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Wyoming Jet Center, LLC v. Jackson Hole Airport Board

Supreme Court of Wyoming

January 15, 2019

WYOMING JET CENTER, LLC, Appellant (Petitioner),
v.
JACKSON HOLE AIRPORT BOARD and JIM ELWOOD, Airport Executive Director, as custodians of the records, Appellees (Respondents).

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

          Representing Appellant Bruce T. Moats, Law Office of Bruce T. Moats, P.C., Cheyenne, Wyoming.

          Representing Appellees Paula A. Fleck and Susan L. Combs, Holland & Hart LLP, Jackson, Wyoming. Argument by Ms. Combs.

          Before DAVIS, C.J., and FOX, KAUTZ, BOOMGAARDEN, and GRAY, JJ.

          DAVIS, Chief Justice

         [¶1] Wyoming Jet Center, LLC (Wyoming Jet) filed a petition in district court seeking access to certain records held by the Jackson Hole Airport Board. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court concluded that the Special District Public Records and Meetings Act governs the Board's record disclosure requirements, not the Wyoming Public Records Act, and it ruled in the Board's favor. We reverse.

         ISSUE

         [¶2] Wyoming Jet presents four issues, which we summarize as the following single question: Did the district court err in ruling that the Jackson Hole Airport Board is not subject to the record disclosure requirements of the Wyoming Public Records Act?

         FACTS

         [¶3] In 1968, the Town of Jackson and Teton County entered into an agreement to create the Jackson Hole Airport Board, a joint powers board tasked with operating the Jackson Hole International Airport (Airport). The Board consists of five voting members, all of whom are qualified electors of Teton County jointly appointed by the Jackson Town Council and the Teton County Board of County Commissioners. The Board currently operates under an agreement that was updated in 2013.

         [¶4] The Board receives grants from the Federal Aviation Administration that require the Airport to use more than one fixed base operator (FBO), if available, unless the Board itself serves in that role. In May 2017, the Airport had a single FBO, Jackson Hole Aviation, LLC, and Wyoming Jet applied to serve as a second FBO. The Board initially responded by issuing a request for proposals for a second FBO. In July 2017, however, the Board changed course and decided to consider the option of purchasing Jackson Hole Aviation's assets and serving as the FBO itself. It thus withdrew its request for proposals and set the question to be heard at an upcoming meeting. In a subsequent resolution declaring its decision to proceed with the option of serving as the FBO, the Board cited its authority to act as FBO and what it deemed to be the advantages of doing so.

WHEREAS, such authority and powers granted to municipal corporations and counties may be vested in an airport board, the Town of Jackson and County of Teton have in fact vested such power and authority in the Board, and the Board may therefore lawfully provide the commercial aeronautical services typically offered by an FBO, and appoint its own personnel necessary to provide such services; [and]
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WHEREAS, the Board's entry into the Asset Purchase Agreement with Jackson Hole Aviation LLC . . . and . . . the exercise of its proprietary exclusive right to offer all FBO services on the Airport, would allow for better efficiency and safety of operations on the general aviation ramp and at the fuel facility, avoid the cost of constructing duplicate FBO facilities, permit the Board to achieve a good return on its investment-helping to assure the Airport can fund needed capital improvements and remain financially self-sufficient, and would therefore be in the best interests of the Airport and the public.
NOW THEREFORE, in open meeting and on motion made, seconded and unanimously adopted, the Jackson Hole Airport Board hereby resolves as follows: . . . to enter into [an Asset Purchase Agreement with Jackson Hole Aviation and to serve as FBO].

         [¶5] On August 31, 2017, Wyoming Jet submitted a letter to the Board requesting the opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of documents relating to the Board's then pending decision to purchase Jackson Hole Aviation's assets and serve as the Airport's sole FBO, pursuant to the Wyoming Public Records Act (WPRA). The Board denied that it was subject to the Act, but it nonetheless made some documents available for inspection. As to those documents to which the Board denied access, it variously cited confidentiality, privilege, and the unduly burdensome nature of producing the requested documents as the bases for its denials.

         [¶6] On October 12, 2017, Wyoming Jet filed a "Petition for Access to Records" against the Board and the Airport's executive director. Through its petition, Wyoming Jet sought an order directing disclosure of the requested records, or in the alternative, a log and in camera review of the withheld documents. The Board answered and counterclaimed for a declaration that it is governed solely by the Special District Public Records and Meetings Act (Special District Act) and not the WPRA. It further requested a declaration that the records requested are not within the scope of records required to be maintained for public review under the Special District Act.

         [¶7] The parties subsequently agreed that the threshold question at issue in the dispute was whether the Board was subject to the requirements of the WPRA. They filed cross-motions for summary judgment, with each agreeing that the question was one of law, and that there were no genuine issues of material fact. On April 5, 2018, the district court entered an order granting the Board's summary judgment motion. The court reasoned (with some citations omitted):

24. Looking at the plain language of the Special District Act, the Court cannot agree with Jet Center's interpretation of the Act. The words used throughout the Special District Act convey a specific and obvious meaning. Section 303(a) specifies a narrow list of documents that the special district must maintain. There is no suggestion that these are a subset of a larger collection of records to be stored. Section 303(b), (c), and (d) address where those records should be stored. If all records available through the Wyoming Public Records Act were also to be made available, then Section 303 would be meaningless because each entity would also need to store Wyoming Public Records Act records. This Court is not to interpret statutes in a manner that renders other provisions a nullity.
25. Further, it is a maxim of statutory interpretation that a specific statute applies over a general statute. The Wyoming Public Records Act is general-it applies to "the state or any agency, institution or political subdivision" and "requires disclosure of all communications or other information." The Wyoming Public Records Act lacks specificity regarding which entities the Act applies to and which records must be disclosed. By contrast, the Special District Act is specific-it expressly identifies twenty-three entities to which it applies (plus one additional category) and it expressly identifies the types of documents to be maintained. This Court is obligated to find that the more specific Act controls.
26. To the extent the briefing in this matter asserts that the Airport Board is a political subdivision and is therefore subject to the Wyoming Public Records Act notwithstanding the express provision placing it within the Special District Act, the Court notes that the Wyoming Supreme Court has addressed the nature of joint powers boards, albeit in a different context. In Weston County Hospital Joint Powers Board v. Westates Construction Co., 841 P.2d 841 (Wyo. 1992), the Wyoming Supreme Court determined that a joint powers board is not a "political subdivision" for the purposes of applying certain payment provisions of the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act because it does not have three "badges" of a political subdivision: the power to tax, being made of elected officials, and having defined geographic boundaries. The same court went on to explain that the joint powers board is not a political subdivision merely because it is created by other political subdivisions (the Town and County). The Airport Board relies on this case as supportive authority. After reviewing this case and the statutes providing for the creation of the joint powers board, this Court agrees that a joint powers board is not a "political subdivision" merely because it was created by two other political subdivisions. As an airport joint powers board created through the Joint Powers Act, the Airport Board is different in kind than the Town and County which created it. This further supports the conclusion that the Airport Board falls within the provisions of the Special District Act, not the Wyoming Public Records Act.
27. Conclusion. The Court finds that both sides present compelling arguments. The interpretation of the Special District Act appears to be one of first impression in Wyoming. In the absence of Wyoming Supreme Court opinions analyzing the overlap or conflict, if any, between the Wyoming Public Records Act and the Special District Act, this Court must adhere to the established rules of statutory interpretation-to avoid reading statutes in a manner to render other portions meaningless and to recognize that specific provisions control over general provisions.
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28. Upcoming Status Conference. The Jet Center's Petition was filed through the Wyoming Public Records Act, not the Special District Act. While the Special District Act applies in this matter, that Act also provides that the methods of disclosure to be followed are those in the Wyoming Public Records Act. Wyo. Stat. ยง 16-2-303(a). At oral argument, the parties were not able to specifically identify what remains to be done in this case if the Special District Act applies. The parties are directed to confer in good faith through counsel regarding any ...

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