Parker Land and Cattle Co. v. Wyoming Game and Fish Com'n, No. 91-147

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
Writing for the CourtBefore MACY; GOLDEN; THOMAS; CARDINE; URBIGKIT; THOMAS; CARDINE; URBIGKIT
Citation845 P.2d 1040
PartiesPARKER LAND AND CATTLE COMPANY, Appellant (Petitioner), v. WYOMING GAME AND FISH COMMISSION, Appellee (Respondent).
Decision Date22 January 1993
Docket NumberNo. 91-147

Page 1040

845 P.2d 1040
PARKER LAND AND CATTLE COMPANY, Appellant (Petitioner),
v.
WYOMING GAME AND FISH COMMISSION, Appellee (Respondent).
No. 91-147.
Supreme Court of Wyoming.
Jan. 22, 1993.
Rehearing Denied Feb. 24, 1993.

Stanley K. Hathaway, Brent R. Kunz and Rebecca Hellbaum of Hathaway, Speight, Kunz, Trautwein & Barrett, Cheyenne, for appellant.

Joseph B. Meyer, Atty. Gen., Mary B. Guthrie, Ron Arnold, Sr. Asst. Attys. Gen., Cheyenne, for appellee.

William Perry Pendley and Todd S. Welch of Mountain States Legal Foundation, Denver, amici curiae of Mountain States Legal Foundation and Wyoming Stock Growers Ass'n.

Before MACY, C.J., and THOMAS, CARDINE, URBIGKIT * and GOLDEN, JJ.

Page 1041

GOLDEN, Justice.

This case presents a substantial evidence question and a narrow question of first impression: Whether the legislature in enacting Wyo.Stat. § 23-1-901 (July 1986) 1, which permits a landowner to present a claim to the State Game and Fish Department (Department) for property damages caused by game animals, waived the state's sovereign immunity from a landowner's claim for damages for the loss of cattle allegedly caused by the disease of brucellosis transmitted to the cattle by state-owned elk or bison.

Appellant Parker Land and Cattle Company (Parker) seeks review of an order of appellee Wyoming Game and Fish Commission (Commission) which denied Parker's damages claim under Wyo.Stat. § 23-1-901. After a contested case administrative hearing, the Commission held that a brucellosis contagion is not compensable under the statute in question and that Parker's claim was not supported by substantial evidence. Parker sought review of that agency decision from the district court. That court, invoking Wyo.R.App.P. 12.09, certified the matter here for appellate review.

For the reasons that follow, we hold that Wyo.Stat. § 23-1-901 is unambiguous and does not apply to Parker's claim for livestock damages allegedly caused by brucellosis contagion transmitted by state-owned elk or bison. Consequently, Parker's claim is not legally cognizable and, therefore, not compensable under the provisions of Wyo.Stat. § 23-1-901. In addition, we hold that substantial evidence exists to support the Commission's conclusion that Parker failed to prove with reasonable certainty that bison or elk were the source of brucellosis in its cattle herd.

We affirm the order of the Commission.

FACTS

The State of Wyoming has for many years declared that "all wildlife in Wyoming is the property of the state." Wyo.Stat. § 23-1-103. The state's express policy is "to provide an adequate and flexible system for control, propagation, management, protection and regulation of all Wyoming wildlife." Id. To carry out this policy, the legislature has established a game and fish commission and a game and fish department which is under the direction and supervision of the Commission. See generally, Wyo.Stat. §§ 23-1-201, 301, 302, and 401 (1991).

Parker is the owner and operator of a cow-calf cattle ranch near Dubois, Fremont County, Wyoming. Parker claims its cattle commingle in its grazing area with elk throughout the grazing season from May to November each year. Parker also claims that its cattle may have come in contact with bison which were seen in the grazing area in 1988.

In 1988, some of Parker's cattle herd became infected with brucellosis, an infectious reproductive disease from bacteria of the genus brucella. It is transmitted orally by ingestion of the bacteria from contaminated placentas or other birth products of female animals. Its major manifestations are abortions or retained placentas in females and orchitis in males.

In early 1989, brucellosis infection in the Parker herd was confirmed. Upon orders of the United States Department of Agriculture and the Wyoming State Veterinarian, the Parker herd was quarantined and later depopulated.

Parker calculated its total damages at $1,136,106, the constituent elements being $149,560 for feed, transportation and other expenses caused by quarantine; $181,008 for loss of market value of cattle sold because of quarantine; and $805,538 for future loss of income because of capital loss of breeding herd.

Believing that the most probable source of the brucellosis infection was State of Wyoming wildlife, specifically, elk or bison, Parker timely filed its claim for damages with the Game and Fish Department under the provisions of Wyo.Stat. § 23-1-901. An administrative hearing, in the form of a contested case trial, was held before a hearing officer. Following the hearing, the

Page 1042

hearing officer issued findings of fact and conclusions of law recommending that the Commission deny Parker's damage claim on two grounds: 1) that brucellosis transmitted from wildlife is not a compensable injury under the provisions of Wyo.Stat. § 23-1-901, and 2) that Parker has not shown to a reasonable degree of probability which potential source was in fact the source of brucellosis in the Parker herd.

The Commission heard oral argument from the parties' counsel and then issued its order denying Parker's claim, adopting the hearing officer's findings of fact and conclusions of law. A copy of the Commission's order is attached as appendix I. Parker filed a petition for review of the Commission's decision with the district court. That court, under Wyo.R.App.P. 12.09, certified the petition to this court. Parker raises these issues:

1. Did Appellant prove by a preponderance of the evidence, be it direct and/or circumstantial, that its cattle were infected with the disease of brucellosis by big or trophy game animals and that Appellant was damaged thereby?

2. Is the damage suffered by Appellant, or any portion thereof, compensable under W.S. § 23-1-901, and has the Appellee waived the right of governmental immunity?

3. Were the Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Decision of the Game and Fish Commission arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or, otherwise, not in accordance with law?

DISCUSSION

We will answer Parker's second issue first. This issue presents a question of statutory interpretation and, therefore, is a question of law. "Our standard of review for any conclusion of law is straightforward. If the conclusion of law is in accordance with law, it is affirmed, [Dep't. of Rev. & Tax. v. Casper Legion Baseball Club, Inc., 767 P.2d 608 (Wyo.1989) ]; if it is not, it is to be corrected, [Rocky Mountain Oil & Gas Ass'n v. State Bd. of Equalization, 749 P.2d 221 (Wyo.1987) ]." Employment Sec. Comm'n of Wyoming v. Western Gas Processors, Ltd., 786 P.2d 866, 871 (Wyo.1990).

I

At the outset of our exercise in statutory interpretation, we find it useful to warm up by reviewing this court's general method of statutory interpretation. Throughout this court's one hundred year history--from the first years of statehood generally identified with Justice Charles N. Potter (1895-1927) through the middle era strongly identified with Justice Fred H. Blume (1921-1962) and through the post-Blume period to the present (1962-1993)--the court has faithfully adhered to certain immutable principles which frame that method. As Justice Potter explained:

T]he intent [of the lawgiver] is the vital part, and the essence of the law * * *. Such intent, however, is that which is embodied and expressed in the statute * * * under consideration

Rasmussen v. Baker, 7 Wyo 117, 128, 50 P. 819, 821 (1897). Accord, Allied-Signal, Inc. v. Wyoming State Bd. of Equalization, 813 P.2d 214, 219 (Wyo.1991); Morrison-Knudson Co. v. State Bd. of Equalization, 58 Wyo. 500, 512, 135 P.2d 927, 931 (1943). "[T]he initial step in arriving at a correct interpretation * * * is an inquiry respecting the ordinary and obvious meaning of the words employed according to their arrangement and connection." Rasmussen, 7 Wyo. at 133, 50 P. at 823; accord Radalj v. Union Savings & Loan Ass'n, 59 Wyo. 140, 176-77, 138 P.2d 984, 996 (1943); and Phillips v. Duro-Last Roofing, Inc., 806 P.2d 834, 837 (Wyo.1991). A statute "must be construed as a whole in order to ascertain its intent and general purpose and also the meaning of each part." Ross v. Trustees of University of Wyoming, 31 Wyo. 464, 489, 228 P. 642, 651 (1924); accord City of Laramie v. Facer, 814 P.2d 268, 270 (Wyo.1991). "[W]e give effect to every word, clause and sentence and construe all components of a statute in pari materia." Facer, 814 P.2d at 270; accord, State ex rel. Albany County Weed & Pest Dist. v. Bd. of County Comm'rs, 592 P.2d 1154, 1157 (Wyo.1979).

Page 1043

Thus, our court has always understood and appreciated that statutory interpretation is a judicial process that emphasizes the functional relation between the parts and the whole. One of the more eloquent expressions of this truth was written by Judge Learned Hand:

Words are not pebbles in alien juxtaposition; they have only a communal existence; and not only does the meaning of each interpenetrate the other, but all in their aggregate take their purport from the setting in which they are used * * *.

Nat'l Relations Labor Bd. v. Federbush Co., 121 F.2d 954, 957 (2d Cir.1941).

As we engage in this particular judicial process, we must heed this warning:

It is always an unsafe way of construing a statute * * * to divide it, by a process of etymological dissection, into separate words, and then apply to each, thus separated from its context, some particular definition.

Int'l Trust Co. v. Am. Loan & Trust Co., 62 Minn. 501, 65 N.W. 78, 79 (1895) (as quoted in Frank E. Horack, Jr., The Disintegration of Statutory Construction, 24 Ind.L.J. 335, 338 (1949)). As explained in that law review article,

[n]one of us speak in single words; our symbolizing involves collective word use and we intend to convey meaning by the aggregate of our symbols interpreted in the surroundings of their use. Interpretation based upon individual words leads inevitably to the perversion of meaning.

Horack, supra, at 338.

As we...

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208 practice notes
  • Fraternal Order of Eagles Sheridan v. State, No. 05-57.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • January 10, 2006
    ...32, 35 (Wyo.2001) (quoting In re Hernandez, 8 P.3d 318, 321 (Wyo.2000) and Parker Land and Cattle Co. v. Wyoming Game and Fish Com'n, 845 P.2d 1040, 1045 (Wyo.1993)). Each word of a statute is to be afforded meaning, with none rendered superfluous. Jessen v. Burry, 13 P.3d 1118, 1120 (Wyo.2......
  • Ryan v. State, No. 98-279.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • October 8, 1999
    ...Bolack v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc., 963 P.2d 237, 240-41 (Wyo. 1998); Parker Land and Cattle Company v. Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, 845 P.2d 1040, 1042-43 A "statute is unambiguous if its wording is such that reasonable persons are able to agree as to its meaning with consistence and pred......
  • Robert L. Kroenlein Trust v. Kirchhefer, No. S–14–0296.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • September 17, 2015
    ...history if available and rules of construction, to confirm the determination.Parker Land & Cattle Co. v. Wyo. Game and Fish Comm'n, 845 P.2d 1040, 1045 (Wyo.1993) (footnote omitted); see also Arellano, ¶¶ 13–21, 344 P.3d at 252–54 (finding provision of workers' compensation act unambiguous ......
  • Huff v. Shumate, No. 02-CV-1047-D.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of Wyoming
    • September 30, 2004
    ...Instead, the Court will look to the ordinary and obvious meaning of the statute. Parker Land & Cattle Co. v. Wyoming Game & Fish Comm'n, 845 P.2d 1040, 1042 (Wyo.1993). When the language is not clear or is ambiguous, the must look to the mischief the statute was intended to cure, the histor......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
208 cases
  • Fraternal Order of Eagles Sheridan v. State, No. 05-57.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • January 10, 2006
    ...32, 35 (Wyo.2001) (quoting In re Hernandez, 8 P.3d 318, 321 (Wyo.2000) and Parker Land and Cattle Co. v. Wyoming Game and Fish Com'n, 845 P.2d 1040, 1045 (Wyo.1993)). Each word of a statute is to be afforded meaning, with none rendered superfluous. Jessen v. Burry, 13 P.3d 1118, 1120 (Wyo.2......
  • Ryan v. State, No. 98-279.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • October 8, 1999
    ...Bolack v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc., 963 P.2d 237, 240-41 (Wyo. 1998); Parker Land and Cattle Company v. Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, 845 P.2d 1040, 1042-43 A "statute is unambiguous if its wording is such that reasonable persons are able to agree as to its meaning with consistence and pred......
  • Robert L. Kroenlein Trust v. Kirchhefer, No. S–14–0296.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • September 17, 2015
    ...history if available and rules of construction, to confirm the determination.Parker Land & Cattle Co. v. Wyo. Game and Fish Comm'n, 845 P.2d 1040, 1045 (Wyo.1993) (footnote omitted); see also Arellano, ¶¶ 13–21, 344 P.3d at 252–54 (finding provision of workers' compensation act unambiguous ......
  • Huff v. Shumate, No. 02-CV-1047-D.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of Wyoming
    • September 30, 2004
    ...Instead, the Court will look to the ordinary and obvious meaning of the statute. Parker Land & Cattle Co. v. Wyoming Game & Fish Comm'n, 845 P.2d 1040, 1042 (Wyo.1993). When the language is not clear or is ambiguous, the must look to the mischief the statute was intended to cure, the histor......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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