IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF: GEORGE W. STANFORD, a/k/a GEORGE WILLIAM STANFORD, deceased.
THE STATE OF WYOMING, Appellee (Respondent). ANDREW J. JOHNSON, Appellant (Petitioner),
from the District Court of Laramie County The Honorable
Thomas T.C. Campbell, Judge
Representing Appellant: Robert P. Schuster and Bradley L.
Booke of Robert P. Schuster, P.C., Jackson, Wyoming; Thomas
N. Long and Aaron J. Lyttle of Long Reimer Winegar Beppler
LLP, Cheyenne, Wyoming. Argument by Mr. Schuster.
Representing Appellee: Bridget Hill, Wyoming Attorney
General; Michael J. McGrady, Deputy Attorney General; Daniel
E. White, Senior Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Mr.
DAVIS, C.J., and FOX, KAUTZ, BOOMGAARDEN, and GRAY, JJ.
Andrew Johnson filed federal civil rights claims against the
City of Cheyenne and several of its law enforcement officers
for wrongful conviction and imprisonment. Because one of the
named detectives was deceased, Mr. Johnson filed a petition
for probate of his estate and appointment of an
administrator. The probate court granted the petition, but it
reversed itself when the State of Wyoming objected to the
appointment. Because we find that the State did not have
standing to object to the appointment of the administrator,
Mr. Johnson presents several issues, but we find his first
issue dispositive and restate it as:
Did the probate court err in finding that the State of
Wyoming had standing to object to the appointment of an
administrator for George W. Stanford's estate?
Andrew Johnson was convicted of aggravated burglary and
first-degree sexual assault in 1989. In 2013, his convictions
were vacated, and an order of actual innocence was entered
based on testing of DNA found on the victim. On April 17,
2017, Mr. Johnson filed a complaint in federal court against
the City of Cheyenne and several of its law enforcement
officers, alleging civil rights violations in the
investigation and prosecution of the charges against him.
One of the detectives named in the federal complaint was
George W. Stanford, who died in 2007. On May 31, 2017, Mr.
Johnson filed a petition in probate court for the probate of
Mr. Stanford's intestate estate and for appointment of an
administrator. The petition identified the deceased's
right to indemnification from the State Self Insurance
Account and his right to possible coverage under a
state-procured professional liability policy as assets of the
estate. On June 12, 2017, the probate court issued an order
admitting the estate to probate and appointing an
On June 19, 2017, Mr. Johnson filed a creditor's claim
against the Stanford estate for unknown amounts to be awarded
in his federal action, and the administrator rejected the
claim. On July 10, 2017, the State filed a document in
probate court entitled "Objections of the State of
Wyoming to the Appointment of [an] Administrator for the
Above-Captioned Estate." The State cited the following
as its interest in the administrator's appointment:
3. The State is affected by the appointment . . . because the
appointment purports to create potential duties and
obligations of the State to defend [the administrator], in
his capacity as administrator, in a civil rights action
brought by Andrew Johnson against the City of Cheyenne,
George W. Stanford, deceased, Alan W. Spencer, a former
Cheyenne Police Department officer, and various Doe
defendants. . . .
4. Pursuant to Wyo. Stat. § 2-1-103, the State has the
right to object to the appointment . . . and the State
herewith requests that the time limitations specified therein
be waived in view of the fact that the State did not receive
notice of the petition filed in this matter until after [the]
appointment. In addition, the State has standing to contest
the appointment . . . pursuant to the Uniform Declaratory
Judgments Act . . . .
Mr. Johnson and the State stipulated to a stay of the probate
proceedings, and that stay was lifted on November 3, 2017. On
October 15, 2018, the probate court entered an order vacating