Judge Not Inclined To Stop Town Of Burns From Evicting Restaurant From Building

Although he didn’t make a final ruling, Laramie County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Lee indicated Thursday he’s not inclined to intervene in the Rustic Plate Café’s battle to keep from being evicted from the building it rents from the town of Burns.

Leo Wolfson

October 26, 20235 min read

Laramie County complex 1 8 10 23
(Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily)

CHEYENNE — The Rustic Plate Café in Burns is another step closer to being homeless after a judge said on Thursday he’s not inclined to stop the restaurant from being evicted from a building leased from the town.

On Thursday morning, Laramie County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Lee indicated that he doesn’t agree with the argument by the café’s owner that it should be allowed to stay in the space it rents from the town of Burns. 

The previous lease that the Rustic Plate was operating under expired at the end of August, so the café has since been using part of the community center space without a lease. The Burns Town Council voted to evict the restaurant earlier this month.

Shortly after that, the town filed a forcible entry and detainer (FED) in court on the Rustic Plate, which was addressed in Thursday’s hearing.

Lee said the case focuses solely on the fact there is no lease in place for the business.

“How can you have the right to be there if you don’t have a lease?” Lee questioned. “I simply don’t understand that.”

But the judge also said he is still willing to hear the business’ case and, despite the town’s opposition, scheduled a follow-up hearing Nov. 2 where both sides will get to present their arguments.

Focus On The Eviction

The judge did reject a request from the business to combine a lawsuit the Rustic Plate filed against the town for alleged breach of an implied contract with the FED case. He said a governmental claims case relating to the implied contract must be filed in district court and that he has no jurisdiction over those matters.

“It is a strict legal remedy that I’m not going to join,” Lee said.

Cheyenne attorney Bruce Asay represents the business and said he disagrees, arguing that Lee could save time and effort by considering the other case. 

He said the business’ agreement with the city never ended because the lease dispute was never resolved. Any new lease drafted in Burns has to be approved by the town council before it can be implemented.

Although Rustic Plate owner Ashley Osterman was given a new lease proposal in August, she said there were issues with it and discrepancies from what town officials had told her, so she didn’t sign the document.

Burns Town Attorney Greg Hacker said that not only should the two cases not be combined, but that Lee should immediately rule on the eviction matter.

“Like any other request, the town of Burns has the right to recover its property,” Hacker said. “Delaying that, denies the right to a summary judgment on that right.”

Throughout the hearing, Asay referred to verbal promises that Osterman was allegedly given by town officials regarding her future lease and the use of the space she rents. Asay said Osterman made plans based on the information she was given from the city and put her own money into refurbishing the building. 

“It’s her legal right to be there based on the promises that have been made,” Asay said.

Right Or Wrong

Within the 1988 deed granting the community center building to the city from the Masonic Lodge, a clause was included that the building would be returned to the lodge if it ever ceased to be a community center. This was a central piece of the lease that Osterman wanted removed.

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

Based on this information, Asay said the town council improperly voted to evict Osterman.

Asay also noted how the Rustic Plate is a very popular restaurant in Burns, a town with only one other restaurant. Many residents testified on behalf of the business at a town council meeting earlier this month.

This did not persuade Lee, as he said it’s not within his power to rule on the decisions made by the Burns Town Council or to consider what the majority of Burns residents may want.

“I don’t know why the town of Burns made the decision it did, I don’t know why that’s an issue” he said. “I don’t know why this lease hasn’t been signed.”

Asay also questioned Lee about the possibility of calling a jury trial on the FED, which Lee said would be unprecedented.

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

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter