Hanft v. City of Laramie

Decision Date15 April 2021
Docket NumberS-20-0068,S-20-0069
Citation2021 WY 52
PartiesJENNIFER P. HANFT, as Personal Representative of the Estate of BRET LEE VANCE, Appellant (Plaintiff), v. CITY OF LARAMIE, Appellee (Defendant). CITY OF LARAMIE, Appellant (Defendant), v. JENNIFER P. HANFT, as Personal Representative of the Estate of BRET LEE VANCE, Appellee (Plaintiff).
CourtWyoming Supreme Court

Appeal from the District Court of Albany County

The Honorable Dawnessa A. Snyder, Judge Representing Jennifer P. Hanft, Personal Representative of the Estate of Bret Lee Vancy:

A. Joe Hageman, Attorney at Law, Laramie, Wyoming

Representing City of Laramie:

William S. Helfand of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, Houston, Texas; Amanda F. Esch of Davis & Cannon, LLP, Cheyenne, Wyoming. Argument by Mr. Helfand.

Before DAVIS, C.J., and KAUTZ, BOOMGAARDEN, and GRAY, JJ., and TYLER, DJ.

DAVIS, C.J., delivers the opinion of the Court; GRAY, J., files a specially concurring opinion, in which KAUTZ, J., joins.

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.

DAVIS, Chief Justice.

[¶1] In 2012, the City of Laramie (City) discharged Bret Vance from his employment as a shift commander with the City's fire department, an action that required consent of the City's Fire Department Civil Service Commission (Commission). Through a series of administrative proceedings and appeals, the Commission issued various orders concerning Mr. Vance's discharge, including an order by which it denied its consent to the discharge. In 2016, this Court issued a decision that gave effect to that order. Vance v. City of Laramie, 2016 WY 106, ¶ 44, 382 P.3d 1104, 1114-15 (Wyo. 2016). When the City did not reinstate Mr. Vance after our 2016 decision, he filed a complaint against it seeking reinstatement and damages for breach of contract and violation of statutory duties.

[¶2] On summary judgment, the district court ruled that Mr. Vance was entitled to reinstatement in 2016 and that he was entitled to damages for his wrongful termination and the City's failure to reinstate him. The court further ruled that the only questions remaining for trial were the amount of damages and whether Mr. Vance took reasonable steps to mitigate those damages. At trial, the jury awarded Mr. Vance damages of approximately $280,000, and the court entered a judgment on the verdict but denied Mr. Vance's post-trial motion for attorney fees, costs, and pre- and post-judgment interest. Both parties appeal.1

[¶3] We affirm the judgment on the verdict, which as a matter of law bears post-judgment interest. We also affirm the denial of attorney fees and prejudgment interest. We reverse the denial of costs and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

ISSUES

[¶4] In its appeal, the City presents seven issues, which we restate as follows:

1. Did the district court abuse its discretion when it ruled that Mr. Vance's claims were not barred for failure to exhaust his administrative remedies?
2. Did the district court err when it ruled on summary judgment that Mr. Vance was entitled to damages for his wrongful termination and the City's failure to reinstate him in 2016?
3. Did the district court's ruling on summary judgment and narrowing of the issues for trial violate the City's due process rights?
4. Did the award of damages in this case constitute an impermissible donation or gratuitous payment of public funds in violation of the Wyoming Constitution?
5. Did the district court err when it failed to instruct the jury on the City's affirmative defense of waiver?
6. Did the district court err when it denied the City's W.R.C.P. 50(b) motion for judgment as a matter of law on the question of Mr. Vance's failure to mitigate his damages?
7. Did the district court err when it excluded the City's evidence of other available firefighter jobs?

[¶5] In her appeal, Ms. Hanft presents four issues, which we restate as follows:

1. Did the district court err when it denied Mr. Vance's motion for attorney fees pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-4-104(b)?
2. Did the district court abuse its discretion when it denied Mr. Vance's motion for costs under W.R.C.P. 54(d)?
3. Did the district court abuse its discretion when it denied Mr. Vance's motion for prejudgment interest?
4. Did the district err when it failed to include post-judgment interest in its final judgment?

FACTS

[¶6] In Vance, we described the events that led to Mr. Vance's discharge and the proceedings that followed.

On December 5, 2012, Mr. Vance reported for work as a shift commander for the City's fire department and was notified that he had been randomly selected for alcohol detection testing. Two breathalyzer tests performed minutes apart detected a low level of alcohol in his blood stream. Mr.Vance had previously been disciplined for testing positive for cocaine in 2010. Under the City's policies, a second drug or alcohol violation could result in discipline up to and including termination of employment. The City issued a disciplinary order discharging Mr. Vance from the fire department, and he requested a hearing before the Commission.
The Commission held an evidentiary hearing, applied the civil service rules and the City's personnel rules, and determined in Commission Decision # 1 that the reason for the City's discipline decision was "partially justified." It reduced the disciplinary action from discharge to a two-month unpaid suspension. The City petitioned the district court for review, and Mr. Vance cross-petitioned. The district court reversed Commission Decision # 1, concluding the legal standard applied by the Commission did not comply with Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 15-5-112(b) (LexisNexis 2015), which required the Commission to determine whether the reason for discharge was "sufficient and established" and did not authorize it to determine that the reason was "partially justified." The district court remanded the matter to the Commission for application of the correct standard.
The Commission considered the same evidentiary record and, in Commission Decision # 2, refused to consent to Mr. Vance's discharge. It ruled that the City's reason for discharging him was not sufficient and established because the breathalyzer tests did not comply with Department of Transportation (DOT) standards. The City petitioned the district court for review, and the court again reversed and remanded. The district court concluded the Commission's determination that the breathalyzer test results were invalid was not supported by the law or the evidence. The district court ordered the Commission to accept and consider the breathalyzer test results on remand. After deliberating the matter for a third time and in accordance with the district court's directive that it accept and consider the breathalyzer test results, the Commission ruled in Commission Decision # 3 that the City properly discharged Mr. Vance because he violated the policy that prohibits employees from being on duty with "any detectable" blood alcohol concentration.
Mr. Vance filed a petition for review, and the district court dismissed his petition because, instead of raising issues about the Commission's most recent decision, Mr. Vance challenged the district court's previous order requiring the Commission to accept and consider the breathalyzer results. Mr. Vance appealed to this Court. We requested additional briefing on whether the district court had jurisdiction to consider the City's petitions for review of Commission Decisions # 1 and # 2.

Vance, ¶¶ 6-9, 382 P.3d at 1105-06.

[¶7] In ruling on the jurisdictional issue, which we found to be dispositive, we concluded:

Under the civil service statutes, Commission Decision # 2 refusing to consent to Mr. Vance's discharge was final and was not subject to judicial review. The district court did not have jurisdiction to consider the City's petition for judicial review. Consequently, its decision reversing and remanding Commission Decision # 2 is void and, hereby, vacated. In addition, all of the proceedings that followed Commission Decision # 2 were improper, meaning that Commission Decision # 3 and the district court's dismissal of Mr. Vance's petition for review of that decision are void and, hereby, vacated. Because the district court did not have jurisdiction over the matter, we, likewise, lack jurisdiction beyond determining that the district court had no jurisdiction to review Commission Decision # 2. Rock v. Lankford, 2013 WY 61, ¶ 18, 301 P.3d 1075, 1080 (Wyo. 2013), quoting Hall v. Park Cnty., 2010 WY 124, ¶ 3, 238 P.3d 580, 581 (Wyo. 2010). This appeal is, therefore, dismissed.

Vance, ¶ 44, 382 P.3d at 1114-15.

[¶8] We issued our decision in Vance on November 7, 2016. On December 12, 2016, the City, through its attorney, sent a letter to Mr. Vance's counsel, which stated:

The City understands Mr. Vance seeks re-employment with the Laramie Fire Department. The City is evaluating that request. As part of that evaluation, the City needs to determine whether Mr. Vance is eligible and fit for re-employment. In order to make that determination, Mr. Vance must undergo abackground (including driver's license) check, employment drug and alcohol test, and physical by the department doctor.

[¶9] Mr. Vance completed the tasks outlined in the city attorney's letter to the City's satisfaction, but nonetheless the City did not reinstate him. Instead, the city attorney sent another letter on March 13, 2017, which stated, "it has not been possible for the City to finish a review of your client's earlier request for re-employment (however it is characterized), as I have confirmed your client voluntarily retired some time ago."

[¶10] Following its March 13, 2017 letter, the City did not seek additional information...

To continue reading

Request your trial
7 cases
  • Tram Tower Townhouse Ass'n v. Weiner
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • May 6, 2022
    ...1206 (Wyo. 2020) (citations omitted). We may affirm a summary judgment ruling on any basis found in the record. Hanft v. City of Laramie , 2021 WY 52, ¶ 34, 485 P.3d 369, 381 (Wyo. 2021) (citing [509 P.3d 367 Prancing Antelope I, LLC v. Saratoga Inn Overlook Homeowners Ass'n, Inc. , 2021 WY......
  • Davidson-Eaton v. Iversen
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • November 2, 2022
    ...City of Laramie, 2021 WY 52, ¶ 32, 485 P.3d 369, 381 (Wyo. 2021). We may affirm a summary judgment ruling on any basis found in the record. Hanft, ¶ 34, 485 P.3d at 381 (Wyo. 2021). The record establishes, as a matter of law, Ms. Eaton had no authority to convey or create an interest for he......
  • Tram Tower Townhouse Ass'n v. Weiner
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • May 6, 2022
    ...... omitted). We may affirm a summary judgment ruling on any. basis found in the record. Hanft v. City of Laramie ,. 2021 WY 52, ¶ 34, 485 P.3d 369, 381 (Wyo. 2021) (citing. Prancing ......
  • Cornella v. City of Lander
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • January 18, 2022
    ...inquiry does not stop there, however, because we may affirm a grant of summary judgment on any basis appearing in the record. Hanft v. City of Laramie, 2021 WY 52, 34, 485 P.3d 369, 381 (Wyo. 2021) (citing Prancing Antelope I, LLC v. Saratoga Inn Overlook Homeowner's Ass'n, Inc., 2021 WY 3,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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