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Hall v. Park County

September 3, 2010


Appeal from the District Court of Park County The Honorable Wade E. Waldrip, Judge.

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

Before KITE, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, VOIGT*fn1, and BURKE, JJ.

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

[¶1]This is an appeal from a district court order dismissing the appellant's complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Finding no error, we similarly dismiss this appeal.


[¶2] Whether the savings statute, Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-3-118 (LexisNexis 2009), applies to actions brought under the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act (WGCA), Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-39-114 (LexisNexis 2009)?


[¶3] Jurisdictional issues, being questions of law, are reviewed de novo. Jauregui v. Mem'l Hosp. of Sweetwater Co., 2005 WY 59, ¶ 4, 111 P.3d 914, 916 (Wyo. 2005); Wilson v. Town of Alpine, 2005 WY 57, ¶ 4, 111 P.3d 290, 291 (Wyo. 2005). If the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, this Court has jurisdiction on appeal, not on the merits, but only as to the jurisdictional issue. NMC v. JLW ex rel. NAW, 2004 WY 56, ¶ 9, 90 P.3d 93, 96 (Wyo. 2004). The absence of subject matter jurisdiction makes dismissal, rather than affirmance, the proper course. Motley v. Platte County, 2009 WY 147, ¶ 3, 220 P.3d 518, 520 (Wyo. 2009).

[¶4] In turn, our standard of review for questions of statutory interpretation is as follows:

In interpreting statutes, our primary consideration is to determine the legislature's intent. All statutes must be construed in pari materia and, in ascertaining the meaning of a given law, all statutes relating to the same subject or having the same general purpose must be considered and construed in harmony. Statutory construction is a question of law, so our standard of review is de novo. We endeavor to interpret statutes in accordance with the legislature's intent. We begin by making an inquiry respecting the ordinary and obvious meaning of the words employed according to their arrangement and connection. We construe the statute as a whole, giving effect to every word, clause, and sentence, and we construe all parts of the statute in pari materia. When a statute is sufficiently clear and unambiguous, we give effect to the plain and ordinary meaning of the words and do not resort to the rules of statutory construction. Wyoming Board of Outfitters and Professional Guides v. Clark, 2001 WY 78, ¶ 12, 30 P.3d 36, ¶ 12 (Wyo. 2001); Murphy v. State Canvassing Board, 12 P.3d 677, 679 (Wyo. 2000). Moreover, we must not give a statute a meaning that will nullify its operation if it is susceptible of another interpretation. Billis v. State, 800 P.2d 401, 413 (Wyo. 1990) (citing McGuire v. McGuire, 608 P.2d 1278, 1283 (Wyo. 1980)).

Moreover, we will not enlarge, stretch, expand, or extend a statute to matters that do not fall within its express provisions. Gray v. Stratton Real Estate, 2001 WY 125, ¶ 5, 36 P.3d 1127, ¶ 5 (Wyo. 2001); Bowen v. State, Wyoming Real Estate Commission, 900 P.2d 1140, 1143 (Wyo. 1995).

Loberg v. Wyo. Workers' Safety & Comp. Div., 2004 WY 48, ¶ 5, 88 P.3d 1045, ¶ 5 (Wyo. 2004) (quoting Board of County Comm'rs of Teton County v. Crow, 2003 WY 40, ¶¶ 40-41, 65 P.3d 720, ¶¶ 40-41 (Wyo. 2003)). Only if we determine the language of a statute is ambiguous will we proceed to the next step, which involves applying general principles of statutory construction to the language of the statute in order to construe any ambiguous language to accurately reflect the intent of the legislature. If this Court determines that the language of the statute is not ambiguous, there is no room for further construction. We will apply the language of the statute using its ordinary and obvious meaning.

State v. Hanover Compression, LP, 2008 WY 138, ¶ 8, 196 P.3d 781, 784 (Wyo. 2008) (quoting BP Am. Prod. Co. v. Wyo. Dep't of Revenue, 2005 WY 60, ¶ 15, 112 P.3d 596, 604 (Wyo. 2005)).


[¶5] On October 31, 2007, Hall's minivan was struck by a County road grader. Hall presented a claim to the County on February 22, 2008, seeking compensation for personal injury and property damages. On February 20, 2009, Hall filed a complaint against the County based upon that claim. The County responded to Hall's complaint with a motion to dismiss pursuant to W.R.C.P. 12(b)(1), asserting that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the complaint did not allege that Hall's claim complied with the requirements of Article 16, § 7 of the Wyoming Constitution. The motion was heard on June 5, 2009, with a decision letter following on July 20, 2009, and an Order Dismissing Complaint With Prejudice filed on July 28, 2009. The dismissal was with prejudice because the one-year period of limitations for bringing an action under the WGCA, found at Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-39-114, had passed, leaving Hall time-barred from bringing another action.

[¶6] Hall did not appeal the dismissal of her complaint, which means, of course, that that dismissal is not now before this Court. Instead, on July 27, 2009, Hall filed a new complaint in a separate civil action, with the same averments of her first complaint, but with additional language alleging compliance with the state constitution, and with a copy of her governmental claim attached. As before, the County responded with a motion to dismiss, this time based, inter alia, on the period of limitations found in Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-39-114.*fn2 The district court heard the second motion to dismiss on October 9, 2009, and on October 19, 2009, issued a second Order Dismissing Complaint With Prejudice. The conclusions upon which the second dismissal was based were as follows:

1. This Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction since the Complaint herein was not filed within one year of the date the Notice of Claim was submitted to Defendant Park County. W.S. § 1-39-114 (LexisNexis 2009).

2. The Savings Statute does not apply to the facts of this case. The Savings Statute is not a ...

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