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Motley v. Platte County

December 3, 2009


Appeal from the District Court of Platte County The Honorable Keith G. Kautz, Judge.

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


GOLDEN, J., delivers the opinion of the Court; VOIGT, C.J., files a specially concurring opinion; BURKE, J., files a dissenting opinion in which KITE, J., joins.

[¶1] William C. Motley worked for the Platte County Sheriff's Department as a deputy sheriff. In November 2006, Motley filed a complaint against Platte County, Wyoming, the Platte County Sheriff's Department, and Sheriff Steve Keigley "in his official capacity" (hereinafter "the County") alleging he was suspended and later terminated from his job without cause and without notice and opportunity for a hearing in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 18-3-611 (LexisNexis 2009).*fn2 The district court determined that the provisions of § 18-3-611 did not apply to Motley and granted summary judgment in favor of the County. Motley seeks review of the district court's decision.

[¶2] Our resolution of this appeal is controlled by our decision in Beaulieu v. Florquist, 2004 WY 31, 86 P.3d 863 (Wyo. 2004) (Beaulieu II). In Beaulieu II, we held that the failure of the complaint in a governmental claim's action to allege compliance with both the statutory filing requirements of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-39-113 and the constitutional signature and certification requirements of Wyo. Const. Art. 16, § 7 precludes the district court from acquiring subject matter jurisdiction over the claim. Id., ¶¶ 10-15, 86 P.3d at 866-69. We have regularly upheld the strictness of that rule over the intervening years. See McCann v. City of Cody, 2009 WY 86, ¶¶ 7-8, 210 P.3d 1078, 1081-82 (Wyo. 2009) (and cases cited therein). Stare decisis dictates adherence to the Beaulieu II rule in this case.

[¶3] In his complaint, Motley asserts only that:

Plaintiff has filed a claim with Platte County, Wyoming, pursuant to W.S. § 1-39-113(b) on 13 November 2006. No action has been taken as of the date of filing this action.

Although this provision indicates compliance with statutory requirements, the complaint does not mention the state constitution, let alone contain an averment that Motley complied with the signature and certification requirements of Art. 16, § 7. Because Motley's complaint fails to allege the requisite constitutional compliance, under Beaulieu II the district court never acquired subject matter jurisdiction over the action. McCann, ¶ 8, 210 P.3d at 1082; Gose v. City of Douglas, 2008 WY 126, ¶¶ 17-18, 193 P.3d 1159, 1163-64 (Wyo. 2008). It follows that this Court, having no better jurisdiction than the district court, is without jurisdiction to consider Motley's appeal.*fn3 McCann, ¶ 8, 210 P.3d at 1082; Wooster v. Carbon County School Dist. No. 1, 2005 WY 47, ¶ 22, 109 P.3d 893, 900 (Wyo. 2005). We therefore dismiss the appeal.

VOIGT, Chief Justice, specially concurring.

[¶4] I concur in the majority opinion, writing separately in response to the dissenting opinion, only to say that W.R.C.P. 8(a)(1) requires a civil complaint to contain "a short and plain statement of the grounds upon which the court's jurisdiction depends." A Wyoming district court's jurisdiction over a governmental claim depends upon the plaintiff's compliance with Art. 16, § 7 of the Wyoming Constitution, and the plaintiff's compliance with the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act, Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 1-39-101 et seq. (LexisNexis 2009). McCann v. City of Cody, 2009 WY 86, 210 P.3d 1078 (Wyo. 2009), the cases cited therein, and the majority opinion in the instant case, merely require the pleader to state the few facts that reveal compliance with the constitutional provision and the statute.

BURKE, Justice, dissenting, with whom KITE, Justice, joins.

[¶5] I respectfully dissent for the same three reasons identified in the dissent in McCann, ¶ 9, 210 P.3d at 1082. First, the allegations of the complaint, when reviewed as required by the Wyoming Rules of Civil Procedure, and our jurisprudence interpreting those rules, sufficiently allege the jurisdictional prerequisites. Second, if the complaint is inadequate, Mr. Motley should be provided the opportunity to amend the complaint. Third, if the judicially created pleading requirements lead to the conclusion that this complaint is legally insufficient and plaintiff is not permitted to amend it, those requirements should be eliminated. Because the majority's decision in this case rests upon the doctrine of stare decisis, I also dissent because that doctrine, properly applied, does not support the result reached in this case.

[¶6] This Court has always shown due deference to the doctrine of stare decisis, but, it has also always recognized that stare decisis should not be applied blindly and rigidly. "[W]hen governing decisions are unworkable or are badly reasoned, this Court has never felt constrained to follow precedent. Stare decisis is not an inexorable command; rather, it is a principle of policy and not a mechanical formula of adherence to the latest decision." Cook v. State, 841 P.2d 1345, 1354 (Wyo. 1992) (Golden, J., concurring) (internal citations and some punctuation omitted).

[ΒΆ7] It is perhaps ironic that stare decisis, a doctrine intended to promote "the orderly development of the law," provides the legal foundation for the majority's decision. Our precedent relating to pleading requirements in the governmental claims context was once described as a legal "mine field." Amrein v. Wyoming Livestock ...

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