Burns Restaurant Owner Sues To Keep Town From Evicting It

The owner of the Rustic Plate Café in Burns, Wyoming, is suing to halt an eviction from a building it had been leasing from the town.

Leo Wolfson

October 26, 20235 min read

Burns restaurant 10 25 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Sometimes revenge is a dish best served cold. That may play out for a Burns, Wyoming, restaurant owner who’s taking the town to court for evicting it.

The Rustic Plate Café and town will be in court Thursday about the status of the business’ lease with the city.

On Oct. 13, the town filed a forcible entry and detainer (FED) request in Laramie County Circuit Court, requesting that the Rustic Plate be required to vacate the building it leases from the small town.

About a week later, Rustic Plate owner Ashley Osterman filed her own lawsuit in Circuit Court, alleging breaching an implied contract and that the town didn’t live up to promises it made. She seeks a declaratory judgment from the court to prevent the eviction. 

On Thursday morning, the court will consider a motion made by Osterman to combine the cases, which the town opposes.

How Did We Get Here?

In February 2022, the Rustic Plate signed a $269.50 per month lease with the city to rent space in the town’s community center, which used to be owned by the Masonic Lodge. Within the 1988 deed between the lodge and city, a clause was included that the building would be returned to the lodge if it ever ceased to be a community center.

Osterman said Burns Mayor James Clark verbally told her that her next lease could be made so this clause would be removed so she could officially use the entire building. This alleged promise was never made in writing, which Osterman admits was a mistake on her part. Many of the promises that Osterman said were made to her were never formalized in writing.

“I’m guilty of being too trusting in the situation,” Osterman told Cowboy State Daily. 

Although the Burns Town Council has claimed that the Masonic Lodge has never given approval for the removal of the clause in the lease, it was revealed in court documents that the lodge had approved it in September.

On a few occasions, the town presented Osterman with new leases, but they all still had the clause that would keep her from using the whole building.

The city claims that it offered a new lease with more space and also increased rent of $878.56, but Osterman rejected it. Osterman said this wasn’t actually a larger space as she was already using the increased space with verbal permission from Clark.

Although the city says it offered her a one-month lease extension at the new price in a gesture of “good faith” in August, Osterman said she never received this offer.

During a late September council meeting, the town voted to officially evict the Rustic Plate, citing Osterman’s failure to sign a new lease. 

Voting to evict the Rustic Plate was council member Joe Nicholson, who owns a slightly newer, competing business in town. Many in the town have criticized Nicholson’s decision to not recuse himself with a conflict of interest.

According to Osterman’s court filing, Nicholson also expressed to other people his desire to move a new business into the community center and that the status of the Rustic Plate “wouldn’t be a problem.”

On Sept. 27, the town sent a notice to vacate to Osterman and on Oct. 8 sent a notice to quit the premises. Osterman sent a new lease proposal to the city Oct. 5, which was rejected.

On Oct. 13, the town filed to evict the restaurant in court.

Who Will Win?

The town argues that Osterman doesn’t have jurisdiction to bring her claims in circuit court — or at all. It also says that Osterman is asking to combine the cases to purposely delay the ruling on the eviction, which the town says the Wyoming Supreme Court determined illegal in 1963.

“The Rustic Plate’s complaint … is so seriously defective on multiple legal grounds that there can be no basis for continuing this matter,” Burns Town Attorney Greg Hacker wrote in his court filing.

The city claims its liability is protected under the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act and that Osterman would have had to file her claims under the act and in accordance with the Wyoming Constitution. 

“The claims procedure is not optional, but rather mandatory and has to occur before an action is brought in court,” Hacker wrote.

In addition to the eviction, the town is asking the court to force Osterman to pay her outstanding rent from September and the town’s filing fees for a total of $540. Osterman said she has attempted to pay her September rent, but the city won’t accept her money.

Ultimately, Osterman said she just wants to keep serving food to people in Burns.

“This community is amazing, and I want to continue to serve them,” she said.

In an unrelated case, a small claims filing was made in court against Osterman and her husband on Oct. 20 by a South Dakota business seeking $2,754 for unpaid accounting services.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at leo@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter