Justia Wyoming Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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In this real property dispute, the Supreme Court dismissed Appellant's appeal from the district court's partial summary judgment order, holding that the district court abused its discretion when it certified its partial summary judgment order as a final judgment under Wyo. R. Civ. P. 54(b). After his long-term romantic partner died, Defendant provided notice that he was the surviving joint tenant with survivorship rights as to a home in Teton County. Plaintiff, the executor of the decedent's estate, filed a declaratory judgment that Appellant and the decedent were tenants in common and asserted claims for breach of contract or partition. The district court concluded that Defendant owned the property as the surviving joint tenant. Over Defendant's objection, the district court certified the partial summary judgment order as a final judgment and stayed the remaining claim for slander of title. Plaintiff appealed. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and declined to convert the appeal to a writ of review, holding that the district court abused its discretion in finding "no just reason for delay" and certifying its partial summary judgment order as a final judgment. View "CIBC National Trust Co. v. Dominick" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court increasing Father's child support obligation, denying Father's petition to modify custody, and refusing to modify visitation, holding that the district court abused its discretion in concluding that there was a material change of circumstances to reopen the child support order in this case and by refusing to modify visitation. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the district court (1) abused its discretion by reopening the stipulated child support order without requiring Mother to show a change in circumstances regarding child support other than a twenty percent change in the presumptive support amount; (2) did not abuse its discretion by denying Father's request for primary custody of the children but did abuse its discretion by refusing to modify visitation; and (3) did not err by failing to explain its reasons for not following the guardian ad litem's recommendation regarding custody. View "Kimzey v. Kimzey" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing Plaintiff's complaint against an attorney and his law firm (collectively, Defendants) seeking return of a retainer Plaintiff paid the attorney to defend him against a first degree murder charge, holding that the two-year professional malpractice statute of limitations barred Plaintiff's complaint. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint under Wyo. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) because Plaintiff filed his complaint outside the professional malpractice statute of limitations set forth in Wyo. Stat. Ann. 1-3-107(a)(i). In response, Plaintiff argued that his complaint asserted breach of contract and fraud claims that fell, respectively, within ten- and four-year limitation periods. The district court dismissed the complaint. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Plaintiff failed to plead his fraud claim with the particularity required by Wyo. R. Civ. P. 9(b), and his breach of contract claim arose out of his professional relationship with the attorney; and (2) therefore, section 1-3-107(a)(i) barred Plaintiff's complaint. View "Foltz v. Oblasser" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the 1992 sentence imposed on Defendant for crimes Defendant committed when he was fifteen years old, holding that Defendant's sentence was not a de facto life sentence entitling him to an individualized sentencing hearing under Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012). In 1992, Defendant was sentenced to three life sentences and one twenty-year to life sentence, all running concurrently, and one eighteen- to twenty-year sentence running consecutively to the other sentences. Here, Defendant filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence, claiming it was illegal in violation of Miller, Bear Cloud v. State, 334 P.3d 132 (Wyo. 2014), and their progeny. The district court denied the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant's 1992 sentence was not the functional equivalent of life in prison and that Defendant was not entitled to an individualized sentencing hearing under Miller. View "Wiley v. State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court terminating Father's parental rights to two of his children, holding that the district court did not err in admitting evidence relating to the children's mother and half siblings and that the evidence was sufficient for the jury to conclude that Father's parental rights could be terminated under Wyo. Stat. Ann. 14-2-309. A jury concluded that clear and convincing evidence supported termination of Father's parental rights on the grounds that the children had been abused or neglected by Father and the Department of Family Services' reasonable efforts had been unsuccessful in rehabilitating the family and that the children had been in the State's custody for fifteen of the most recent twenty-two months and that Father was unfit to have custody and control of the children. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) evidence concerning Father's relationship with the children's mother and half siblings was relevant to the question of whether Father was currently fit to parent the children and thus was admissible; and (2) there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find clear and convincing evidence that Father was unfit at the time of the termination hearings. View "Clark v. State, Department of Family Services" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting Defendant's motion to dismiss the State's case against him, holding that the district court applied the incorrect burden and standard when adjudicating Defendant's motion to dismiss, but the error was harmless. Defendant was charged with one count of first degree murder. The district court dismissed the case under Wyo. Stat. Ann. 6-2-602(f), which the legislature had recently added to the self-defense statutes. The Supreme Court granted the State's petition for writ of review to address matters of first impression regarding the statute's meaning and application. The Supreme Court held (1) section 6-2-602(f) is a mandatory immunity provision carrying with it a judicial gatekeeping function after the preliminary hearing; (2) the accused must present a prima facie showing that section 6-2-602(f) applies, and if the accused satisfies this minimal burden, the burden shifts to the State to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that section 6-2-602(f) does not apply; and (3) while the district court applied a different burden and standard when it adjudicated Defendant's motion to dismiss, its error was harmless. View "State v. John" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court imposing the maximum sentence of four and one-half to five years in connection with Defendant's plea of guilty to failure to register as a sex offender, holding that Defendant's failure to comply with the bond conditions contained in the plea agreement released the State from its obligation to recommend a reduced sentence. Defendant entered into a plea agreement with the State where, in exchange for his guilty plea, the State agreed to recommend a two-to three-year sentence, suspended in favor of two years of probation. The agreement incorporated Defendant's bond conditions requiring that he not be arrested or cited for a violation of the law. Before he was sentenced, Defendant received two citations for criminal trespass and one for false reporting. At sentencing, the State recommended that Defendant be sentenced to four to five years in prison. After he was sentenced, Defendant appealed, arguing that the State breached the plea agreement. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant's breach of the plea agreement released the State from its obligation to recommend a reduced sentence. View "Springstead v. State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing two lawsuits brought by Black Diamond Energy of Delaware, Inc. (BDED) in an attempt to challenge the forfeiture of its bonds by the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, holding that the complaint in Case No. 2017-0074 was outside the scope of 30-5-113(a) and that the complaint in Case No. 2018-0011 was brought in the wrong venue. BDED, an oil and gas exploration company, secured a Wyoming oil and gas lease by posting bonds with the Commission and the Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments. After the Commission ordered the bonds forfeited, BDED did not seek administrative review but, instead filed these lawsuits claiming that certain statutes authorized the direct action. The district court dismissed both lawsuits on the ground that BDED had failed to comply with the Wyoming Administrative Procedures Act. The Supreme Court affirmed but on different grounds, holding (1) BDED's complaint against the Commission in Case No. 2017-0074 was not properly brought pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. 30-5-113(a); and (2) BDED did not bring its Wyoming Governmental Claims Act complaint in Case No. 2018-0011 in the proper venue. View "Black Diamond Energy of Delaware Inc. v. Wyoming Oil & Gas Conservation Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Circuit Court of the Sixth Judicial District holding State Public Defender Diane Lozano in contempt, holding that the circuit court erred in ruling that the public defender must accept all appointments to serve as counsel for indigent defendants unless and until the appointing court rules otherwise. In May 2019, Lozano notified the circuit court that the public defender was unavailable to take appointments to represent misdemeanor defendants due to a heavy caseload and shortage of attorneys in its Campbell County office. The circuit court subsequently entered orders appointing Lozano or her representative to represent misdemeanor defendants in two cases. The local public defender's office declined the appointments. Thereafter, the court held Lozano in contempt. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) section 105(b) of the Public Defender Act affords the public defender discretion to decline an appointment or appointments; (2) the circuit court's order mandating that the public defender accept the two misdemeanor appointments was not lawful because it disregarded the public defender's determination that no public defender was available; and (3) because there was no lawful order, the circuit court erred in finding Lozano in contempt. View "Lozano v. Circuit Court of Sixth Judicial District" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics
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The Supreme Court summarily affirmed the order of the district court denying Defendant's motion to enforce his claimed plea agreement, which the court treated as a Wyo. R. Crim. P. 35(a) motion, holding that Defendant's brief on appeal failed to comply with the Wyoming Rules of Appellate Procedure and contained no cogent argument or citation to pertinent authority. In exchange for Defendant's guilty plea, the State agreed that it would not seek the death penalty. The district court sentenced Defendant to life imprisonment. In his motion to enforce his claimed plea agreement, Defendant did no more than state his belief that he should have been required to serve no more than seven to eight years in prison for the first degree murder and reference a previously submitted commutation request. The Supreme Court summarily affirmed the district court order denying Defendant's motion, holding that Defendant's brief failed in all respects to comply with the rules of appellate procedure. View "Harrison v. State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law