McCreary v. Weast, 96-244

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
Citation971 P.2d 974
Docket NumberNo. 96-244,96-244
PartiesDean McCREARY, Appellant (Defendant), v. Pamela R. WEAST, Appellee (Plaintiff).
Decision Date25 January 1999

Page 974

971 P.2d 974
Dean McCREARY, Appellant (Defendant),
Pamela R. WEAST, Appellee (Plaintiff).
No. 96-244.
Supreme Court of Wyoming.
Jan. 25, 1999.

Page 975

Daniel R. Erd of David E. Arnold Law Offices, Rock Springs, and John P. LaBuda of Palmer & LaBuda, Rock Springs, for Appellant.

Robert J. Reese of Reese & Mathey, Green River, for Appellee.


THOMAS, Justice.

To resolve the questions presented in this case, we are obliged to construe our statute of limitations relating to sexual assault on a minor, Wyo. Stat. § 1-3-105(b)(ii) (1997), 1

Page 976

and we must scrutinize the procedure that the trial court invoked for resolving the application of the statute of limitations. The issues arise out of a verdict and judgment in favor of Pamela R. Weast (Weast) for damages attributable to sexual assaults committed upon her during her minority. The trial judge permitted the jury to determine the application of the statute of limitations without any guidance with respect to the law. We hold that the trial judge did not meet his well-settled duty with respect to the statute of limitations, which is usually considered to be a question of law. The trial judge erred in relegating to the jury the function of determining the law while submitting to the jury only the language of the statute. The statute inherently is ambiguous because it contains no definition of the term "discovery." It should be construed cohesively with our existing cases adopting discovery of the cause of action as the triggering event for the commencement of the time within which the case must be filed to satisfy the applicable statute of limitations. In addition, we must resolve the novel question relating to the effect of the late realization of psychic trauma upon the commencement of the time provided in the statute of limitations. We reverse the case, and remand it to the trial court for a new trial in accordance with the principles set forth in this opinion.

In his Brief of Appellant, Dean McCreary (McCreary) defines the issues in this way:


Does the statutory period, provided in W.S. § 1-3-105(b), begin to run upon discovery of the acts constituting sexual assault, whether or not the injured party has discovered the full extent of the resulting harm?


Did the jury have insufficient evidence, or inadequate instructions to properly determine the question of the statute of limitations?

In the Brief of Appellee, filed on behalf of Weast, the issues are framed in this way:

1. Whether the district court committed reversible error in denying defendant's motion for summary judgment.

2. Whether the district court committed plain error in its instructions to the jury.

3. Whether there was sufficient evidence to allow the jury to make a factual finding on the statute of limitations issue.

On November 14, 1994, Weast, who was then thirty-six years old, filed this action naming McCreary as the defendant and alleging that he had sexually assaulted her from 1962 through 1982. McCreary was married to Weast's sister. Weast and her mother resided with McCreary and Weast's sister during most of the time that the claimed sexual abuse occurred. McCreary was many years older than Weast, and he played a father-like role in the home. While initially asserting causes of action for battery;

Page 977

criminal sexual contact, intrusion and assault; infliction of emotional stress; and punitive damages, Weast ultimately submitted a Second Amended Complaint alleging physical and sexual abuse described as repeated and regular episodes of sexual intrusion and sexual contact constituting sexual assault in the second degree as defined by Wyo. Stat. § 6-2-303 (Repl.1988) and indecent liberties as defined by Wyo. Stat. § 14-3-105 (Repl.1994). 2

The theory of Weast's claim is that, although she always was aware of the sexual abuse, she did not comprehend and, for that reason, did not discover until February of 1993 the psychic trauma she had sustained as a product of the abuse. In February of 1993, Weast had gallbladder surgery. She was anesthetized for the surgery, and when she awoke she discovered McCreary standing over her hospital bed. She asserts that, at that moment in time, her memory "started flooding," and she began to experience severe emotional and psychological problems. In June of 1993, Weast began counseling, and she was even hospitalized at one point. Her therapist explained that Weast "exhibited symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder which were due to the rape trauma syndrome." The therapist explained that even though Weast was always aware she had been molested, she had kept her memories "underground or blanketed * * * throughout all that time." The therapist testified that Weast did not recognize the harm McCreary had caused her until she began therapy. According to the therapist, it is quite common for victims of sexual abuse to begin to confront their memories in their early or middle thirties.

McCreary filed a Motion to Dismiss Complaint and a Motion for More Definite Statement. In a letter to counsel, the trial judge reserved a ruling on the motion to dismiss, and granted the motion for a more definite statement. It was in response to that letter that the Second Amended Complaint was filed. McCreary then filed an Answer to Second Amended Complaint, and approximately one year later, McCreary's motion for summary judgment was filed. The thrust of the motion for summary judgment was that the statute of limitations had expired. The trial judge ruled that there were genuine issues of material fact with respect to the discovery by Weast of her injuries, and the motion for summary judgment was denied.

Subsequently, a jury trial was held, and McCreary moved for a directed verdict at the end of Weast's case, again urging that the causes of action were barred by the statute of limitations. The trial court reserved its ruling on that motion, and submitted the case, including the question relating to the statute of limitations, to the jury. The only instruction given with respect to the statute of limitations was Instruction No. 7, which stated:


You are instructed that pertinent portions of the Wyoming Statutes provide in pertinent part:

Page 978

Civil actions can only be commenced within the periods prescribed in this chapter, after the cause of action accrues ... W.S. § 1-3-102.

(b) ... a civil action based upon sexual assault ... against a minor may be brought within the later of:

(i) Eight (8) years after the minor's eighteenth birthday; or

(ii) Three (3) years after the discovery.

W.S. § 1-3-105(b).

Neither party objected to the jury instructions given by the trial court.

Following its deliberations, the jury returned this verdict:


1. Do you find that Dean McCreary inflicted sexual assault upon Pamela Weast, during the time she was a minor, which caused her damages?

Yes X


No ----

If your answer to question number 1 is no, sign the verdict and return it to the Court. If your answer was yes, answer questions number 2 and 3.

2. What total amount of damages, if any, were sustained by Pamela Weast?

$ 250,000.00


3. Is Pamela Weast's cause of action for sexual assault against Dean McCreary barred by the applicable statute of limitations?

Yes ----

No X


McCreary submitted a Motion for a Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict, which was denied. He takes this appeal from the Judgment entered by the trial court based upon the verdict of the jury.

We are compelled to reverse this case, and remand it for a new trial. We have often said that the application of a statute of limitations is a question of law. Woodard v. Cook Ford Sales, Inc., 927 P.2d 1168, 1170 (Wyo.1996); Hiltz v. Robert W. Horn, P.C., 910 P.2d 566, 570 (Wyo.1996); Bredthauer v. TSP, 864 P.2d 442, 446 (Wyo.1993); Union Pacific Resources Co. v. State, 839 P.2d 356, 366-67 (Wyo.1992); Mills v. Garlow, 768 P.2d 554, 555 (Wyo.1989); Diamond Hill Inv. Co. v. Shelden, 767 P.2d 1005, 1007 (Wyo.1989); Mason v. Laramie Rivers Co., 490 P.2d 1062, 1065 (Wyo.1971). In Mills, 768 P.2d at 555, we said:

Ordinarily the question of whether or not a cause of action is barred by a statute of limitations is a mixed question of law and fact, but where the facts are not in dispute, as here, the question is one of law.

Under this language, we could allow for the submission of the factual issues relating to the statute of limitations to the jury. The trial court, however, submitted the legal issues as well as the factual issues to the jury.

Addressing a problem of damages, this court spoke prophetically in Martinez v. City of Cheyenne, 791 P.2d 949, 960 (Wyo.1990):

It is the function of the jury to apply the law as it has been explained by the court. See cases cited in 88 C.J.S. Trial § 297 (1955). The jury is not justified in furnishing its own interpretation of the law nor in arriving at its verdict in the light of its view as to the way things ought to be. Permitting the jury to determine the rules of law without guidance from the court, among other things, creates a substantial risk of inconsistent verdicts in very similar cases. The duty of the court, on the other hand, is to provide sufficient instruction to allow the jury to apply the appropriate law correctly. Shortfall in performing the responsibility of either the court or the jury results in an injustice to the parties, and a new trial is mandated.

(Emphasis added.) In this instance, we perceive that the trial court forsook its duty, and left the jury to determine the issue of the statute of limitations without guidance. A new trial is required under such circumstances.

It is true that the legislature provided no direction in adopting the statute of limitations that is before us. The statute provides only:

Page 979

(b) Notwithstanding subsection (a) of this section, a civil action...

To continue reading

Request your trial
13 cases
  • Clay v. Kuhl, No. 86938
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Illinois
    • 21 Enero 2000
    ...Cosgriffe v. Cosgriffe, 262 Mont. 175, 864 P.2d 776 (1993); Osland v. Osland, 442 727 N.E.2d 227 N.W.2d 907 (N.D.1989); McCreary v. Weast, 971 P.2d 974 (Wyo.1999). But see Doe v. First United Methodist Church, 68 Ohio St.3d 531, 629 N.E.2d 402 (1994) (discovery rule inapplicable in childhoo......
  • Cathcart v. Meyer, No. 04-32
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • 4 Mayo 2004
    ...of law and fact, unless, as here, the material facts are not in dispute. In such case, the question is one of law. McCreary v. Weast, 971 P.2d 974, 978 (Wyo. 1999) (quoting Mills v. Garlow, 768 P.2d 554, 555 (Wyo. 1989)). While statutes of limitation should be liberally construed to effect ......
  • Black Diamond Energy of Del., Inc. v. Wyo. Oil & Gas Conservation Comm'n, S-19-0018
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • 2 Abril 2020
    ...Johnson County because a cause of action does not arise until all elements, including damages, are present, relying on McCreary v. Weast , 971 P.2d 974, 979 (Wyo. 1999). As a result, BDED argues "numerous other courts have found that venue is proper where the plaintiff is located because th......
  • EOG Res., Inc. v. JJLM Land, LLC, S-22-0095
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • 28 Diciembre 2022
    ...damages." Lucky Gate Ranch, L.L.C. v. Baker & Assocs., Inc. , 2009 WY 69, ¶ 20, 208 P.3d 57, 65 (Wyo. 2009) (citing McCreary v. Weast , 971 P.2d 974, 979 (Wyo. 1999) ). See also, Gillis v. F & A Enterprises , 934 P.2d 1253, 1255 (Wyo. 1997) ("Generally, a cause of action accrues as soon as ......
  • 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