Thursday, March 26, 2009

Design Committee Rebuked by Wyoming Court

In the case of Dwan v. Indian Springs Ranch Homeowners Association, Inc. 186 P.3d 1199 (Wyo. 2008), the Wyoming Supreme Court reversed a trial court's decision which had affirmed the Association's Design, Environment and Wildlife Committee ("DEW Committee"). The Supreme Court sent the case back to the trial court with instructions that the trial court compel approval of the proposed construction.

It's unusual for a court, particularly an appellate court to take such strong action against an architectural committee, but the facts of this case shed some light on why it did so. Additionally, the court included a very nice summary of the Wyoming Supreme Court's treatment of Covenants.

The case involved an owner, Ann Dwan, who had previously sought and obtained permission in 1998 to build a residence with a steeper pitched roof than was otherwise allowed by the DEW Committee. In 2003, she sought and obtained permission to build a guesthouse/garage structure, with a similar roof.

Apparently the composition of the DEW Committee, or at least the attitude of the committee changed sometime thereafter, because they responded to her 2006 application for an addition to her house with a denial. Not only did they deny her request, but as the Court put it, they "not only rejected Dwan's application but also indicated there was no possibility of successfully pursuing a variance as described in the CCRs".

Interestingly, the trial court had ruled in favor of the Association, holding that Ms. Dwan could not pursue her claim due to her failure to seek the variance. The Supreme Court rejected this argument, apparently based in part upon the discouragement by the DEW Committee, but more significantly based upon their finding that the committee's only basis for rejection -- noncompliance with the pitch requirements of the guidelines -- was unreasonable in light of their prior approvals of the home and accessory structure. The Court found it to be "particularly disingenuous for the DEW Committee and the Board to suggest that they do not have the authority to grant a variance for this application considering they granted two variances for her guesthouse/garage in June 2003..."

While the Court's action is unusual, the DEW Committee's denial is inexplicable. It simply would make no sense to require the addition to the home to have an 8/12 pitch, while the other portion of that same building, and the guesthouse/garage, had a 10/12 pitch. Her architect's opinion, submitted to the trial court, stated "the design of the existing house would be irreparably damaged by changing the roof pitch and would reflect badly on the quality of the subdivision."

As an aside, here's the Court's summary of the Wyoming Supreme Court's standards of review of covenants:

We treat restrictive covenants as contractual in nature and interpret them in accordance with the principles of contract law. McLain v. Anderson, 933 P.2d 468, 474 (Wyo.1997); Anderson [v. Bommer], 926 P.2d [959] at 961 [(Wyo. 1996)]; McHuron v. Grand Teton Lodge Co., 899 P.2d 38, 40 (Wyo.1995). Most importantly, "[w]e seek to determine and effectuate the intention of the parties, especially the grantor(s), as it may appear or be implied from the instrument itself." Anderson, 926 P.2d at 961. We ascertain the true intention of the parties by looking at the writings as a whole, construing them to effectuate the intent of the parties. Sierra Trading Post, Inc. v. Hinson, 996 P.2d 1144, 1148 (Wyo.2000) (citing Kindler v. Anderson, 433 P.2d 268, 270-271 (Wyo.1967)); McHuron, 899 P.2d at 41.

Whether language is ambiguous is a question subject to de novo review by this Court. Samuel [v. Zwerin], 868 P.2d [265] at 266 [(Wyo. 1994)]." Language is ambiguous if it contains a double meaning." Id. (citing McNeiley v. Ayres Jewelry Co., 855 P.2d 1242, 1244 (Wyo.1993) (citing Cliff & Co., Ltd. v. Anderson, 777 P.2d 595, 599 (Wyo.1989))). Restrictive covenant language that is clear and unambiguous is construed according to its plain and ordinary meaning without reference to attendant facts, circumstances or extrinsic evidence. McLain, 933 P.2d at 474 (citing American Holidays, Inc. v. Foxtail Owners Ass'n, 821 P.2d 577, 579 (Wyo.1991); Klutznick v. Thulin, 814 P.2d 1267, 1270 (Wyo.1991); Knadler v. Adams, 661 P.2d 1052, 1053 (Wyo.1983)). Restrictions upon the use of land are not favored, will not be extended by implication and, when in doubt, will be construed in favor of the free use of the land. Kindler, 433 P.2d at 271.


Franko Gnedo said...

interesting outcome

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

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