Board of County Com'rs v. Geringer, No. 96-1

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
Writing for the CourtBefore TAYLOR; THOMAS
Citation941 P.2d 742
PartiesThe BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS, Sublette County, Wyoming, Appellant (Plaintiff), v. Jim GERINGER, Governor of the State of Wyoming; and Stan Smith, Wyoming State Treasurer, Appellees (Defendants).
Docket NumberNo. 96-1
Decision Date03 July 1997

Page 742

941 P.2d 742
The BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS, Sublette County, Wyoming, Appellant (Plaintiff),
v.
Jim GERINGER, Governor of the State of Wyoming; and Stan Smith, Wyoming State Treasurer, Appellees (Defendants).
No. 96-1.
Supreme Court of Wyoming.
July 3, 1997

Page 744

Van Graham, of Mason & Graham, P.C.; and Ralph E. Wood (argued), of Sievers & Wood, Pinedale, for Appellant.

William U. Hill, Attorney General; Michael L. Hubbard, Deputy Attorney General; Ron Arnold, Senior Assistant Attorney General (argued), for Appellees.

Before TAYLOR, C.J., and THOMAS, MACY, GOLDEN, * and LEHMAN JJ.

THOMAS, Justice.

The sole issue presented by this appeal is the constitutionality, under our state constitution, of Wyoming's statutory provision providing for the establishment and funding of a county court in counties with a population of less than 30,000. 1 The issue arises under the equal protection and uniform operation of the laws requirements found in the Constitution of the State of Wyoming. 2 Sublette County, with a population of less than 30,000, was denied full funding to establish a county court, while the state legislature has approved full funding for a county court in other counties having a population of less than 30,000. We hold that the statutory provision does not facially violate the state constitution as special legislation, as there exist rational reasons why the legislature could deny funding of county courts in counties having a population of less than 30,000. However, as applied to this case, the statutory provision violates the constitutional mandate for equal protection of the laws because there is disparate treatment of counties having populations of less than 30,000. We reverse the decision of the district court.

In the Brief of Appellant, the Board of County Commissioners, Sublette County, Wyoming states the issue as:

I. Whether Wyoming Statute § 5-5-103 is special legislation and violates Wyoming Constitution Article 3, Section 27?

Page 745

The State of Wyoming 3 restates the issue in the Brief of Appellees as:

I. Whether Wyoming Statute § 5-5-103 facially violates Wyoming Constitution Article 3, Section 27?

The parties filed a Stipulation Concerning Factual Issues in which they advised the court that the material facts in the case are not in dispute. Each of the parties had filed a motion for summary judgment, and for purposes of this appeal, the only facts set forth in the record are those alleged in the Complaint for Declaratory Judgment. From the Complaint we discern that Sublette County, with a population of less than 30,000, had established a county court by a resolution of the board of county commissioners. The legislature did not provide funding for the county court in Sublette County although application for such funding had been made.

The statute applicable to counties with a population of less than 30,000 is WYO. STAT. § 5-5-103 (1992) (emphasis added), which provides:

(a) In counties in this state which have a population of less than thirty thousand (30,000), according to the latest official federal census, the board of county commissioners may establish a county court in their county by the adoption of a resolution establishing the same. * * *

(b) The judicial salaries, salaries of the clerical staff, supplies, operating costs, jury and witness expenses and other expenses of the county court may be paid by the state.

The statutory provision for counties with a population of more than 30,000 requires the state to fund the expenses of the county court. WYO. STAT. § 5-5-102 (1992).

In its Complaint, Sublette County alleged that the decision to deny funding to Sublette County for its county court violated the provisions of Article 3, § 27 of the Constitution of the State of Wyoming on the ground that it was special legislation on its face. The Complaint also alleged that the legislature has funded county courts in six other counties with a population of less than 30,000, but refused to fund county courts in other counties with a population of less than 30,000. The Complaint alleges that the statute permits the legislature to afford a special benefit to some counties not provided to other counties that are similarly situated.

The district court granted the Motion For Summary Judgment filed on behalf of the State and denied the Motion For Summary Judgment filed on behalf of Sublette County. The effect of the Order Granting Defendants' Motion For Summary Judgment And Denying Plaintiff's Motion For Summary Judgment was to hold that WYO. STAT. § 5-5-103 is constitutional. Sublette County has appealed from that order.

The parties, by virtue of their stipulation, agree that there are no genuine issues of material fact in this case. It was appropriate for the district court to dispose of the case as one involving only a question of law. State v. Moncrief, 720 P.2d 470, 472 n. 1 (Wyo.1986). See Coyne v. State ex rel. Thomas, 595 P.2d 970, 971 (Wyo.1979); Jahn v. Burns, 593 P.2d 828, 829 (Wyo.1979); Fugate v. Mayor and City Council of Town of Buffalo, 348 P.2d 76, 81 (Wyo.1959). In such an instance we review the grant of a summary judgment without according any deference to the decision of the district court on questions of law. Davis v. Black Hills Trucking, Inc., 929 P.2d 532, 534 (Wyo.1996); Duncan v. Town of Jackson, 903 P.2d 548, 551 (Wyo.1995). The parties have essentially argued the case under the concept of special legislation, and that will be the focus of our analysis.

Initially, however, we consider the jurisdiction of the court. Neither party has raised this issue, but we do have an independent responsibility to test jurisdiction. Amrein v. Wyoming Livestock Bd., 851 P.2d 769, 771 (Wyo.1993); Kurpjuweit v. Northwestern Development Co., Inc., 708 P.2d 39, 44 (Wyo.1985); Gardner v. Walker, 373 P.2d 598, 600 (Wyo.1962). If the lower court does not have jurisdiction, we also lack jurisdiction. Matter

Page 746

of Estate of Fulmer, 761 P.2d 658, 660 (Wyo.1988); Snell v. Ruppert, 541 P.2d 1042, 1048 (Wyo.1975); Pritchard v. State, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Dept. of Health & Social Services, 540 P.2d 523, 527 (Wyo.1975); Ginn v. Parrish, 362 P.2d 824, 828 (Wyo.1961).

In two cases, we have held that, absent a specific constitutional or statutory provision authorizing such an action, a county cannot sue the state. Carbon County School Dist. No. 2 v. Wyoming State Hosp., 680 P.2d 773 (Wyo.1984); State v. Board of County Com'rs of Johnson County, 642 P.2d 456, 458 (Wyo.1982). The thrust of those cases is that a public entity, authorized by statute and funded from state coffers or other public revenues, that performs functions for the public at large is simply another arm of the state. As such it does not possess the essential adversarial interest or claim against the state contemplated by a dispute arising between two or more parties, and in effect, as a part of the state is endeavoring to sue itself. Mountain View/Evergreen Imp. and Service Dist. v. Brooks Water and Sewer Dist., 896 P.2d 1355 (Wyo....

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13 practice notes
  • Director, Office of State Lands v. Merbanco, No. 01-261
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • June 6, 2003
    ...of a statute bears a heavy burden of proving such beyond any reasonable doubt. Board of County Commissioners v. Geringer, 941 P.2d 742 (Wyo.1997); V-1 Oil Company v. State, 934 P.2d 740 (Wyo.1997); NJC v. State, 913 P.2d 435 (Wyo.1996). In fact, we are duty bound to uphold statutes where po......
  • Powers v. State, No. S-13-0052
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • January 3, 2014
    ...possible and resolve all doubts in favor of constitutionality. Merbanco, ¶ 32, 70 P.3d at 252, citing Board of County Comm'rs v. Geringer, 941 P.2d 742 (Wyo. 1997); V-1 Oil Co. v. State, 934 P.2d 740 (Wyo. 1997); NJC v. State, 913 P.2d 435 (Wyo. 1996); Campbell v. State, 999 P.2d 649 (Wyo. ......
  • Powers ex rel. Wyoming v. State, No. S–13–0052.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • February 12, 2014
    ...possible and resolve all doubts in favor of constitutionality. Merbanco, ¶ 32, 70 P.3d at 252, citing Board of County Comm'rs v. Geringer, 941 P.2d 742 (Wyo.1997); V–1 Oil Co. v. State, 934 P.2d 740 (Wyo.1997); NJC v. State, 913 P.2d 435 (Wyo.1996); Campbell v. State, 999 P.2d 649 (Wyo.2000......
  • Gordon v. State, S-17-0173
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • March 22, 2018
    ...of a statute bears a heavy burden of proving such beyond any reasonable doubt. Board of County Commissioners v. Geringer , 941 P.2d 742 (Wyo. 1997) ; V-1 Oil Company v. State , 934 P.2d 740 (Wyo. 1997) ; NJC v. State , 913 P.2d 435 (Wyo. 1996). In fact, we are duty bound to uphold statutes ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
13 cases
  • Director, Office of State Lands v. Merbanco, No. 01-261
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • June 6, 2003
    ...of a statute bears a heavy burden of proving such beyond any reasonable doubt. Board of County Commissioners v. Geringer, 941 P.2d 742 (Wyo.1997); V-1 Oil Company v. State, 934 P.2d 740 (Wyo.1997); NJC v. State, 913 P.2d 435 (Wyo.1996). In fact, we are duty bound to uphold statutes where po......
  • Powers v. State, No. S-13-0052
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • January 3, 2014
    ...possible and resolve all doubts in favor of constitutionality. Merbanco, ¶ 32, 70 P.3d at 252, citing Board of County Comm'rs v. Geringer, 941 P.2d 742 (Wyo. 1997); V-1 Oil Co. v. State, 934 P.2d 740 (Wyo. 1997); NJC v. State, 913 P.2d 435 (Wyo. 1996); Campbell v. State, 999 P.2d 649 (Wyo. ......
  • Powers ex rel. Wyoming v. State, No. S–13–0052.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • February 12, 2014
    ...possible and resolve all doubts in favor of constitutionality. Merbanco, ¶ 32, 70 P.3d at 252, citing Board of County Comm'rs v. Geringer, 941 P.2d 742 (Wyo.1997); V–1 Oil Co. v. State, 934 P.2d 740 (Wyo.1997); NJC v. State, 913 P.2d 435 (Wyo.1996); Campbell v. State, 999 P.2d 649 (Wyo.2000......
  • Gordon v. State, S-17-0173
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • March 22, 2018
    ...of a statute bears a heavy burden of proving such beyond any reasonable doubt. Board of County Commissioners v. Geringer , 941 P.2d 742 (Wyo. 1997) ; V-1 Oil Company v. State , 934 P.2d 740 (Wyo. 1997) ; NJC v. State , 913 P.2d 435 (Wyo. 1996). In fact, we are duty bound to uphold statutes ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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