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Saturday, April 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Water Rights Transfer|Must Be Unanimous

(CN) - A split Wyoming Supreme Court determined that language in a subdivision covenant requires unanimous approval among tracts for transfer of water rights to a neighboring city.

A constellation of trusts under the Omohundro family name sought to develop a tract in Twin Lakes subdivision, allowing the city of Buffalo to annex the area and buy its water rights.

The Sullivan family, which owns five neighboring tracts, opposed on the basis of interests in the reservoirs, and argued that the subdivision covenants require their approval for any water rights transfer.

Wyoming federal court interpreted the covenant contract to agree with the Sullivans, granting summary judgment requiring their approval before the Omohundro plan could proceed.

On appeal, three state supreme court justices found that the "covenants are unambiguous" in requiring the neighboring tract owner's consent, pointing to text requiring "100 percent" approval from all tracts on subdivision decisions.

That the covenant's language was "broad" and "all-inclusive" proved that the original developers intended to give property owners the express right to approve or disapprove their neighbors' allocation of water rights during subdivision, wrote Justice Kite, who was joined by justices Hill and Voigt.

The high court also upheld denial of an affidavit from an Omohundro interest purporting intent to exempt them from the burden of the covenants, writing that as a subjective "rehash of their interpretation," it was inadmissible.

Justices Burke and Golden dissented, saying that ambiguity in the covenants' language presented factual issues precluding summary judgment. The court majority's decision was inferred and not explicit, the dissenting justices reasoned.

The majority affirmed the lower court decision granting summary judgment to the Sullivans.

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