Guy v. Wyo. Dep't of Corr.

Decision Date09 July 2019
Docket NumberS-18-0263,S-18-0231
Parties JonMichael GUY, Appellant (Plaintiff), v. The WYOMING DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, BY AND THROUGH Robert O. LAMPERT, individually and in his official capacity as Director of the Wyoming Department of Corrections; Julie Tennant-Caine, individually and in her official capacity as a Deputy Administrator of the Wyoming Department of Corrections; and The State of Wyoming, Appellees (Defendants). JonMichael Guy, Appellant (Plaintiff), v. Robert O. Lampert, individually and in his official capacity as Director of the Wyoming Department of Corrections; Julie Tennant-Caine, individually and in her official capacity as a Deputy Administrator of the Wyoming Department of Corrections; and Wyoming Department of Corrections, by and through Robert O. Lampert, and the State of Wyoming, Appellees (Defendants).
CourtWyoming Supreme Court

Representing Appellant: Steve C.M. Aron and Alexander J. Mencer, Aron & Hennig, LLP, Laramie, Wyoming. Argument by Mr. Aron.

Representing Appellees: Bridget L. Hill, Attorney General; Michael J. McGrady, Deputy Attorney General; Daniel E. White, Senior Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Mr. White.

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

FOX, Justice.

[¶1] JonMichael Guy, an inmate in the custody of the Wyoming Department of Corrections (WDOC), sued the WDOC under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking to require that it recognize Humanism as a religion. He sought declaratory and injunctive relief, and also sought monetary damages from the WDOC’s Director, Robert O. Lampert, and its Deputy Administrator, Julie Tennant-Caine, in their individual capacities. After he filed his complaint, the WDOC officially recognized Humanism as a religion. As a result, the district court dismissed Mr. Guy’s complaint. In addition, the district court denied Mr. Guy’s motion for attorney fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 because Mr. Guy was not a "prevailing party." We affirm.

ISSUES

[¶2] We rephrase Mr. Guy’s issues:

1. Does the voluntary cessation exception to the mootness doctrine apply in Wyoming?
2. Does the district court’s conclusion that Mr. Guy failed to exhaust his administrative remedies require reversal?
3. Were Mr. Lampert and Ms. Tennant-Caine entitled to qualified immunity?
4. Did Mr. Guy preserve his argument that the Defendants’ certificate of service, attached to their motion to dismiss, was invalid?
5. Was Mr. Guy a "prevailing party" under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 ?
FACTS

[¶3] Mr. Guy is a WDOC inmate housed at the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institution (WMCI) in Torrington. On December 8, 2017, Mr. Guy and the American Humanist Association (AHA) filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Wyoming Department of Corrections.1 He also sued the Director of the WDOC, Robert O. Lampert, and his Deputy Administrator, Julie Tennant-Caine, in their official and individual capacities. Mr. Guy alleged that the WDOC refused to allow practicing Humanists to "form a Humanist study group to meet on the same terms that Defendants authorize inmates of theistic religious traditions, and other religions, to meet; and ... to allow inmates to identify as Humanists for assignment purposes."2 He claimed that the WDOC’s refusal violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and Article I, Sections 2, 6, 7, 18, and 19, of the Wyoming Constitution. He sought "injunctive and declaratory relief and [monetary] damages[.]"

[¶4] Mr. Guy raised two claims that are relevant to this appeal.3 In the first claim, he sought monetary damages against Mr. Lampert and Ms. Tennant-Caine in their individual capacities. He sought $120,000 for violation of his civil rights, unspecified additional damages for "emotional distress, shame, humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life and mental anguish," and "exemplary and punitive damages."

[¶5] In his second claim, Mr. Guy sought declaratory and injunctive relief. He requested an injunction to preclude the Defendants from:

• Depriving him of his freedom of religion;
• Preventing him from associating with other Humanist practicing inmates; and
• Favoring some religions over others.

In addition, he asked the district court to order that the Defendants recognize Humanism as a religion, permit a Humanist study group, and prohibit discrimination against all Humanist inmates. Finally, Mr. Guy sought a declaratory judgment affirming his right to practice Humanism, declaring that exclusion of Humanism violates the constitution, and declaring that the Defendants violated Mr. Guy’s constitutional rights.

[¶6] On December 29, 2017, after Mr. Guy had filed his complaint, the WDOC executed a "Director’s Executive Order" that formally recognized Humanism as a religion and added Humanism to the WDOC’s "Handbook of Religious Beliefs and Practices." It also recognized three Humanist holidays. On January 23, 2018, the Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. They argued the executive order mooted Mr. Guy’s claims seeking recognition of Humanism. They also argued his "allusions" to specific Humanist practices, such as fire ceremonies, a Humanist diet, and a Humanist study group, in addition to being improperly pleaded, were not ripe for review because Mr. Guy did not request that the WDOC permit these practices before filing suit. Finally, Mr. Lampert and Ms. Tennant-Caine argued they were entitled to qualified immunity as to Mr. Guy’s claim for monetary damages.

[¶7] The district court granted the Defendants’ motion. The court relied on the WDOC’s executive order that added Humanism to the list of recognized religions to find Mr. Guy’s claims were moot. It concluded the mootness doctrine extinguished Mr. Guy’s request for declaratory and injunctive relief and his demand for monetary damages against Mr. Lampert and Ms. Tennant-Caine. The court rejected Mr. Guy’s argument that the voluntary cessation exception to the mootness doctrine applied because that exception had not been adopted in Wyoming. It did not address whether Defendants were entitled to qualified immunity on Mr. Guy’s claim for monetary damages because of its conclusion that this claim was also moot.

[¶8] After the court dismissed his complaint, Mr. Guy sought to recover his attorney’s fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). That statute permits the "prevailing party" in a case under § 1983 to recover "a reasonable attorney’s fee." The district court denied the motion because Mr. Guy was not a "prevailing party." Mr. Guy appealed both of the court’s orders. We consolidated his appeals for argument and decision.

DISCUSSION

[¶9] The majority of Mr. Guy’s complaint has been remedied by the WDOC’s executive order, which recognizes Humanism as a religion. The question, however, is whether the district court correctly dismissed all of Mr. Guy’s claims for relief.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶10] We evaluate a district court’s decision on a motion to dismiss de novo. Wyo. Guardianship Corp. v. Wyo. State Hosp., et al. , 2018 WY 114, ¶ 16, 428 P.3d 424, 432 (Wyo. 2018). We also apply de novo review to determine whether an issue is moot, In Interest of DJS-Y , 2017 WY 54, ¶ 6, 394 P.3d 467, 469 (Wyo. 2017), and to determine whether a state official is entitled to qualified immunity. Abell v. Dewey , 870 P.2d 363, 367 (Wyo. 1994).

I. The voluntary cessation exception to the mootness doctrine has not been adopted in Wyoming

[¶11] The crux of Mr. Guy’s complaint was his request for an injunction that required the WDOC to recognize Humanism as a religion. Because the WDOC did just that when it issued its executive order, the district court concluded that Mr. Guy’s complaint was moot. It then concluded that the voluntary cessation exception to the mootness doctrine, which may apply in federal court, did not apply because this Court has never adopted that exception.

[¶12] On appeal, Mr. Guy contends that the district court erred when it concluded that the voluntary cessation exception to mootness does not apply in Wyoming state courts. He does not, however, address the district court’s conclusion that the exception has never been adopted in Wyoming. Instead, he simply asserts that the "State and Federal Standards for Mootness are Consistent." He then goes on to cite to numerous federal opinions that have applied the voluntary cessation exception in federal court. "[T]he central question in a mootness case is ‘whether decision of a once living dispute continues to be justified by a sufficient prospect that the decision will have an impact on the parties.’ " Williams v. Matheny , 2017 WY 85, ¶ 15, 398 P.3d 521, 527 (Wyo. 2017) (quoting In re Guardianship of MEO , 2006 WY 87, ¶ 27, 138 P.3d 1145, 1153-54 (Wyo. 2006) ).4 "However, there are three exceptions to the operation of that doctrine which relate to issues of great public importance, issues with respect to which it is necessary to provide guidance to state agencies and lower courts, and controversies capable of repetition while evading review." City of Casper v. Simonson , 2017 WY 86, ¶ 16 n.7, 400 P.3d 352, 355 n.7 (Wyo. 2017) (citations omitted).

[¶13] Mr. Guy did not rely on any of these exceptions in the district court. Instead, in his response to the Defendantsmotion to dismiss, he made a passing reference to the voluntary cessation exception which applies in federal courts. (citing Am. Humanist Ass’n v. United States, et al. , 63 F. Supp. 3d 1274 (D. Or. 2014) ). In federal court: "It is well settled that a defendant’s voluntary cessation of a challenged practice does not deprive a federal court of its power to determine the legality of the practice." City of Mesquite v. Aladdin’s Castle , 455 U.S. 283, 289, 102 S.Ct. 1070, 1074, 71 L.Ed.2d 152 (1982). However, mootness doctrine in federal court arises from constitutional Article III limitations on jurisdiction. See, e.g. , Powell v. McCormack , 395 U.S. 486, 496 n.7, 89 S.Ct. 1944, 1950 n.7, 23 L.Ed.2d 491 (1969). Article III limitations on federal courts, and any applicable exceptions to those...

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    ...a claim of [a] violation of clearly established law.'" Guy v. Wyoming Dep't of Corr. by & through Lampert, 2019 WY 69, ¶ 23, 444 P.3d 652, 660 (Wyo. 2019), cert. denied sub nom. Guy v. Lampert, 140 S. Ct. 1295, 206 L.Ed.2d 375 (2020) (quoting Mitchell, 472 U.S. at 528 n.9, 105 S.Ct. at 2816......
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    ...about a voluntary change in the defendant's conduct.’ " Guy v. Wyo. Dep't of Corr. by & through Lampert , 2019 WY 69, ¶ 31, 444 P.3d 652, 661-62 (Wyo. 2019), cert. denied sub nom. Guy v. Lampert , ––– U.S. ––––, 140 S. Ct. 1295, 206 L.Ed.2d 375 (2020) (quoting Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home, In......
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    ...record, even if that basis was not relied upon by the district court in its decision. Guy v. Wyo. Dep’t of Corr. , 2019 WY 69, ¶ 18, 444 P.3d 652 (Wyo. 2019) ; Powder River Basin Res. Council v. Wyo. Dep’t of Envtl. Quality , 2010 WY 25, ¶ 37, 226 P.3d 809, 820 (Wyo. 2010) ("Based on common......

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