CHEYENNE NEWSPAPERS, INC., d/b/a Wyoming Tribune Eagle, Appellant (Plaintiff),
THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF LARAMIE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT NUMBER ONE, State of Wyoming, Appellee (Defendant).
from the District Court of Laramie County The Honorable
Thomas T.C. Campbell, Judge
Representing Appellant: Bruce T. Moats, Law Office of Bruce
T. Moats, P.C., Cheyenne, WY.
Representing Appellee: Evans and O'Kelly H. Pearson of
Hickey & Evans, LLP, Cheyenne, Wyoming. Argument by Mr.
BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ.
This dispute stems from a public records request that
Cheyenne Newspapers, Inc. (the Tribune-Eagle) submitted to
Laramie County School District No. One (the School District).
The Tribune-Eagle asked to inspect certain school board
member email communications, and in response, the School
District retrieved the emails, downloaded them to a compact
disc, and made the compact disc available to the
Tribune-Eagle, subject to a fee for the time School District
staff spent retrieving the records. The Tribune-Eagle
thereafter filed a declaratory judgment action against the
School District requesting a ruling that the Wyoming Public
Records Act does not allow a government entity to charge for
access to electronic records when the request is for
inspection of the records and not for a copy of the records.
The District Court ruled in favor of the School District, and
the Tribune-Eagle appealed. We affirm.
The Tribune-Eagle submits six issues on appeal, which, based
on the facts of this case, we narrow to the following two
a government entity charge for producing a copy of an
electronic record when the public record applicant frames its
request as a request only to inspect the record?
a government entity charge for labor costs incurred in
responding to a request for access to an electronic record?
On February 11, 2014, the Tribune-Eagle, through one of its
reporters, submitted a public records request to the School
District, asking to inspect "[a]ll email on school board
topics to, among or from school board members since Dec. 1,
2013." Because school board members use their personal
email addresses to conduct school board business, the request
required a search and retrieval of emails from personal email
accounts of the board members as well as from the School
District's computer system. On March 11, 2014, district
superintendant, Dr. Mark J. Stock, responded by letter to the
Tribune-Eagle's request and advised that a compact disc
of the requested emails was available for pick up at the
superintendant's office. Citing the School District's
policy governing fees that may be charged for responding to a
public records request, Dr. Stock informed the Tribune-Eagle
that it would be charged $110 for the compact disc,
consisting of "[o]ne hour by clerical staff ($20)"
and "three hours by professional personnel (3 x
The Tribune-Eagle asked the School District to reconsider the
fee, and when the School District refused, the Tribune-Eagle
filed a declaratory judgment action against it. The
Tribune-Eagle sought a ruling that the Public Records Act
does not allow the School District to charge for a request to
inspect an electronic record, and it also sought injunctive
relief barring the School District from charging for staff
time for any future inspection or copying of records.
Following discovery, the parties filed cross motions for
summary judgment by which they agreed that there were no
disputed issues of material fact and that the question on
which a ruling was requested was a question of law. In the
School District's Rule 56.1 statement of undisputed
facts, it described the steps required to retrieve the
requested emails and the costs it included in its fee as
follows (record cites omitted):
4. After receiving the Newspaper's request, the
District's Instructional Technology (IT) department was
instructed to search for emails responsive to the request.
5. Actions taken by the IT network engineer to search and
produce responsive records included creating a series of
computer commands to locate e-mailboxes, filter the results
to only include e-mail to and from board members by inputting
each of their personal e-mail addresses, verifying the
accuracy of the commands, correcting the commands, and
outputting the results into another mailbox for export.
6. The breadth of the Newspaper's request required the
District's network engineer to look at every item on the
District's computer server including e-mail, calendar,
contact, task, and note items.
7. The final step in this process was putting the results
into a single file and exporting or burning the Electronic
Records to a CD.
8. The entire process took several attempts by the
District's network engineer and several hours of his time
and computer time to run and yield results.
9. Unless a board member's email is sent and delivered to
someone with a district email address, the email is not
captured on the District's computer system.
10. The District's network engineer provided direct
assistance to individual board members such as reviewing the
board member's computer, personal email account, showing
the board member how to go through her messages.
11. The District did not charge the Newspaper for these
12. The superintendant's executive assistant copied
emails between board members and with the superintendant,
received e-mails from board members from their personal
computers and forwarded them to IT.
13. The executive assistant tracked the amount of time she
spent but did not include any of the time she spent
communicating with board members about getting e-mails off of
their personal computers.
The district court ruled, as a matter of law, that the School
District was entitled to the fees it charged the
Tribune-Eagle for access to the requested emails. The court
7. Resolution of the matter requires the Court to interpret
the statutes that apply to this case. W.S. 16-4-202 and
16-4-204 recognize that records and documents are routinely
maintained in electronic formats. * * * [W.S. 16-4-202] goes
on to provide that, "the reasonable costs of producing a
copy of the public record shall be borne by the party making
the request. The costs may include the cost of producing a
copy of the public record and the cost of constructing the
record, including the cost of programming and computer
services." In producing or constructing the record, the
District had to first locate the electronic records and then
review the information to produce the records. The reasonable
costs associated with producing the record may be passed on
or charged to the party requesting the documents.
8. A separate section of the Act generally addresses
inspection and fees: "In all cases in which a person has
the right to inspect and copy any public records he may
request that he be furnished copies, printouts or photographs
for a reasonable fee to be set by the official custodian.
Where fees for certified copies or other copies, printouts or
photographs of the record are specifically prescribed by law,
the specific fees shall apply. Nothing in this section shall
be construed as authorizing a fee to be charged as a
condition of making a public record available for
inspection." W.S. 16-4-204(a). The statute allows fees
to be authorized by statute, rule, resolution, ordinance,
executive order, or other like authority (W.S. 16-4-204(c)).
The District's Guideline for Electronic Records clearly
sets out the reasonable costs for production of a public
record; such costs are authorized by the Act and that was the
policy utilized in reaching the costs for the production of
the email records.
The Tribune-Eagle timely filed a notice of appeal to this
We review a summary judgment entered in a declaratory
judgment action as follows:
We review a grant of summary judgment entered in response to
a declaratory judgment action through our usual standard for
review of summary judgments. Arnold, ¶ 13, 201
P.3d at 1132; Voss [v. Goodman], ¶ 9,
203 P.3d  at 419 [(Wyo.2009)]. Our review of a district
court's summary judgment ruling is de novo, using the
same materials and following the same standards as the
district court. Arnold, ¶ 13, 201 P.3d at 1132;
W.R.C.P. 56(c). No deference is accorded to the district
court on issues of law, and we may affirm the summary
judgment on any legal grounds appearing in the record.
Voss, ¶ 9, 203 P.3d at 419. "The summary
judgment can be sustained only when no genuine issues of
material fact are present and the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law." Id. (quoting Wyo.
Cmty. Coll. Comm'n [v. Casper Cmty. College Dist.],
¶ 11, 31 P.3d  at 1247 [(Wyo.2001)]).
Cont'l Western Ins. Co. v. Black, 2015 WY 145,
¶ 13, 361 P.3d 841, 845 (Wyo. 2015) (quoting City of
Casper v. Holloway, 2015 WY 93, ¶¶ 27-28, 354
P.3d 65, 73 (Wyo. 2015)).
This appeal presents no disputed issues of fact, and
therefore our sole task is to determine whether the Wyoming
Public Records Act allows the School District to charge the
fees it assessed in this case. In particular, we must first
determine whether the Act's provision governing access to
electronic records allows a government entity to charge a fee
for that access under the circumstances of this case. We must
then determine whether the fee charged for access to
electronic documents may include labor costs incurred in
responding to the request. Both of these determinations are
questions of statutory interpretation.
Our goal of statutory interpretation and the rules that aid
us in the task are well established:
In any question of statutory interpretation, our primary
objective is to give effect to the legislature's intent.
L & L Enters. v. Arellano (In re Arellano), 2015
WY 21, ¶ 13, 344 P.3d 249, 252 (Wyo.2015). "Where
legislative intent is discernible a court should give effect
to the 'most likely, most reasonable, interpretation of
the statute, given its design and purpose.'"
Adekale, ¶ 12, 344 P.3d at 765 (quoting
Rodriguez v. Casey, 2002 WY 111, ¶ 20, 50 P.3d
323, 329 (Wyo.2002)). In light of this objective, we have
We therefore construe each statutory provision in pari
materia, giving effect to every word, clause, and
sentence according to their arrangement and connection. To
ascertain the meaning of a given law, we also consider all
statutes relating to the same subject or having the same
general purpose and strive to interpret them harmoniously. We
presume that the legislature has acted in a thoughtful and
rational manner with full knowledge of existing law, and that
it intended new statutory provisions to be read in harmony
with existing law and as part of an overall and uniform
system of jurisprudence. When the words used convey a
specific and obvious meaning, we need not go farther and
engage in statutory construction.
Nicodemus v. Lampert, 2014 WY 135, ¶ 13, 336
P.3d 671, 674 (Wyo.2014) (citing Estate of Dahlke ex rel.
Jubie v. Dahlke, 2014 WY 29, ¶¶ 36-37, 319
P.3d 116, 125-26 (Wyo.2014)).
Robert L. Kroenlein Trust ex rel. Alden v.
Kirchhefer, 2015 WY 127, ¶ 22, 357 P.3d 1118, 1126
If a statute is unambiguous, meaning "reasonable persons
are able to agree on its meaning with consistency and
predictability, " we look to the statute's plain
language to determine the legislature's intent. Meyer
v. Fanning, 2016 WY 6, ¶ 17, 367 P.3d 629, 634
(Wyo. 2016). Even where a statute is unambiguous, however, we
may resort to extrinsic aids of interpretation to confirm the
meaning the legislature intended for the terms it used.
Kroenlein, ¶ 27, ...