11 Certified Question from the United States District Court
for the District of Wyoming The Honorable Scott W. Skavdahl,
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.
BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ.
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.
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?
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
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.
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. 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.
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.
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).
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