IN THE MATTER OF THE WORKER'S COMPENSATION CLAIM OF: BLAINE M. McCALLISTER, Appellant (Petitioner),
STATE OF WYOMING, ex rel. DEPARTMENT OF WORKFORCE SERVICES, WORKERS' COMPENSATION DIVISION, Appellee (Respondent).
Representing Appellant: James R. Salisbury, The Salisbury
Firm, P.C., Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Representing Appellee: Peter K. Michael, Wyoming Attorney
General; Daniel E. White, Deputy Attorney General; J.C.
DeMers, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Kelly D. Mullen,
Assistant Attorney General.
from the District Court of Campbell County The Honorable John
R. Perry, Judge
DAVIS, C.J., and FOX, KAUTZ, BOOMGAARDEN, and GRAY, JJ.
Appellant Blaine M. McCallister's physicians requested
Appellee Wyoming Workers' Compensation Division (the
Division) to preauthorize the purchase of several unique
items to treat Mr. McCallister's work-related injury. The
Division denied the requests, and after a contested case
hearing, the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) upheld
the Division's determinations. Mr. McCallister filed his
petition for review in the district court of the county where
he was injured (Campbell County, Wyoming). We conclude the
statute which provides for judicial review of the OAH
decision, Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 16-3-114(a) (LexisNexis
2017), placed jurisdiction in the district court of the
county where the administrative action was taken (Laramie
County, Wyoming) or the district court of the county where
Mr. McCallister resided (Albany County, Wyoming).
Since Mr. McCallister filed his petition for review in a
district court that did not have jurisdiction, we, likewise,
lack jurisdiction. Consequently, we must dismiss this case
and vacate the district court's order.
The dispositive issue in this case is:
Whether, under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 16-3-114(a), the
district court for Campbell County had jurisdiction over Mr.
McCallister's petition for review?
Mr. McCallister injured his cervical and thoracic spine in
2012 while working for Robinson Grinding & Profiling, LLC
in Campbell County. In 2016, Mr. McCallister's physicians
requested that the Division preauthorize the purchase of
several non-typical items to help him manage his condition at
his home in rural Albany County. The Division refused to pay
for the items, and Mr. McCallister objected and requested a
hearing. An "in-person contested case hearing" was
held before an OAH hearing examiner in Laramie County on May
4, 2017. On June 5, 2017, the hearing examiner issued her
"Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order"
upholding the Division's determinations. The signature
line indicated the hearing examiner's office was located
in Laramie County.
5] The Division's notices of referral of the claims to
the OAH for a contested case hearing did not specify any
county in a heading. The OAH, however, responded with a
document which did include such a heading. Thereafter in the
administrative proceedings, the Division's pleadings and
the OAH orders, including its final decision, were captioned
OFFICE OF ADMINISTRATIVE HEARINGS
OF WYOMING COUNTY OF CAMPBELL IN THE MATTER OF THE
WORKER'S COMPENSATION CLAIM OF BLAINE M. McCALLISTER, AN
EMPLOYEE OF ROBINSON GRINDING & PROFILING, LLC: BLAINE M.
McCALLISTER, Claimant, vs.
GRINDING & PROFILING, LLC, and STATE OF WYOMING ex rel.
DEPARTMENT OF WORKFORCE SERVICES, WORKERS' COMPENSATION
NUMBER 2012-12075, C101, C102, C103
Mr. McCallister filed a petition for judicial review of the
OAH decision in the Campbell County district court on June
30, 2017. In his petition for review, Mr. McCallister stated:
This Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to
Wyoming Statutes §§ 16-3-114(a), 27-14-602, and
27-16-612 (sic) and Wyo. R. App. P. 12. All administrative
remedies have been exhausted prior to the filing of this
petition. Venue is proper in this Court as the Petitioner was
employed by Robinson Profiling & Grinding, LLC . . . in
Campbell County, Wyoming at the time of the injury.
On July 31, 2017, the Division filed a motion to dismiss Mr.
McCallister's petition for review, asserting he should
not have filed in the Campbell County district court. Mr.
McCallister responded to the motion to dismiss, stating:
"From the onset of this multi-year administrative
proceeding, the Division has consistently and routinely
captioned (and venued) this workers' compensation claim
in Campbell County, Wyoming, despite the Petitioner residing
in Albany County, Wyoming, and the Division being located in
Laramie County, Wyoming". He continued, "the
administrative action, by the Division's choosing,
occurred in Campbell County, Wyoming, despite the location of
the hearing(s) associated with this workers' compensation
claim." In the alternative, Mr. McCallister requested
that his case be transferred to one of the counties where
venue was proper because a dismissal would result in his
appeal being "time-barred."
The district court denied the Division's motion to
dismiss and affirmed the OAH decision on the merits. Mr.
McCallister appealed to this Court.
The Division asserts the district court in Campbell County
did not have subject matter jurisdiction over Mr.
McCallister's appeal. It claims that he was required by
§ 16-3-114(a) to file his petition for judicial review
in either the district court for the county in which the
administrative action was taken or the district court in the
county where he resided. Mr. McCallister counters that, while
he may have filed his petition for review in the wrong venue,
the Campbell County district court had jurisdiction to hear
and decide his case. He further argues that the Division
waived the right to challenge venue because it did not appeal
the district court's order denying its motion to dismiss.
Standard of Review and General Rules of Jurisdiction and
The determination of whether a court has subject matter
jurisdiction is a question of law subject to de novo
review. Vance v. City of Laramie, 2016 WY 106,
¶ 10, 382 P.3d 1104, 1106 (Wyo. 2016). Subject matter
jurisdiction is defined as "the power to hear and
determine cases of the general class to which the proceedings
in question belong." Granite Springs Retreat
Ass'n, Inc. v. Manning, 2006 WY 60, ¶ 5, 133
P.3d 1005, 1009 (Wyo. 2006) (quoting Mutual of Omaha Ins.
Co. v. Blury-Losolla, 952 P.2d 1117, 1119-20 (Wyo.
1998)). A challenge to the Court's subject matter
jurisdiction can be raised at any time by any party or by the
Court sua sponte. TC v. Dep't of Family Servs.
(Matter of Adoption of L-MHB), 2018 WY 140, ¶ 9,
431 P.3d 560, 564 (Wyo. 2018); Vance, ¶ 10, 382
P.3d at 1106. "'A lack of subject matter
jurisdiction constitutes a fundamental defect in the
proceeding which cannot be cured by waiver or consent by the
parties.'" TC, ¶ 9, 431 P.3d at 564
(quoting Weller v. Weller, 960 P.2d 493, 496 (Wyo.
1998)). "If a lower court acts without jurisdiction,
'this [C]ourt will notice the defect and have
jurisdiction on appeal, not on the merits, but merely for the
purpose of correcting the error of the lower court in
maintaining the suit.'" Popick v. State ex rel.
Wyo. Workers' Safety & Comp. Div., 2005 WY 110,
¶ 13, 118 P.3d 993, 996 (Wyo. 2005) (quoting Gookin
v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Ins. Co., 826 P.2d 229,
232 (Wyo. 1992)). See also, W.R.A.P. 1.04(c);
Vance, ¶ 10, 382 P.3d at 1106; Edsall v.
Moore, 2016 WY 71, ¶ 10, 375 P.3d 799, 801 (Wyo.
2016); Platte Dev. Co. v. State, Envtl. Quality
Council, 966 P.2d 972, 974 (Wyo. 1998).
Subject matter jurisdiction and venue are distinct concepts.
Linch v. Linch, 2015 WY 141, ¶ 27, 361 P.3d
308, 315 (Wyo. 2015). Jurisdiction "connotes the power
to decide a case on the merits, while venue denotes locality,
the place where the suit should be heard." State
Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Kunz, 2008 WY 71, ¶ 14,
186 P.3d 378, 382 (Wyo. 2008) (citations omitted). Venue is a
modern legal concept that refers to the county, district, or
other geographical location where, "'for the sake of
fairness, convenience, or other commanding policy
considerations, a cause is to be tried.'"
Sundance Mt. Resort, Inc. v. Union Tel. Co., 2007 WY
11, ¶ 9, 150 P.3d 191, 195 (Wyo. 2007) (quoting 77 Am.
Jur. 2d Venue § 1 (2006)). When an action is
filed in a court that has jurisdiction but is the wrong
venue, the court has the authority to render a binding
judgment. Bourke v. Grey Wolf Drilling Co., 2013 WY
93, ¶ 27, 305 P.3d 1164, 1170 (Wyo. 2013) (citing
Matter of Larsen, 770 P.2d 1089, 1092 (Wyo. 1989)).
Venue is subject to waiver, while jurisdiction is not.
Hronek v. St. Joseph's Children's Home, 866
P.2d 1305, 1310 (Wyo. 1994) (citing Matter of
Larsen, 770 P.2d at 1092). The distinction is important
to this case because the Division did not cross-appeal from
the district court's denial of its motion to dismiss. As
we explained in GOB, LLC v. Rainbow Canyon, Inc.,
2008 WY 157, ¶ 10, 197 P.3d 1269, 1271-72 (Wyo. 2008), a
party must cross-appeal if it seeks a change in the judgment.
The Division is requesting that the district court's
judgment be changed from affirmance of the OAH decision to
dismissal of Mr. McCallister's petition for judicial
review. See, e.g., Sutherland v. Meridian
Granite Co., 2012 WY 53, 273 P.3d 1092 (Wyo. 2012)
(Meridian prevailed on the merits but cross-appealed the
district court's denial of its motion to dismiss for
failure to join an indispensable party). Consequently, the
Division can raise the issue of subject matter jurisdiction
even though it did not appeal the district court's denial
of its motion to dismiss because that issue in not subject to
waiver. However, the Division waived its right to contest the
district court's denial of its motion to dismiss for
improper venue by failing to cross-appeal.
Is the Location for Filing a Petition for Judicial Review in
§ 16-3-114(a) a Matter of Jurisdiction or Venue?
Wyoming district courts are courts of general jurisdiction.
George v. Allen (In re Estate of George),
2003 WY 129, ¶ 18, 77 P.3d 1219, 1225 (Wyo. 2003).
See also, Linch, ¶ 28, 361 P.3d at 315;
Bourke, ¶ 27, 305 P.3d at 1170. District courts
"have inherent subject matter jurisdiction over any and
all cases in which jurisdiction is not specifically vested in
some court of limited jurisdiction. Wyoming Constitution,
Art. 5, § 10." George, ¶ 18, 77 P.3d
at 1225 (quoting Larsen, 770 P.2d at 1092) (other
citations omitted). Under this general jurisdiction,
authority to enter a binding judgment exists in any and all
of the district courts in the state. Id. "That
authority does not reside only in the court in which proper
venue is found." Id.
Cases like George, Bourke and Linch state
the general rule for Wyoming district courts' original
jurisdiction, but that rule does not apply to administrative
appeals. "'The right to judicial review of
administrative decisions is entirely statutory.'"
Casper Iron & Metal, Inc. v. Unemployment Ins.
Comm'n, 845 P.2d 387, 391 (Wyo. 1993) (quoting
Sellers v. Employment Sec. Comm'n, 760 P.2d 394,
395 (Wyo. 1988)). That means, "judicial review of an
administrative decision is not available unless made so by
statute." Vance, ¶ 11, 382 P.3d at 1106.
If a petitioner fails to comply with statutory jurisdictional
requirements, the district court does not have subject matter
jurisdiction over the petition for judicial review. See,
e.g., Pritchard v. Div. of Vocational Rehab.,
540 P.2d 523, 526-27 (Wyo. 1975); Roe v. Bd. of County
Comm'rs, Campbell County, 997 P.2d 1021, 1023 (Wyo.
However, "'[a] statutory requirement is
jurisdictional only where there is 'clear' indication
that [the legislature] wanted the requirement to be
'jurisdictional.'" TC, ¶ 10, 431
P.3d at 565 (quoting Harmon v. Star Valley Med.
Ctr., 2014 WY 90, ¶ 48, 331 P.3d 1174, 1188 (Wyo.
2014)). We recognized in TC that statutory
requirements may be mandatory and the failure to follow them
may be fatal to a claim, but that does not necessarily make
them jurisdictional. Id., ¶ 16, 431 P.3d at
566. See also, Linch, ¶ 32, 361 P.3d
at 316 ("a court does not lose subject matter
jurisdiction over an action for failure to comply with
statutory procedural requirements unless the statute contains
an 'unequivocal expression' that failure to comply
shall result in a loss of jurisdiction"). Therefore,
unless there is a clear indication in the statute that the
legislature intended the location for filing a petition for
judicial review to be jurisdictional, it is only a matter of
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-14-602(b)(iii) (LexisNexis 2017)
states that an appeal from a decision rendered after a
contested case hearing on a workers' compensation claim
may be taken by "any affected party to the district
court as provided by the Wyoming Administrative Procedure
Act" (W.A.P.A.), Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 16-3-101
through 16-3-115 (LexisNexis 2017). Section 16-3-114(a)
governs judicial review of agency decisions and states in
(a) [A]ny person aggrieved or adversely affected in fact
by a final decision of an agency in a contested case . . . is
entitled to judicial review in the district court for the
county in which the administrative action . . . was
taken, or in which any real property affected by the
administrative action or inaction is located, or if no
real property is involved, in the district court for the
county in which the party aggrieved or adversely affected by
the administrative action . . . resides or has its
principal place of business. The procedure to be followed in
the proceeding before the district court shall be in
accordance with rules heretofore or hereinafter adopted by
the Wyoming supreme court.
Our case law establishes that certain requirements of §
16-3-114(a) are jurisdictional. In Pritchard, 540
P.2d at 525-28, we ruled the district court did not have
jurisdiction over the petition for review because the
petitioner was a state agency and did not meet the statutory
definition of "person." See also, Basin Elec.
Power Co-op, Inc. v. Dep't of Rev.,970 P.2d 841,
847-48 (Wyo. 1998) (county commission was not a
"person" entitled to review of Board of
Equalization decision; consequently, the court was without
jurisdiction to hear its administrative appeal). In
Roe, 997 P.2d at 1023, the district court did ...