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Brock v. State ex rel. Wyoming Workforce Services

Supreme Court of Wyoming

May 3, 2017

MARK BROCK and DELLA BROCK, Appellants (Plaintiffs),
v.
STATE OF WYOMING, ex rel., WYOMING WORKFORCE SERVICES, UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE DIVISION, Appellee (Defendant).

         W.R.A.P. 11 Certified Question from the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming The Honorable Scott W. Skavdahl, Judge

          Representing Appellants: Jonathon I. Aimone, Lemich Law Center, Rock Springs, Wyoming.

          Representing Appellee: Peter K. Michael, Attorney General; Daniel E. White, Deputy Attorney General; Michael J. Finn, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Benjamin E. Fischer, Assistant Attorney General; Charlotte M. Powers, Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Ms. Powers.

          Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ.

          BURKE, Chief Justice.

         [¶1] The United States District Court for the District of Wyoming certified a question to this Court concerning the relative priority of liens against real property. This question asks us to determine whether a lien created by a certificate of purchase for delinquent taxes held by Appellants, Mark and Della Brock, is superior to a lien held by the State of Wyoming, Department of Workforce Services, for unpaid contributions to the unemployment compensation fund. We answer the certified question in the affirmative.

         CERTIFIED QUESTION

         [¶2] Is a lien against real property created by a certificate of purchase for delinquent taxes pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-108(d)(ii) superior to any lien held by the State of Wyoming, Department of Workforce Services under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-3-511(b) for unpaid contributions and interest to the unemployment compensation fund?

         FACTS

         [¶3] The federal district court's certification order contains a statement of facts pertinent to the certified question. According to that order, this case concerns real estate in Uinta County and encumbrances against the property arising from the failure of Sagebrush Broadcasting Company, Inc. to satisfy various financial obligations. Claims against the property have been asserted by the Brocks, the Department of Workforce Services, the United States Internal Revenue Service, and others. The Brocks paid past due taxes on the property in 2010 and obtained a "Certificate of Purchase of Real Estate for Taxes" relating to the property. They also paid taxes on the property through October 2014. They claim they are entitled to approximately $22, 000 in satisfaction of the taxes (including interest), costs, and attorneys' fees incurred in perfecting their title to the property.

         [¶4] The Department has also filed liens against the property for delinquent unemployment insurance contributions, interest, and fees. The Department filed its first lien on August 23, 2006, and subsequently filed an additional 14 liens against the property. As of May 2016, the delinquent contributions, plus interest, totaled $19, 683.47. The Internal Revenue Service filed its lien in 2009 for unpaid federal tax liabilities assessed against Sagebrush. The IRS's lien is in the principal amount of $74, 983.24.

         [¶5] This litigation began in January 2015, when the Brocks filed suit in state district court seeking foreclosure of their lien and a declaration that their lien is superior to all other encumbrances against the property. The Brocks named the Department and the IRS as defendants.[1] The IRS removed the case to federal district court and has conceded that both the Brocks' and the Department's liens have priority over its federal tax liens.

         [¶6] The federal district court certified the issue to this Court to determine the relative priority of the interests held by the Department and the Brocks in the Sagebrush property. We agreed to answer the certified question.[2]

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         [¶7] The certified question presents an issue of statutory interpretation. We review questions of statutory interpretation de novo. Yager v. State, 2015 WY 139, ¶ 7, 362 P.3d 777, 779 (Wyo. 2015).

         DISCUSSION

         [¶8] In answering the certified question, we apply our usual rules of statutory interpretation: "Our paramount consideration is the legislature's intent as reflected in the plain and ordinary meaning of the words used in the statute. Initially, we determine whether the statute is clear or ...


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