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Town of Pine Bluffs v. Eisele

Supreme Court of Wyoming

October 3, 2017

THE TOWN OF PINE BLUFFS, WYOMING, Appellant (Plaintiff),
v.
TRUDY L. EISELE, Laramie County Treasurer; KENNETH GUILLE, Laramie County Assessor; and LARAMIE COUNTY, WYOMING Appellees (Defendants).

         Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County The Honorable Timothy C. Day, Judge

          Representing Appellant Alexander K. Davison and Caleb C. Wilkins of Patton & Davison, Cheyenne, Wyoming. Argument by Mr. Wilkins.

          Representing Appellee J. Mark Stewart of Davis & Cannon, LLP, Cheyenne, Wyoming

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

          DAVIS, JUSTICE.

         [¶1] The Town of Pine Bluffs owns and operates a day care facility. Laramie County taxed the facility based upon its conclusion that it was not used primarily for a governmental purpose. The Town sought an injunction in Laramie County District Court. That court dismissed the complaint, finding that the Town failed to exhaust administrative remedies available to it. Although we do so on a different basis than the district court, we affirm.

         ISSUES PRESENTED

         [¶2] We have reorganized and restated the issues raised by the parties as follows:

1. Must a taxpayer exhaust administrative remedies before seeking an injunction or other relief from the district court under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-109(c)(i) (LexisNexis 2017)?
2. Does the complaint, when allegations are regarded as true and viewed in the light most favorable to the Town, assert any claim that would entitle it to relief under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-109(c)(i)?

         FACTS

         [¶3] Because this case was decided on a Wyoming Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the "facts" are to be determined from the amended complaint, as noted in the standard of review. The Town of Pine Bluffs owns and operates a day care center located in a building situated on lots it owns. The Town alleges that it created the day care to encourage economic development by allowing parents a safe place to leave their children while they are working. The facility was constructed with 1% specific purpose tax funds authorized by the voters. All of the day care staff are Town employees. A fee is charged for day care, but all fees charged are used to offset the costs of operation, the day care has never operated at a profit, and it requires annual subsidies from the Town.

         [¶4] In 2015, Laramie County Assessor Kenneth Guille assessed the day care as taxable property, evidently as a result of finding that it was not used "primarily for a governmental purpose" as it would have to have been to be exempt under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-11-105(a)(v). Trudy Eisele, the Laramie County Treasurer, therefore added the day care property to the tax rolls for that year.[1] The Town contended that the property was in fact used for a governmental purpose and was therefore exempt, that taxing it was illegal, and that it had no adequate remedy at law, and was thus entitled to injunctive relief under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-109(c), which will be discussed in detail below.[2]

         District Court

         [¶5] The Wyoming statutes allow a taxpayer to appeal an assessment to the county board of equalization (CBOE) (the board of county commissioners), and to appeal from an unfavorable decision there to the state board of equalization (SBOE), [3] and from there to petition the district court for review, and ultimately to appeal to this Court. See Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 39-13-109(b), 16-3-114 (LexisNexis 2017), and W.R.A.P. 12.01 et. seq. The Town chose to proceed directly in district court with a claim for an injunction under § 39-13-109(c)(i) that the assessment was illegal.

         [¶6] The County filed motions to dismiss the original and amended complaints. Those motions refer to a brief or briefs in support of them, but for some reason they are not included in the record on appeal. However, we glean from the order granting the motion that the County claimed that the Town had not exhausted administrative remedies by pursuing an appeal to the CBOE as already generally described.

         [¶7] The Town responded that § 39-13-109(c)(i) was a stand-alone remedy that allowed an injunction if the assessment was illegal. The district court agreed with the County, holding that the Town should have exhausted administrative remedies before resorting to an injunction. It noted that "[i]f Wyo. Stat. § 39-13-109(c)([i]) provides for an end-run around the administrative appeal process as the Town asserts, that is for the Wyoming Supreme Court to determine." The Town timely perfected this appeal from that decision.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         [¶8] When reviewing motions to dismiss, we accept the facts stated in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. We will sustain a dismissal only when it is certain from the face of the complaint that the plaintiff cannot assert any fact which would entitle it to relief. White v. Shane Edeburn Const., LLC, 2012 WY 118, ¶ 10, 285 P.3d 949, 952 (Wyo. 2012) (citing Sinclair v. City of Gillette, 2012 WY 19, ¶ 8, 270 P.3d 644, 646 (Wyo. 2012)).

         [¶9] This case involves construction of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-109(c)(i). As we have observed:

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. Moreover, we must not give a statute a meaning that will nullify its operation if it is susceptible of another interpretation.

Bates v. Chicago Lumber Co. of Omaha, 2016 WY 58, ¶ 27, 375 P.3d 732, 739 (Wyo. 2016) (quoting Powder River Basin Res. Council v. Wyo. Oil & Gas Conservation Comm'n, 2014 WY 37, ¶ 19, 320 P.3d 222, 228 (Wyo. 2014)).

         DISCUSSION

         History of the Statutes

         [¶10] We find it helpful to review the history of the statutes involved here. As early as 1876, the Wyoming Territory statutes provided that "[a]ny person who may feel aggrieved at anything in the assessment of his property, may appear before the board of equalization, either in person or by agent, within the time mentioned in the preceding section [the next meeting of the board of county commissioners, which sat as today as the county board of equalization] and have the same corrected in such manner as to said board shall seem just and equitable." Compiled Laws of Wyoming, Ch. CIX § 29 (1876).

         [¶11] The predecessor of current Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 39-13-109(c)(i) was not enacted until 1886. It originally provided that:

District courts shall have jurisdiction to enjoin the illegal levy of taxes and assessments, or the collection of either, and of actions to recover back such taxes or assessments as have been collected, without regard to the amount thereof; but no recovery shall be had unless the action be brought within one year after the taxes or assessment are collected.

         Session Laws of Wyoming Territory, Ch. 60 § 705 (1886); Revised Statutes of Wyoming, § 3053 (1887). It may be worth noting that this statute was codified in the civil code, while the statute providing a remedy for an aggrieved taxpayer was contained in the revenue section. Revised Statutes of Wyoming § 3802 (1887); Wyodak v. Wyo. Dep't of Revenue, 2002 WY 181, ¶ 24, 60 P.3d 129, 139 (Wyo. 2002);[4]Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs, Sweetwater Cty., 569 P.2d 1267, 1273 (Wyo. 1977). The statutes also contained a section requiring the ...


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