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In re Order Imposing Sanctions On Mears

Supreme Court of Wyoming

September 21, 2018

JEQ, Appellee (Plaintiff). LS, Appellant (Defendant),

          Appeal 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., Lander, Wyoming.

          Before DAVIS, C.J., and BURKE [*] , FOX, KAUTZ and BOOMGAARDEN, JJ.

          BURKE, JUSTICE.

         [¶1] 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.


         [¶2] 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?

         [¶3] 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?


         [¶4] 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.

         [¶5] 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.

         [¶6] 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 11, 2016.

         [¶7] 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.

         [¶8] 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 costs."

         [¶9] 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.

         [¶10] After a hearing, the district court ruled in favor of Father. In ...

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