By Sarah Reese, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
June 20, 2011
A long-standing dispute over construction work on Saddle Butte Drive is expected to be decided this week by a Teton County jury.
The case pits the developer of land at the top of the butte against a company that owns land in a hillside subdivision. The trial will focus on problems that arose during a project on Saddle Butte Drive, which runs to the top of the hill in a series of switchbacks.
Clerks in 9th District Court have called 27 residents for the seven-day trial at the federal courthouse. Today, attorneys will begin narrowing the jury pool to six.
Developer WW Saddle Butte 2001 LLC and the Saddle Butte Landowners Association reached an agreement in 2003 in a separate lawsuit that gave the developer the right to maintain and improve the road through the existing subdivision, court records say.
However, the agreement required the developer to ensure driveway connections were equal or better to preconstruction conditions, records say.
Several lawsuits arose in 2007 after crews working on the project built about two feet outside the legal easement on Lot 8 and began building up the driveway on Lot 8 to connect it to the new road. One of the Lot 8 residents had the material removed, court records say.
The company that owns Lot 8 — Saddle Butte LLC — and residents Douglas Leen, David Kieras, and Donald and Daphne Niemann say the companies hired to work on the road trespassed on their property and caused damage by depositing dirt and debris during construction activities.
They argue the developer should be held liable for the actions of Rendezvous Engineering and Seaton Earthmovers, the companies the developer hired for the project.
A judge dismissed Seaton Earth-movers from the lawsuit after the company reached a settlement with the developer in 2009. Rendezvous remains a defendant, but claims it is not responsible for Seaton’s actions.
The developer admits responsibility for the mistake in construction, but alleges Leen and the other owners of Lot 8 interfered with attempts to fix the problem shortly after it was discovered. Leen brought in backhoes in the middle of the night in spring 2006 to remove the road and fill materials that were outside of the easement, records say.
“[The developer] alleges that Doug Leen intentionally undermined and partially destroyed the roadway and trespassed on the easement for the express purpose of interfering with the use of the road and causing financial harm,” records say.
Affidavits from the former Teton County fire chief and a resident not involved in the lawsuit have described the current road as unsafe as a result of the parties’ actions.
Leen says he repeatedly asked the developer to remove material from Lot 8 and hired someone to do the work only after discussions failed, records say.
Leen and other landowners are seeking damages in an amount to be proven at trial. They want the road re-constructed so their driveway connection is lowered.
The developer alleges Leen and other landowners are responsible for damages, including the cost of repairing and replacing the road.