Hicks ex rel. Bd. of Trs. of the Scenic Pres. Trust v. Dowd
In Hicks ex rel. Bd. of Trs. of the Scenic Pres. Trust v. Dowd, 2007 WY 74, 157 P.3d 914 (Wy. 2007), Lowham Limited Partnership owned a ranch in Johnson County, Wyoming. In 1993, it executed a "Deed of Conservation Easement and Quit Claim Deed" transferring one acre of the ranch to the Board of County Commissioners of Johnson County and imposing a conservation easement on the remainder of the ranch. The easement was to be in perpetuity unless "unforeseeable circumstances" rendered the continuation of the conversation easement impossible.
In 1997, the Board quitclaimed the one-acre parcel to the Scenic Preserve Trust of Johnson County, "subject to any easements or rights-of-way that have been legally acquired."
Two years later, Lowham Limited Partnership sold the ranch subject to the conservation easement to the Dowds. Later, in 2001, coal bed methane development was contemplated by a company that owned mineral interests underlying the ranch. As a result, in June of 2002, the Dowds requested that the Board terminate the conservation easement. The Dowds asserted that coal bed methane development was unpreventable, unanticipated, and inconsistent with the terms of the conservation easement. The Dowds proposed that the conservation easement could be extinguished if the Board sold them the one-acre parcel and the conservation easement. Id. at 917.
The Board agreed that the proposed development was inconsistent with the purposes of the conservation easement, and transferred the one-acre tract and the conservation easement to the Dowds.
Hicks, a resident landowner in Johnson County, filed a complaint alleging that the easement "could not be extinguished until it was judicially determined that unforeseeable circumstances made the continuation of the easement impossible." Id.
The Board and the Dowds moved for summary judgment, alleging that Hicks lacked standing to enforce the terms of the Scenic Preserve Trust.
The trial court denied their motion for summary judgment, reasoning: (1) the conservation easement had been transferred to a charitable trust, the Scenic Preserve Trust, and (2) Hicks had standing because the easement was accepted for the benefit of Wyoming citizens.
On appeal, the Supreme Court of Wyoming stated that in their brief, Appellants do not challenge the district court finding that the Scenic Preserve Trust is a charitable trust. Instead, they agree that the Scenic Preservation Trust is a charitable trust, whether under common law principles or under current statutory law. Given the district court's unchallenged finding, we must agree that the Scenic Preserve Trust is a charitable trust. Id. at 919.
The court found, however, that Hicks did not have standing because he was neither the Attorney General, a settlor, or a "qualified beneficiary" of the trust, as required under a Wyoming law.