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Beeter v. Sawyer Disposal LLC

August 18, 2009

BRIAN BEETER, DENNIS BEETER, AND LARRY BEETER, PLAINTIFFS AND APPELLEES
v.
SAWYER DISPOSAL LLC, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT



Appeal from the District Court of Ward County, Northwest Judicial District, the Honorable William W. McLees, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandstrom, Justice.

REVERSED AND REMANDED.

Opinion of the Court by Sandstrom, Justice.

[¶1] Sawyer Disposal, LLC, appeals from a district court summary judgment awarding damages to Brian Beeter, Dennis Beeter, and Larry Beeter for violation of a deed covenant providing for payment to the Beeters of a portion of waste disposal fees generated upon certain property. We reverse and remand, concluding the covenant did not run with the land and the district court erred in concluding the covenant was binding upon subsequent purchasers of the property.

I.

[¶2] In 1990, the Beeters and Municipal Services Corporation entered into an "Option to Purchase Real Estate" whereby the Beeters agreed to sell to Municipal Services a 940-acre tract of land containing a landfill known as Echo Mountain. The written option specified:

The PURCHASE PRICE to be paid by MSC and accepted by SELLERS for said PREMISES under this Option to Purchase shall be Three Hundred Thousand Dollars ($300,000.00), plus six percent (6%) of the total gross revenue derived from MSC's operating of the premises from all waste disposal activity including tipping fees, solidification, and/or treatment fees, provided that, however, in no event shall such payment be less than $1.20 per cubic yard of waste disposed of in the Facility by MSC. Reasonable revenues received by MSC from transportation or related sources shall be excluded in computing said six percent (6%).

The option further provided:

In the event this Option to Purchase Real Estate is exercised by MSC, in addition to the purchase price as set forth in Article (1) (b), MSC or assigns agrees to pay Seller six percent (6%) of the total gross revenue derived from any expansion or extension of MSC's operation of a waste disposal facility, whether by extension of existing permits or otherwise, within a five mile radius of PREMISES. The right to receive the six percent (6%) of the total gross revenue derived from the operation of a waste disposal facility is perpetual and a covenant running with the real estate.

[¶3] Municipal Services exercised the option and purchased the property. The warranty deed from the Beeters to Municipal Services included the following provisions:

In addition to the purchase price first party shall receive six percent (6%) of the total gross revenue derived and collected from second parties [sic] operating of the premises from all waste disposal activity including tipping fees, solidification, and/or treatment fees, provided that, however, in no event shall such payment be less than $1.20 per cubic yard of waste disposed of in the facility by second party. Reasonable revenues received by second party from transportation or related sources shall be excluded in computing said six percent (6%).

In addition second party or assigns shall pay to first party six percent (6%) of the total gross revenue derived from any expansion or extension of second parties' operation of a waste disposal facility, whether by extension of existing permits or otherwise, within a five mile radius of the premises. The right to receive the six percent (6%) of the total gross revenue derived from the operation of a waste disposal facility is perpetual and a covenant running with the real estate.

In 1992 and 1996, the Beeters and Municipal Services entered into agreements amending the method of calculating the fees owed to the Beeters by Municipal Services for waste disposal activities on the Echo Mountain property.

[¶4] In 2000, after a series of mergers and corporate restructurings, Municipal Services' parent company and all of its subsidiaries filed for bankruptcy protection. In 2002, Clean Harbors, Inc., purchased the Echo Mountain property through the bankruptcy proceedings and transferred title to the property to Sawyer, its indirect subsidiary. As part of the bankruptcy purchase, Clean Harbors agreed to perform executory contracts with third parties for up to six months after the closing date of the purchase. Accordingly, Clean Harbors made monthly payments to the Beeters calculated under the 1996 agreement until April 2003. Clean Harbors thereafter sent written notice to the Beeters that no further payments would be made.

[¶5] The Beeters brought this action against Sawyer, seeking (1) an accounting of waste disposal activities at Echo Mountain after May 2003, (2) a money judgment against Sawyer based upon the accounting, and (3) a declaratory judgment confirming their right to receive perpetual payments under the covenant in the deed. The parties filed a joint motion for summary judgment and entered into a written stipulation of undisputed facts. The district court held that the covenant in the deed was not a covenant running with the land, which would be binding upon subsequent purchasers. The court, however, then concluded:

In the final analysis, the Court finds, by the greater weight of the evidence, that-whatever term one wants to use to describe the "six percent (6%) provision"-the Beeters and MSC intended that the Beeters were to receive six percent (6%) of the gross revenues from waste disposal activities conducted at Echo Mountain (or within a five-mile radius of that facility) for as long as such activities were conducted there, no matter who, or what entity, was actually conducting those activities.

The court held that the covenant was enforceable against Sawyer as the successor to Municipal Services' interest. Following an accounting, judgment was entered in favor of the Beeters in the ...


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