Powers ex rel. Wyoming v. State

Decision Date12 February 2014
Docket NumberNo. S–13–0052.,S–13–0052.
Citation318 P.3d 300
PartiesKerry and Clara POWERS, on behalf of themselves and the citizens of Wyoming, and Cindy Hill, on behalf of herself and as the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Appellants (Plaintiffs), v. STATE of Wyoming and Matthew H. Mead, Governor, in his official capacity, Appellees (Defendants).
CourtWyoming Supreme Court


Held Unconstitutional

West's Wyo.Stat.Ann. §§ 9–1–513, 21–1–103, 21–1–104, 21–2–104, 21–2–105, 21–2–201, 21–2–202, 21–2–203, 21–2–204, 21–2–301, 21–2–304, 21–2–306, 21–2–502, 21–2–701, 21–2–703, 21–2–801, 21–2–802, 21–3–110, 21–3–117, 21–3–314, 21–3–401, 21–4–401, 21–4–601, 21–6–210, 21–6–219, 21–13–101, 21–13–102, 21–13–306, 21–13–307, 21–13–309, 21–13–310, 21–13–312, 21–13–313, 21–15–113, 21–17–201, 21–18–201, 21–22–103, 31–5–118Representing Appellants: Angela C. Dougherty, Dougherty Law Office, P.C., Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Representing Appellees: Peter K. Michael, Attorney General; John G. Knepper, Senior Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Mr. Michael.

Before KITE, C.J., VOIGT *, BURKE, DAVIS, JJ., and GOLDEN, J., Retired.

BURKE, Justice.

[¶ 1] This matter comes before us as four certified questions from the district court for the First Judicial District of Wyoming. These questions ask us to determine whether Senate Enrolled Act 0001 violates the Wyoming Constitution. We conclude the Act unconstitutionally deprives the State Superintendent of Public Instruction of the power of “general supervision of the public schools” that is entrusted to the Superintendent in Article 7, Section 14 of the Wyoming Constitution.1


[¶ 2] The district court certified four questions to this Court. However, we find the following question to be dispositive:

1. Does Senate Enrolled Act 0001 violate Wyoming Constitution Article 7, Section 14? 2


[¶ 3] Appellant Cindy Hill is the current Superintendent of Public Instruction for the state of Wyoming. She was elected to serve a four-year term in the 2010 general election. Appellants Kerry and Clara Powers are Wyoming citizens who cast their votes for Ms. Hill. In January, 2013, approximately two years after Ms. Hill began serving her term of office, the Wyoming Legislature passed Senate Enrolled Act 0001. The title describes it as “AN ACT ... establishing the position of director of the department of education by statute; providing duties of the director of the department of education; [and] amending duties of and transferring specified duties from the state superintendent to the director of the state department of education.” 2013 Wyo. Sess. Laws ch. 1 (codified at Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 9–1–513; 21–1–103; 21–2–104, –105, –201 et seq., –301, –304, –306, –502, –701, –703, –801, –802; 21–3–110, –117, –314, –401; 21–4–401, –601; 21–6–210, –219; 21–13–101, –102, –306, –307, –309, –310, –312, –313; 21–15–113; 21–17–201; 21–18–201; 21–22–103; and 31–5–118).

[¶ 4] Prior to enactment of SEA 0001, the Superintendent was the administrative head and chief executive officer of the Department of Education. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 21–2–201 (LexisNexis 2011). In that capacity, the Superintendent's powers and duties included, among others, the duty to make rules and regulations “as may be necessary or desirable for the proper and effective administration of the state educational system and the statewide education accountability system,” and to [e]nforce the provisions” of the Education Code and the administrative rules and regulations provided for in the Education Code. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 21–2–202. The 2013 Act removed the Superintendent as the administrator and chief executive officer of the Wyoming Department of Education. The Act created the new position of Director of the Wyoming Department of Education and assigned to the Director nearly all of the duties that were formerly the responsibility of the Superintendent. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 21–2–202(a) (LexisNexis 2013). The Act amends a total of 36 separate statutes and substitutes “director” for “state superintendent” in approximately 100 places. According to the State, the Act transfers 68 duties from the Superintendent to the Director. The Director is appointed by the Governor. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 21–1–104.

[¶ 5] Under the Act, the Superintendent's enumerated duties are to (1) prepare an annual report for the legislature on “the general status of all public schools;” (2) adopt rules and regulations “as may be necessary for the proper and effective general supervision of the public schools,” to the extent that this authority does not conflict with the rulemaking authority of the board of education, department of education, or the director of education; (3) administer a “teacher of the year” program; (4) establish “requirements for school district policies and training regarding the use of seclusion and restraint in schools;” (5) assist local school districts “in developing protocols ... for addressing risks associated with concussions and other head injuries resulting from athletic injuries;” (6) establish guidelines for school districts for the proper and safe storage and disposal of toxic chemicals and other hazardous substances; and (7) identify professional development needs for Wyoming schools and teachers and conduct up to five regional workshops each year addressing the identified professional development needs. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 21–2–201. Although the Act transfers the bulk of the Superintendent's previous powers and duties to the Director, the Act retains language in Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 21–2–201(a) providing that “The general supervision of the public schools shall be entrusted to the state superintendent as prescribed by law.”

[¶ 6] On the day the Act was signed into law, Appellants filed an action in district court seeking a declaratory judgment and preliminary injunction that would prevent the Act from taking effect. The district court denied the motion for a preliminary injunction and certified the four questions of law to this Court pursuant to W.R.A.P. 11.


[¶ 7] Issues of constitutionality present questions of law. Cathcart v. Meyer, 2004 WY 49, ¶ 7, 88 P.3d 1050, 1056 (Wyo.2004). In determining the constitutionality of a statute, we have previously stated that:

The party challenging the constitutionality of a statute bears the burden of proving the statute is unconstitutional. Pfeil v. Amax Coal West, Inc., 908 P.2d 956, 961 (Wyo.1995). That burden is a heavy one “in that the appellant must ‘clearly and exactly show the unconstitutionality beyond any reasonable doubt.’ Cathcart v. Meyer, 2004 WY 49, ¶ 7, 88 P.3d 1050, 1056 (Wyo.2004), quoting Reiter v. State, 2001 WY 116, ¶ 7, 36 P.3d 586, 589 (Wyo.2001). In our analysis, we presume “the statute to be constitutional.... Any doubt in the matter must be resolved in favor of the statute's constitutionality.” Thomson v. Wyoming In–Stream Flow Committee, 651 P.2d 778, 789–90 (Wyo.1982).

Krenning v. Heart Mt. Irrigation Dist., 2009 WY 11, ¶ 33, 200 P.3d 774, 784 (Wyo.2009). However, we have also recognized that [t]hough the supreme court has the duty to give great deference to legislative pronouncements and to uphold constitutionality when possible, it is the court's equally imperative duty to declare a legislative enactment invalid if it transgresses the state constitution.” Washakie County Sch. Dist. v. Herschler, 606 P.2d 310, 319 (Wyo.1980). In this case, Appellants present a facial challenge, which is “the most difficult challenge to mount successfully, since the challenger must establish that no set of circumstances exists under which the Act would be valid.” Director of the Office of State Lands & Invs. v. Merbanco, Inc., 2003 WY 73, ¶ 32, 70 P.3d 241, 252 (Wyo.2003).3


[¶ 8] In cases of constitutional interpretation, We are guided primarily by the intent of the drafters.” Cantrell v. Sweetwater County Sch. Dist. No. 2, 2006 WY 57, ¶ 6, 133 P.3d 983, 985 (Wyo.2006).

The primary principle underlying an interpretation of constitutions or statutes is that the intent is the vital part, and the essence of the law. (Sutherland Stat. Const., Sec. 234, People v. Potter, 47 N.Y. 375 [ (1872) ].) “The object of construction, as applied to a written constitution, is to give effect to the intent of the people in adopting it. In the case of all written laws, it is the intent of the lawgiver that is to be enforced.” (Cooley Const. Lim., 55.)

Rasmussen v. Baker, 7 Wyo. 117, 128, 50 P. 819, 821 (1897). As explained at length in Rasmussen, in determining that intent we look first to the plain and unambiguous language used in the text of the Constitution:

Such intent ... is that which is embodied and expressed in the statute or instrument under consideration. “The intent must be found in the instrument itself.” (Cooley Const. Lim., 55; Sutherland Stat. Const., Sec. 234.) If the language employed is plain and unambiguous, there is no room left for construction. It must be presumed that in case of a constitution the people have intended whatever has been plainly expressed. Courts are not at liberty to depart from that meaning which is plainly declared.


[¶ 9] More recent decisions interpreting the Wyoming Constitution indicate that we have consistently held to the principle that the language of the text is of primary importance in constitutional interpretation:

In construing our constitution, we follow essentially the same rules as those governing the construction of a statute. The fundamental purpose of those rules of construction is to ascertain the intent of the framers. Geringer v. Bebout, 10 P.3d 514, 521 (Wyo.2000); Zancanelli v. Central Coal & Coke Co., 25 Wyo. 511, 173 P. 981, 991 (1918). We are charged with discerning the intent of the Constitutional Convention, and we look first to the plain and unambiguous language to discern that intent.” Geringer, 953 P.2d at 843.

Director of the Office of State Lands & Invs., ¶ 33, 70 P.3d at 252;see...

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