IN THE MATTER OF THE ORDER IMPOSING SANCTIONS ON TRACI E. MEARS:
JEQ, Appellee (Plaintiff). LS, Appellant (Defendant),
from the District Court of Fremont County The Honorable
Norman E. Young, Judge.
Representing Appellant: Traci E. Mears, Garden Creek Law
Offices, PC, Casper, Wyoming.
Representing Appellee: Sky D Phifer, Phifer Law Office,
Lander, Wyoming; Jonathan M. Gerard, Lander Law Group, P.C.,
DAVIS, C.J., and BURKE [*] , FOX, KAUTZ and BOOMGAARDEN, JJ.
This appeal, brought in the name of LS ("Mother"),
challenges the district court's imposition of sanctions
against Mother's attorney, Traci E. Mears, for violations
of W.R.C.P. 11. We conclude that Mother does not have
standing to pursue an appeal on behalf of Ms. Mears and that
Ms. Mears failed to file a timely notice of appeal
challenging the order. As a result, we lack jurisdiction and
dismiss this appeal.
Mother presents one issue: Did the district court err as a
matter of law when it imposed sanctions on Traci E. Mears
under W.R.C.P. 11?
Father raises several issues, one of which is dispositive:
Does the Wyoming Supreme Court have subject matter
jurisdiction to hear Mother's appeal of the sanctions
imposed against her attorney, Traci E. Mears?
In 2009, Father filed a Petition to Establish Paternity,
Custody and Child Support. Father and Mother eventually
reached an agreement resolving the matter. In 2011, the
district court entered an order establishing JEQ as the
father, specifying joint legal custody in Father and Mother
but primary physical custody with Mother, and ordering Father
to pay child support to Mother.
In 2016, Mother engaged attorney Traci E. Mears to initiate
adoption proceedings so that Mother's husband could adopt
the child. Father and Mother agreed that Father would consent
to the adoption and, in return, Mother "agreed to waive
all child support and related arrearages provided the Consent
is signed and returned within . . . 30 days." Father
engaged attorney Sky Phifer to prepare the necessary
documents and bring the matter to a conclusion in accordance
with the agreement.
Mr. Phifer delivered Father's consent to Ms. Mears prior
to the 30-day deadline. He also sent Ms. Mears a Release
Agreement and Waiver of Child Support and an Order on Child
Support. E-mail messages between Ms. Mears and Mr. Phifer
indicate multiple disagreements about these and related
documents, but the record reflects that Ms. Mears, on behalf
of Mother, filed Father's consent in the adoption
proceeding on May 9, 2016. The adoption was completed on July
Mr. Phifer continued to contact Ms. Mears, through e-mail
messages and telephone calls, reminding her that he had not
received the document releasing Father from his child support
arrearages. Ms. Mears offered various responses including,
among others, that she could not locate the original
documents, that her representation of Mother had ended, and
that she would be out of town for the Thanksgiving Holiday.
In mid-November of 2016, Ms. Mears asserted that
"[t]here was not any requirement that these documents
would be signed and returned." Mr. Phifer responded that
they had agreed Mother would sign and deliver a document
releasing Father from his child support arrearages, and
informed Ms. Mears that if he did not receive the documents
by the end of November, he would file a motion to compel.
Ms. Mears responded with an e-mail message seeking changes to
the release agreement, and with another e-mail message
stating that if she did not receive a new release agreement
her client would revoke the "offer to waive back due
support." Following further correspondence, increasingly
hostile in tone, Mr. Phifer filed a Motion to Enforce
Settlement Agreement on December 5, 2016. On December 12,
2016, Ms. Mears filed the Stipulation on Child Support, in
which Mother "waive[d] all past present and future child
support, medical obligations and paternity testing
Mr. Phifer informed Ms. Mears that he had received the
stipulation and order releasing Father from his child support
arrearages. He also informed her that "as a result of
you and your client's actions," Father had incurred
additional attorney's fees to enforce the settlement
agreement, and reminded her: "As I stated [earlier]:
'When the Stipulation and Order on the arrearages are
filed, and [Father's] attorney's fees and costs are
paid, my client will dismiss his Motion [to Enforce
Settlement Agreement].'" Ms. Mears stated that her
client would not agree to pay attorney's fees and,
further, that her client would be requesting an order that
Father pay Mother's attorney's fees. "[W]e will
see you in court and let the Judge there decide this
issue," Ms. Mears wrote.
After a hearing, the district court ruled in favor of Father.