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Winegar v. Springville City

Court of Appeals of Utah

March 22, 2018

Wade S. Winegar and Sandra Winegar, Appellants,
v.
Springville City, Bill Child, and Jason Riding, Appellees.

          Fourth District Court, Provo Department The Honorable Claudia Laycock No. 070401317

          Wade S. Winegar, Attorney for Appellants.

          Robert C. Keller and Timothy J. Bywater, Attorneys for Appellees.

          Judge Michele M. Christiansen authored this Opinion, in which Judges Kate A. Toomey and Ryan M. Harris concurred.

          CHRISTIANSEN, JUDGE.

         ¶1 Wade S. Winegar and Sandra Winegar appeal the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Springville City (the City), Bill Child, and Jason Riding. We affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 The Winegars owned vacant property along Hobble Creek in Springville, Utah. In May 2005, without the Winegars' knowledge or permission, the City moved heavy equipment across the Winegars' property as part of an effort to clear an upstream obstruction in the creek, damaging the Winegars' property.

         ¶3 Approximately eight months later, on January 27, 2006, the Winegars filed a notice of claim for damage to their property with the Springville City Clerk. The clerk transferred the notice of claim to the City Attorney, who began communicating with the Winegars about their claim.

         ¶4 On March 20, an entity named Utah Risk Management Mutual Association (URMMA) sent a letter to the Winegars, which read:

Our investigation into the claim you have made against Springville City for damage to your landscaping and property . . . is now complete.
Our investigation indicates that Springville City would not be held legally liable for any damages you may have sustained. The City has an easement on the property which allows [it] to enter the creek bed. [It] also [has] authority to take measures to clean out and maintain the creek bed to prevent flooding that might damage other property downstream.
Because the City would not be held liable, we must respectfully decline to make any voluntary payments on this claim.

         The letter was signed by Lyle Kunz, a claims adjuster, and a copy was sent to the City Attorney.

         ¶5 A few weeks later, on April 9, Mr. Winegar sent a letter to the City Attorney, purportedly following up on a telephone conversation from the previous Friday, April 7. Mr. Winegar indicated that he needed to amend his claim to include the names of the individual employees "involved in cutting trees on the subject property" and "the names of all those involved in the decision-making process, direction and supervision of this project." According to the letter, the City Attorney had advised the Winegars to request those names in writing.

         ¶6 URMMA responded to the Winegars' letter on April 20:

Your letter dated April 9, 2006, addressed to [the City Attorney], has been referred to us for a response . . . .
Your claim was denied on March 20, 2006. We are not prepared to continue negotiations with you by providing the information you have requested in your letter. If you [choose] to not accept our denial and if you [choose] to move this claim to the next step, your attorney can gather this information through the discovery process of the court [system].

         ¶7 On April 24, Mr. Winegar sent a letter to URMMA and the City Attorney, in which he acknowledged URMMA's "outright denial of the claim." Nevertheless, Mr. Winegar reiterated that he needed to include the employees' names on the notice of claim and recounted his April 7 conversation with the City Attorney: "In our conversation on April 7, [the City Attorney] and I discussed what would happen if these names were not provided. We concluded the only alternative was for me to amend my claim . . . to include the unidentified employees . . . ." Mr. Winegar stated that, by means of his letter, he was "amend[ing the] claim to include not only Springville City but all the unidentified employees who participated in any aspect of the work done at the above listed property, participated in the decision-making to do such work[, ] or carried trees or timber off the property." He also requested that URMMA or the City Attorney notify him immediately "[i]f you believe I must follow a different process to amend my claim."

         ¶8 URMMA responded to the Winegars' April 24 letter on May 10:

A review of [the April 24] letter indicates that it would not qualify as an amended Notice of Claim since it is not directed to the right department within the City.
Even if it did qualify as an amended Notice of Claim, we do not believe that there is any significant additional information that would cause us to change our decision on the City's liability. We must therefore stand on the original denial ...

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