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Williams v. Sundstrom

Supreme Court of Wyoming

December 21, 2016

BRUCE B. WILLIAMS, Appellant (Plaintiff),
v.
LAURA L. SUNDSTROM, as Campbell County Coroner, Appellee (Defendant).

         Appeal from the District Court of Campbell County The Honorable Thomas W. Rumpke, Judge

          Representing Appellant: Pro se.

          Representing Appellee: Carol Seeger, Deputy Campbell County Attorney, Gillette, Wyoming.

          Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, and KAUTZ, JJ., and BLUEMEL, D.J.

          KAUTZ, Justice.

         [¶1] Appellant Bruce B. Williams filed a public records request with Campbell County Coroner Laura L. Sundstrom (hereinafter "the coroner"), seeking disclosure of the verdict and case docket she prepared after examining the body of a woman shot by law enforcement. Mr. Williams was dissatisfied with the document he received in response to his request and filed a "Motion for Reasonable Response" with the district court. He requested that the court order the coroner to produce a case docket "of sufficient detail" so he could "evaluate the performance of the government, including the coroner." The district court dismissed the action pursuant to W.R.C.P. 12(c), and Mr. Williams appealed.

         [¶2] This case has a number of procedural anomalies. We have determined that Mr. Williams was actually requesting relief in mandamus, and, even though he failed to follow the pleading requirements, the district court had jurisdiction over the action. On the merits, we conclude that, although the district court incorrectly denominated its decision as a dismissal under Rule 12(c) rather than a summary judgment, its decision was correct because the coroner produced all of the information required by statute.

         [¶3] We affirm.

         ISSUES

         [¶4] The issues in this case are:

         1. Did Mr. Williams invoke the jurisdiction of the district court by filing his "Motion for Reasonable Response"?

         2. Did the coroner have a clear duty to provide the level of detail in the verdict and case docket requested by Mr. Williams?

         FACTS

         [¶5] Nikki Jo Burtsfield died in a law enforcement shooting on May 20, 2015. The coroner examined the body the next day and prepared the verdict and case docket on July 11, 2015. She listed the manner of death as homicide and the cause of death as:

Exsanguination due to multiple gunshot wounds to the torso. A gunshot wound to the anterior abdomen. Perforations of the small intestinal loops and mesenteries. Perforation of the right internal iliac artery and vein. Massive intrabdominal hemorrhage. A gunshot wound to the anterior right lower chest. Perforations of the right hemidiaphragm, right lobe of liver, transverse colon, duodenum and upper posterior right musculocutaneous tissues.

         [¶6] On August 14, 2015, Mr. Williams filed a public records request with the coroner, seeking the verdict and case docket. The coroner was out of town, and the official verdict and case docket was locked in her file cabinet. Two deputy coroners created a new verdict and case docket with "the information for Mr. Williams [they] believed could be released on a verdict and docket form pursuant to Wyoming state statute." The deputies' verdict and ...


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