veto over votes cast by plaintiff and defendant.
The defendant shall be responsible for maintaining the Sinclair property in good repair for so long as the property remains subject to the trust.

         [¶6] In 1986, Ms. Weeks-Rohner, through her divorce attorney, asked a Cheyenne bank to set up the trust and serve as trustee. The bank declined through its trust officer, stating that administrative expenses would annually reduce the corpus of the trust, and that the real estate in the trust would have expenses for taxes, insurance and maintenance making the administration of the trust difficult.

         [¶7] Neither Mr. Weeks nor Ms. Weeks-Rohner ever attempted to set up the trust again, and it was never established. On March 30, 2012, Shawn Weeks died, and on March 23, 2015, Mr. Weeks died. Mr. Weeks retained possession of the Sinclair property until his death, and the property remained titled in the names of both Mr. Weeks and Ms. Weeks-Rohner.

         [¶8] In 2014, Shawn Weeks' estate filed suit against Jack Weeks (before Jack Weeks died), making claims about the same real estate. Shortly thereafter those parties stipulated that the case would be dismissed pursuant to WRCP 41(a)(1).

         [¶9] A year later, in January 2016, Mr. Weeks' estate filed a quiet title action against Ms. Weeks-Rohner asserting a claim for adverse possession of the Sinclair property. Ms. Weeks-Rohner responded with an amended answer and counterclaim which asserted claims for quiet title, constructive trust, promissory estoppel, and declaratory judgment. With each claim, Ms. Weeks-Rohner sought enforcement of the 1984 divorce decree and to quiet title to the Sinclair property in Shawn Weeks and/or his estate and heirs.

         [¶10] Mr. Weeks' Estate then filed a motion for summary judgment on its adverse possession claim and a motion to dismiss Ms. Weeks-Rohner's counterclaims. By its motion to dismiss, the Estate asserted: (1) Ms. Weeks-Rohner's quiet title claim was barred by the ten-year statute of limitations for recovery of real property; (2) the divorce decree's trust provision was an unenforced child support judgment that was dormant and could no longer be revived or enforced; (3) Ms. Weeks-Rohner could not establish the elements of a constructive trust; (4) Ms. Weeks-Rohner could not establish the elements of promissory estoppel; (5) Ms. Weeks-Rohner lacked standing to bring a declaratory judgment action; and (6) Ms. Weeks-Rohner's declaratory judgment action was barred by the four-year statute of limitations on such actions. Ms. Weeks-Rohner opposed the motion to dismiss and filed her own summary judgment motion on her quiet title and declaratory judgment claims.

         [¶11] Because the Estate attached materials outside the pleadings to its motion to dismiss, the district court converted it to a summary judgment motion. In ruling on the cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court found that: 1) after their divorce, Mr. Weeks and Ms. Weeks-Rohner owned the Sinclair property as tenants in common; 2) Ms. Weeks-Rohner was not in possession of the Sinclair property and therefore could not bring a quiet title action; 3) the Estate failed to make the elevated showing required for a co-tenant adverse possession claim; 4) neither party's claims were time-barred; 5) the divorce decree's trust provision was not a child support judgment and therefore not a judgment subject to statutory dormancy and revival requirements; 6) the district court had jurisdiction to enforce the 1984 divorce decree; and 7) questions of fact precluded the Estate's motion for summary judgment on Ms. Weeks-Rohner's constructive trust and promissory estoppel claims.

         [¶12] Based on those findings, the district court concluded:

Decedent and Defendant have never been relieved from their agreement and court-ordered obligation to place the Sinclair residence into a trust for the benefit of their son. The relevant provisions of the 1984 Decree of Divorce remains [sic] enforceable, and declaratory judgment at this summary judgment stage is appropriate in Defendant's favor to enforce the pertinent provisions of the divorce decree.
The Court will quiet title to the Sinclair property with Decedent (now his estate) and Defendant each owning an undivided one-half interest as tenants in common. See Choman v. Epperley, 592 P.2d 714, 718 (Wyo. 1979) (noting that a tenancy by the entirety reverts to a tenancy in common upon divorce). Additionally, the Court will declare the 1984 Decree of Divorce is not dormant and order the parties to abide by the provisions governing the Sinclair residence.
Defendant's request for summary judgment on her declaratory judgment claim is granted, and the Court will enforce the portions of the 1984 Decree of Divorce requiring the parties to place the Sinclair property into a trust for the benefit of Shawn Daniel Weeks (and now becoming subject to Shawn Weeks' probate action).

         [¶13] Ms. Weeks-Rohner's remaining claims for constructive trust and promissory estoppel were set for a bench trial scheduled for May 2, 2017. On the morning of May 2, 2017, however, the Estate filed another motion to dismiss. This motion asserted Ms. Weeks-Rohner's counterclaims must be dismissed because she failed to join an indispensable party, Shawn Weeks' estate. The motion also asserted that Ms. Weeks-Rohner's counterclaims were barred by res judicata and laches. The district court continued the trial and took the Estate's second motion to dismiss under advisement.

         [¶14] Shortly thereafter, the district court issued an order denying the Estate's motion to dismiss. It found the motion to be untimely, but it also addressed the merits and denied it on that basis as well. The parties then filed a stipulated motion to dismiss Ms. Weeks-Rohner's claims for constructive trust and promissory estoppel with prejudice, and the district court issued an order granting the stipulated dismissal. The Estate filed a timely notice of appeal to this Court.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         [¶15] The dispositive issues in this matter require that we review the district court's summary judgment rulings. Our review is as follows:

We review a district court's order granting summary judgment de novo and afford no deference to the district court's ruling. Thornock v. PacifiCorp, 2016 WY 93, ¶ 10, 379 P.3d 175, 179 (Wyo. 2016). This Court reviews the same materials and uses the same legal standard as the district court. Id. The record is assessed from the vantage point most favorable to the party opposing the motion, and we give a party opposing summary judgment the benefit of all favorable inferences that may fairly be drawn from the record. Id. A material fact is ...

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