C'Hair v. Dist. Court of the Ninth Judicial Dist., S-14-0198

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
Writing for the CourtHILL, J.
Citation2015 WY 116
PartiesGARY C'HAIR and ROCHELLE C'HAIR, Petitioners, v. DISTRICT COURT of the NINTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT, State of Wyoming, and JOHN STROHECKER, Respondents.
Docket NumberS-14-0198
Decision Date26 August 2015

2015 WY 116




August 26, 2015

Original Proceeding Petition for Writ of Review From the District Court of Fremont County
The Honorable Norman E. Young, Judge

Representing Petitioners:
James C. Worthen and Andrew F. Sears of Murane & Bostwick, LLC, Casper, WY.
Argument by Mr. Worthen.

Representing Respondent District Court of the Ninth Judicial District:
No appearance.

Representing Respondent John Strohecker:
Aaron J. Vincent of Vincent Law Office, Riverton, WY.

Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL, KITE*, DAVIS, and FOX, JJ.

Page 2

* Justice Kite retired from judicial office effective August 3, 2015, and pursuant to Article 5, § 5 of the Wyoming Constitution and Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 5-1-106(f) (LexisNexis 2015) she was reassigned to act on this matter on August 4, 2015.

HILL, J., delivers the opinion of the Court; BURKE, C.J., files a dissenting opinion.

NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in Pacific Reporter Third. Readers are requested to notify the Clerk of the Supreme Court, Supreme Court Building, Cheyenne, Wyoming 82002, of any typographical or other formal errors so that correction may be made before final publication in the permanent volume.

Page 3

HILL, Justice.

[¶1] Plaintiff, John Strohecker, a non-Indian, filed a complaint in state district court against Defendants, Gary C'Hair and Rochelle C'Hair, both enrolled members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, for injuries sustained in a vehicle accident that occurred on Wyoming Highway 789 within the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because Defendants are members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe and the accident occurred on the reservation. Defendants also asserted that the two-year statute of limitations dictated by the Shoshone and Arapaho Law and Order Code should apply to bar Plaintiff's action. The district court denied Defendants' summary judgment motion, and Defendants filed a petition for writ of review in this Court. We granted the petition and now affirm the district court's decision.


[¶2] Defendants state the issues for our review as follows:

Issue 1 - Does the Ninth Judicial District Court lack subject matter jurisdiction over [Defendants] Gary and Rochelle C'Hair pursuant to the case of State ex rel. Peterson v. Ninth Judicial District, 617 P.2d 1056 (Wyo. 1980)?

Issue 2 - Are [Plaintiff] Strohecker's claims time barred pursuant to Wyoming Statute Section 1-3-117, Lex Loci Delicti and the Shoshone and Arapaho Law and Order Section 1-8-6, Limitation of Civil Actions?


[¶3] On July 27, 2009, Plaintiff, John Strohecker, who is a non-Indian resident of Riverton, Wyoming, was traveling southbound on Wyoming Highway 789 from his home in Riverton to Lander, Wyoming. As Plaintiff passed the parking lot of the Northern Arapaho 789 Smokeshop/Casino, Defendant Gary C'Hair pulled out of the parking lot and struck the vehicle Mr. Strohecker was driving. Mr. C'Hair is an enrolled member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, and was driving a vehicle belonging to his sister, Rochelle C'Hair, who is also an enrolled member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe. At the time of the accident, Ms. C'Hair was a resident of Natrona County. Mr. C'Hair's place of residence currently and at the time of the accident is unknown.

[¶4] Plaintiff and his passenger, Sara Miller, were injured in the accident, and Ms. Miller called 911 to report the accident. Ms. Miller was informed that "the BIA, Highway Patrol, and Fremont County Sheriff's dispatchers would be notified of the

Page 4

wreck to provide a rapid response to the scene." A BIA officer and the Wyoming Highway Patrol responded to the accident, along with an ambulance that transported Plaintiff and Ms. Miller to the hospital in Riverton. The BIA officer issued a citation to Gary C'Hair under the Shoshone and Arapaho Law and Order Code.

[¶5] On February 26, 2013, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Gary C'Hair in the Ninth Judicial District Court for Fremont County, Wyoming, seeking damages for injuries caused by Mr. C'Hair's negligent operation of a motor vehicle. On March 19, 2013, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, adding Rochelle C'Hair as a defendant and alleging negligent entrustment of a vehicle as the cause of action against Ms. C'Hair. On April 19, 2013, Mr. C'Hair filed his answer to the amended complaint, and on May 23, 2013, Ms. C'Hair filed her answer. Both answers generally asserted lack of subject matter jurisdiction as an affirmative defense.

[¶6] On November 27, 2013, Plaintiff filed a complaint in the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribal Court. The complaint named Gary and Rochelle C'Hair, as well as Ms. C'Hair's insurer, Colorado Casualty Insurance Co., as defendants, and alleged causes of action for negligence and negligent entrustment of a vehicle. Shortly thereafter counsel for the parties exchanged correspondence concerning the filing in Tribal Court. Counsel for Defendants wrote, in part:

I received your email and the attached Complaint filed in tribal court. I am disappointed that you have chosen to file another lawsuit in tribal court. I think that your original choice of filing in state court is where this case needs to be tried.

Because you have now filed in tribal court where the law is different and is interpreted differently than in state court you have exposed my clients to the potential for inconsistent results. Furthermore they will be subjected to duplicative discovery. Consequently, we will be filing a motion in state court for a stay of proceedings until we can get the matter of which court is going to try the case sorted out.

[¶7] Plaintiff's counsel responded:

* * * The Answers filed on behalf of Rochelle C'Hair and Gary C'Hair in the State Court Action both contain a Statement of Affirmative Defenses. The very first defense alleges the State District Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction in the case, the second claims the State District

Page 5

Court lacks personal jurisdiction over the C'Hairs and the third claims that the venue is improper in the State District Court. * * *

We have now filed the action in Tribal Court because we are concerned that, if the case is tried in State District Court and a favorable result is obtained, your clients and the insurance company client will then argue the State District Court was without subject matter jurisdiction so any Judgment rendered amounts to a nullity.

[¶8] On February 7, 2014, the district court, on the agreement of the parties, entered an order staying the state action. On April 11, 2014, the Tribal Court entered an order dismissing Plaintiff's complaint with prejudice, explaining:

The Court concludes Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Gary and Rochelle C'Hair are time barred by S&A LOC [Shoshone & Arapaho Law and Order Code] § 1-8-6 as any claim against Defendants was required to be brought by Plaintiff within two (2) years of the date of the accident, which would have been on or about July 27, 2011.

[¶9] On April 24, 2014, Plaintiff filed a motion to lift the stay of the state action. On that same date, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment asserting they were entitled to judgment on the grounds that Plaintiff's claims were barred by the applicable statute of limitations and the doctrine of res judicata precluded relitigation of that issue. Following Plaintiff's response to the summary judgment motion, Defendants submitted a reply memorandum, in which they asserted the district court's lack of subject matter jurisdiction as an additional ground for summary judgment.

[¶10] On July 23, 2014, the district court entered an order denying Defendants' summary judgment motion. The court found that its exercise of jurisdiction would not infringe on tribal sovereignty, and that based on the location of the accident on a state highway, it had at a minimum concurrent jurisdiction over the action. The court also rejected Defendants' statute of limitations argument, explaining:

The Court also finds that the State is not required by law to borrow the statute of limitations of the Shoshone and Arapaho Law and Order Code. W.S. 1-3-117 states, "If by the laws of the state or country where the cause of action arose the action is barred, it is also barred in this state." The Wind River Indian Reservation does not qualify as another state or country outside the State of Wyoming, and as a result

Page 6

the car accident did not occur in a state or country outside of Wyoming. Absent an express statement from the state legislature, this Court will not interpret the statute as extending to the laws of the Reservation.

[¶11] On August 7, 2014, Defendants filed a "Petition for Writ of Prohibition or in the alternative Petition for Writ of Review." On August 27, 2014, this Court granted the petition for writ of review.1


[¶12] This...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT