J. MICHAELA BYRNES, Appellant (Plaintiff),
JOHNSON COUNTY COMMISSIONERS; JOHNSON COUNTY ROAD AND BRIDGE; and STATE OF WYOMING ex rel. WYOMING DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, Appellees (Defendants).
from the District Court of Johnson County The Honorable
Thomas W. Rumpke, Judge
Representing Appellant: J. Michaela Byrnes, Pro se
Representing Appellees Johnson County Commissioners; Johnson
County Road and Bridge: Richard Rideout, Law Offices of
Richard Rideout, P.C., Cheyenne, Wyoming
Representing Appellee State of Wyoming ex rel. Wyoming
Department of Transportation: No appearance
DAVIS, C.J., and FOX, KAUTZ, and GRAY, JJ., and DAY, D.J.
Appellant, J. Michaela Byrnes, filed an inverse condemnation
action alleging that a road expansion project took part of
her real property located in Johnson County. The district
court entered a judgment as a matter of law after the close
of her case in chief during a jury trial. The trial court
concluded that Ms. Byrnes, representing herself at trial, did
not meet her burden to show a taking occurred. The trial
court also concluded that the evidence would be inadequate to
prove any measure of damages for a partial taking. We affirm
the decision of the district court.
There is one issue before this Court:
Whether the trial court erred in granting a directed verdict
based on insufficient evidence of the value of the
extent Ms. Byrnes raised ancillary issues about the timing of
the motion, burdens of proof, and jury instructions, the
Court incorporates those issues into its
Ms. Byrnes owns a parcel of real property in Johnson County.
A public road called County Road 13, also called Trabing
Road, is adjacent to that property. Ms. Byrnes has two gated
driveways on her property that connect to that road.
A road expansion project was planned for the road. In
December 2010, an engineering firm sent a letter to Ms.
Byrnes asking her to sign a "Permit to Survey" to
allow it to survey her land for the road project. According
to her appellate brief, Ms. Byrnes asked for additional
information, which she asserts was not received, and she did
not grant access for the survey. Her trial testimony,
however, indicates that she did allow the survey, although
she was out of town working in Texas at the time. Regardless
of whether consent was obtained for the survey, the survey
did occur at some point, and that survey was submitted to
Johnson County and the Wyoming Department of Transportation
In July 2011, the Johnson County Road and Bridge Department
(Johnson County) provided an update to all affected
landowners regarding the project. Ms. Byrnes asserts that she
again asked for more information, which was not provided. In
September 2011, the Johnson County Attorney asked Ms. Byrnes
by letter to grant an easement for the construction permit.
According to Ms. Byrnes, that letter was threatening and
stated that if she did not grant the easement, then her
fences and roadways would not be realigned with the project.
According to the County, that letter was an offer consistent
with that provided to all other landowners affected by the
road expansion. The offer was to replace 420 feet of fencing
along the length of Ms. Byrnes's property, to pave her
two driveway approaches, and to realign those approaches in
relation to the new road. The County also explained in that
letter that it already had a right of way across the property
and therefore no permission or easement was needed for the
road expansion, i.e., that the project would move forward
whether she accepted the County's offer or not.
Communications continued between the parties. Ms. Byrnes
continued to deny access for the project.
In July 2012, the County began its road expansion project.
Ms. Byrnes alleged that the road was moved onto her property
approximately 33 feet, resulting in what she asserted was an
unconstitutional taking of a space 33 feet wide and 420 feet
long. She also asserted her mailboxes were moved and damaged;
her private driveways were blocked during construction; there
were conflicts with the flagging and construction crews
during the project; the crews littered on her property;
permanent survey markers were removed; and the driveways to
her property were shortened to such an extent to make them
Ms. Byrnes filed a complaint against WYDOT and Johnson County
for trespass, conversion, fraud, harassment, and an unlawful
taking of property. In an order entered on February 5, 2018,
the district court dismissed all claims against WYDOT. The
district court also dismissed all claims against Johnson
County except the claim for inverse condemnation. The inverse
condemnation claim was set for a jury trial.
Before the trial occurred, Ms. Byrnes filed two interlocutory
appeals, docketed as S-18-0051 and S-18-0052. This Court
dismissed both appeals. The appeal in docket S-18-0051 was of
a non-appealable order regarding the disqualification of the
presiding judge. The appeal in docket S-18-0052 was of the
trial court's dismissal of all claims against WYDOT. This
Court determined that the decision Ms. Byrnes sought to
appeal in docket S-18-0052 was not a final order since the
remaining claim for inverse condemnation against Johnson
County had not yet been decided.
A jury trial occurred on November 5 and 6, 2018. Ms. Byrnes
represented herself at trial. Ms. Byrnes presented three
witnesses: her daughter, herself, and Andy Campbell. At the
close of Ms. Byrnes's case in chief, Johnson County moved
for judgment as a matter of law. After the trial court
allowed Ms. Byrnes to present some additional testimony and
to move for the admission of certain exhibits, the motion was
renewed. The district court granted the motion. This appeal
When reviewing a trial court's judgment as a matter of
We undertake a full review of the record without deference to
the views of the trial court. The test to be applied is
whether the evidence is such that, without weighing the
credibility of the witnesses or otherwise considering the
weight of the evidence, there can be but one conclusion as to
the verdict that reasonable persons could have reached. We
view the evidence in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party, and give that party the benefit of all
reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the evidence.
When the facts permit the drawing of more than one inference,
it is for the jury to choose which will be utilized. Since a
judgment as a matter of law deprives the party opposing the
motion of a determination of the facts by a jury, it should
be cautiously and sparingly granted.
Stevens v. Anesthesiology Consultants of Cheyenne,
LLC, 2018 WY 45, ¶ 25, 415 P.3d 1270, 1280 (Wyo.
2018) (citations omitted). "A judgment as a matter of
law is appropriate when reasonable jurors could reach but one
conclusion as to the verdict." Anderson ...