Berens v. Mumme, S-21-0175

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
Writing for the CourtFOX, CHIEF JUSTICE.
Citation2022 WY 50
Docket NumberS-21-0175
Decision Date14 April 2022
PartiesKATE MICHELLE BERENS, Petitioner, v. ERIC L. MUMME and THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE CHEYENNE REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, a corporate body and their employee(s) and/or agent(s), Respondents.

2022 WY 50

KATE MICHELLE BERENS, Petitioner,
v.

ERIC L. MUMME and THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE CHEYENNE REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, a corporate body and their employee(s) and/or agent(s), Respondents.

No. S-21-0175

Supreme Court of Wyoming

April 14, 2022


Original Proceeding Petition for Writ of Review District Court of Laramie County The Honorable Thomas T.C. Campbell, Judge

Representing Petitioner: Frederick J. Harrison, Frederick J. Harrison, P.C., Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Representing Respondent Eric L. Mumme: Sean W. Scoggin, Williams, Porter, Day and Neville, PC, Cheyenne, Wyoming. No appearance.

Representing Respondent The Board of Trustees of the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center: Bradley T. Cave and Laurene S. Rogers, Holland & Hart, LLP, Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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

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2

FOX, CHIEF JUSTICE.

[¶1] Kate Michelle Berens filed a battery and negligence claim against Eric L. Mumme and the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center (CRMC). The judge assigned to Ms. Berens's case recused himself almost four weeks after the complaint was filed and assigned another judge to the case. Four days later, Ms. Berens filed a motion to peremptorily disqualify the second judge. The district court denied her motion as untimely, and denied her motion to reconsider the order. She filed a petition for writ of review, which CRMC did not contest. We granted the petition, and we conclude that the district court erred by denying Ms. Berens's motion. We reverse and remand.

ISSUE

[¶2] Ms. Berens raises six issues on appeal. This Court has a long-standing principle that "we will not address constitutional issues if we are able to resolve the case on other grounds." Wilson v. Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs of Cnty. of Teton, 2007 WY 42, ¶ 14, 153 P.3d 917, 922 (Wyo. 2007) (citing State ex rel. Wyoming Dep't of Revenue v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 2003 WY 54, ¶ 43, 67 P.3d 1176, 1190-91 (Wyo. 2003)). Adhering to this principle, we need review only one issue:

Whether the clerk's notation on the receipt identifying the original judge was sufficient to meet the notice of assignment requirements of W.R.C.P. 40.1(b)(1)(H)

FACTS

[¶3] Ms. Berens filed a complaint against Mr. Mumme, her co-worker; and CRMC, their employer. She asserted claims of battery and negligence against Mr. Mumme, alleging he repeatedly engaged in horseplay in the workplace which injured Ms. Berens. She asserted that CRMC was liable for her injuries because it failed to properly supervise and control Mr. Mumme.

[¶4] When Ms. Berens filed her complaint on March 18, 2021, the clerk of court gave Ms. Berens a receipt, confirming the court received both payment and the complaint, and which identified the judge assigned to the case. The judge recused himself April 12, 2021, and entered an order assigning the case to a different judge. Four days later, Ms. Berens moved to peremptorily disqualify the new judge. The district court denied the motion as untimely, holding that W.R.C.P. 40.1(b)(1)(B)(i) and 40.1(b)(1)(H) required Ms. Berens to file a peremptory disqualification motion within fourteen days of March 18, the date she received the clerk's receipt with notice of the assigned judge. At an unrelated hearing, the court granted Ms. Berens fifteen days to file a motion for reconsideration regarding the timeliness of the peremptory disqualification motion.

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[¶5] Ms. Berens timely filed her motion for reconsideration, in which she raised three issues: 1) the court clerk's receipt identifying the assigned judge did not qualify as an entered notice of assignment pursuant to W.R.C.P. 40.1(b)(1)(H); 2) disallowing a peremptory disqualification after judge reassignment was inequitable; and 3) the district court's denial of her motion undermined public confidence in the court system. The district court denied her motion for reconsideration, noting Ms. Berens conceded she was aware of the notation assigning the original judge to her case. Ms. Berens filed a petition for writ of review and CRMC did not contest Ms. Berens's argument that the district court improperly denied her peremptory disqualification motion.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶6] Ms. Berens claims the district court erred when it concluded her motion was...

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