Court Summaries, 0620 WYBJ, Vol. 43 No. 3. 46

AuthorAnna Reeves Olson Park Street Law Offices Casper, Wyoming
PositionVol. 43 3 Pg. 46

Court Summaries

Vol. 43 No. 3 Pg. 46

Wyoming Bar Journal

June, 2020

Anna Reeves Olson Park Street Law Offices Casper, Wyoming

Four B Properties, LLC, & Ranch 10, LLC v. The Nature Conservancy

2020 WY 24


February 21, 2020

Gary Binning owned Four B Properties, LLC and Ranch 10, LLC, which were two parcels of land located in Theton County that were governed by a conservation easement administered by the Nature Conservancy. The Easement permitted ranching, residential and recreational uses that were consistent with the conservation purposes of the Easement.

However, the Easement also stated that it was to be “liberally construed to effectuate the purpose of preserving and protecting habitat for wildlife” and that enforcement of the terms and provisions of the Easement would be at the discretion of the Conservancy.

In 1995, Section 2(E) of the Easement authorized the construction of a residential building plus minor “outbuildings,” for employee housing at locations reasonably satisfactory to the Conservancy.

In 2004, the Easement was amended to omit and replace the word “outbuildings” with “associated improvements” which may include barns, garages, shops, greenhouses, storage sheds and corrals, etc.

In 2016, when Binning proposed to construct a main house, caretaker’s quarters, and a guest house on the properties, the Conservancy rejected the proposal. Binning brought a declaratory judgment action asserting that the Easement should permit construction of the proposed buildings as “associated improvements.” The Conservancy counterclaimed and sought a declaration that the phrase “associated improvements” did not include guest houses or caretaker’s quarters. The district court granted summary judgment and entered judgment in favor of the Conservancy.

On appeal the Supreme Court affirmed and held that the Easement was unambiguous. The Court stated that the term “associated improvements,” although not specifically defined, did not include a guest house or caretaker’s quarters. There was also nothing in the Easement to suggest that there was an intent to include 46 Wyoming Lawyer · June 2020 “employee housing” within the definition of “associated improvements.” Therefore, the Easement’s language unambiguously limited the construction upon each of LLCs’ parcels to one single-family residential structure and associated improvements.

Devon Energy Production Co., LP v. Grayson Mill Operating, LLC


2020 WY 28

February 27, 2020

Devon Energy Production Company, LP and Grayson Mill Operating, LLC, both held mineral interests in certain drilling and spacing units and both wanted to be the “operator” of those units. Gray-son won the race to permit and obtained operator status over the lands. Devon filed a complaint against Grayson, claiming Grayson illegally trespassed on the lands to obtain data to include in its applications for permits to drill. Devon claimed that Grayson’s actions violated W.S. § 40-27-101, which prohibits a party from trespassing on private lands to unlawfully collect resource data.

The district court granted Grayson’s motion to dismiss the complaint, finding the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission had primary jurisdiction and Devon failed to exhaust its administrative remedies with the Commission. On appeal, Devon argued that the district court, not the Commission, was the proper forum to resolve the trespass claim.

Prior to oral arguments, Devon supplemented the record with a notice of additional authority which contained the Commission’s order dismissing Devon’s claims because it found it lacked jurisdiction to consider a civil trespass.

On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the district court’s order and held that the exhaustion doctrine applied where an agency alone possesses exclusive jurisdiction over the case. Here, the Commission did not have jurisdiction to consider a civil trespass; therefore, there was nothing for Devon to exhaust at the administrative level.

The Court also analyzed whether the district court’s decision to decline jurisdiction was proper under the primary jurisdiction doctrine. The primary...

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