Washakie County School Dist. No. One v. Herschler, No. 5145

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
Writing for the CourtBefore RAPER; RAPER
Citation606 P.2d 310
PartiesWASHAKIE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT NUMBER ONE, Donna Moberly, Mary Jane Schmeltzer, Randall Rideout, Harold McDonald, Harry Ujifusa, Robert Moody and James Argeris, being all of the members of The Board of Trustees of Washakie County School District Number One; Mary Jane Schmeltzer as next friend for Christopher Schmeltzer, Joe Schmeltzer, and Frances Schmelzter, minors; Randall Rideout as next friend for Jason Rideout, Anthony Rideout, and Michael Rideout, minors; Harold McDonald as next friend for Keven McDonald, Keith McDonald, David McDonald, Kenneth McDonald, and Brian McDonald, minors; Harry Ujifusa as next friend for Kelly Ujifusa and Gayle Ujifusa, minors; Robert Moody as next friend for Todd Moody, Sherri Moody, Cindy Moody, John Moody, Al Moody, and Scott Moody, minors; and James Argeris as next friend for Jayme Argeris, Tawn Argeris, and Brett Argeris, minors; Uinta County School District Number Six, G. Grant Redden, Clint Walker, F. Danny Eyre, Donald R. Carroll and Curtis Morgan, being all of the members of The Board of Trustees of Uinta County School District Number Six, * Fremont County School District Number 25, Dennis Tippets, L. J. Geraud, Patricia B. Ferris, Alice Kucera, Stanley Smalley, and Thomas Youtz, being all of the members of The Board of Trustees of Fremont County School District Number Twenty Five, and Albert B. Schultz, Appellants (Plaintiffs), v. Ed HERSCHLER, Governor, State of Wyoming, Lynn Simons, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Shirley Wittler, Wyoming State Treasurer, John Patton, Keith West, Dr. Denis Lyman, Barbara Rogers, Keith Becker, Redell Hooper, Karen Hand, Dr. Donald Blakeslee, Glenn Engleking, being all of the members of the Wyoming State Board of Education, Park County School District Number Sixteen, Campbell County School District Number One, Converse County School District Number One, Hot Springs County School District Number One, Carbon County School District Number Two, Sublette County School District Numbe
Docket NumberNo. 5145
Decision Date15 January 1980

Page 310

606 P.2d 310
WASHAKIE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT NUMBER ONE, Donna Moberly, Mary Jane Schmeltzer, Randall Rideout, Harold McDonald, Harry Ujifusa, Robert Moody and James Argeris, being all of the members of The Board of Trustees of Washakie County School District Number One; Mary Jane Schmeltzer as next friend for Christopher Schmeltzer, Joe Schmeltzer, and Frances Schmelzter, minors; Randall Rideout as next friend for Jason Rideout, Anthony Rideout, and Michael Rideout, minors; Harold McDonald as next friend for Keven McDonald, Keith McDonald, David McDonald, Kenneth McDonald, and Brian McDonald, minors; Harry Ujifusa as next friend for Kelly Ujifusa and Gayle Ujifusa, minors; Robert Moody as next friend for Todd Moody, Sherri Moody, Cindy Moody, John Moody, Al Moody, and Scott Moody, minors; and James Argeris as next friend for Jayme Argeris, Tawn Argeris, and Brett Argeris, minors; Uinta County School District Number Six, G. Grant Redden, Clint Walker, F. Danny Eyre, Donald R. Carroll and Curtis Morgan, being all of the members of The Board of Trustees of Uinta County School District Number Six, * Fremont County School District Number 25, Dennis Tippets, L. J. Geraud, Patricia B. Ferris, Alice Kucera, Stanley Smalley, and Thomas Youtz, being all of the members of The Board of Trustees of Fremont County School District Number Twenty Five, and Albert B. Schultz, Appellants (Plaintiffs),
v.
Ed HERSCHLER, Governor, State of Wyoming, Lynn Simons, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Shirley Wittler, Wyoming State Treasurer, John Patton, Keith West, Dr. Denis Lyman, Barbara Rogers, Keith Becker, Redell Hooper, Karen Hand, Dr. Donald Blakeslee, Glenn Engleking, being all of the members of the Wyoming State Board of Education, Park County School District Number Sixteen, Campbell County School District Number One, Converse County School District Number One, Hot Springs County School District Number One, Carbon County School District Number Two, Sublette County School District Number Nine, Sweetwater County School District Number One, and Lincoln County School District Number One, Appellees (Defendants).
No. 5145.
Supreme Court of Wyoming.
Jan. 15, 1980.
Rehearing Denied Feb. 7, 1980.

Page 314

John W. Davis and Jeffrey A. Donnell, Worland, signed the brief; and Mr. Davis appeared in oral argument on behalf of the appellants.

John D. Troughton, Atty. Gen., Mary B. Guthrie, Asst. Atty. Gen., Lawrence J. Wolfe, Legal Intern, T. Michael Golden, Rawlins, for Carbon County School Dist. No. 2; Ross D. Copenhaver, Powell, for Hot Springs County School Dist. No. 1 and Sublette County School Dist. No. 9; Dennis L. Sanderson, Kemmerer, for Lincoln County School Dist. No. 1; Ford Bussart, Rock Springs, for Sweetwater County School Dist. No. 1; J. Patrick Hand, Douglas, for Converse County School Dist. No. 1; L. B. Cozzens, Cody, for Park County School Dist. No. 16; and Wade Brorby, Gillette, for Campbell County School Dist. No. 1, signed the brief for appellees. Wolfe, Legal Intern, & T. Michael Golden, Rawlins, appeared in oral argument on behalf of appellees.

Before RAPER, C. J., McCLINTOCK, THOMAS, and ROSE, JJ., and HILL, D. J. **

RAPER, Chief Justice.

On June 20, 1978, the appellants brought action under the Wyoming Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act 1 seeking relief from the Wyoming system of financing public education. The appellants described in their complaint the inequities that are resulting from the financing system currently used in this state and asked as relief that the system be declared violative of the Wyoming Constitution. In the latter part of August, 1978, numerous motions to dismiss 2 were filed by the defendants. Memoranda of law were submitted by all parties on the various issues raised in the motions to dismiss. After some intermediate proceedings, the district court entered its order dismissing the complaint on May 4, 1979. The order dismissing the complaint stated no ground upon which it was based. However, a letter from the district court to the parties under date of April 10, 1979, sheds some light on the action:

"I have considered the various memorandums of all counsel previously submitted with regard to the above captioned case and specifically with regard to my prior request that there be considered the possibility of stipulations which would permit the submission of this case to the Wyoming Supreme Court on reserved constitutional questions.

"Counsel have obviously taken the position that they do not desire to cooperate

Page 315

in such an endeavor and since the Court has no ability to require them to do so I can only conclude that we cannot proceed in that manner at this time. I felt that it was important to the citizens of this state and the various school districts that this case be resolved by a final decision of the Supreme Court in the earliest and most economical manner but that obviously is not going to happen.

"Consequently, as I indicated at the oral hearing in Thermopolis, the Court will grant the motions to dismiss. Defendant's counsel are directed to prepare appropriate orders and to submit the same to all counsel for approval and then to the Court for signature and entry.

"I presume that following that, this case could languish on for several appeals and many years before we get any final determination on the merits, for which I am genuinely regretful."

The district court's action in dismissing appears to be antithetical to his expressed hope for an early and economical decision of the case and the avoidance of multiple appeals. As will become evident as this opinion progresses, the district court's action will in fact not serve to delay a substantive decision of this crucial question. We will hold the Wyoming system of school financing unconstitutional in that it fails to afford equal protection in violation of the Wyoming Constitution.

The motions to dismiss were based on several grounds. Essentially they were these:

(1) Appellants' complaint does not state a claim on which relief can be granted.

(2) The appellants' complaint lacks specificity, i. e., it does not specifically identify the statute or statutes which they allege to be in contravention of the constitution but rather merely assert that the "system of financing public education" is in violation of the constitution.

(3) The appellants each lack standing to bring the complaint.

(4) The appellants' action is not a justiciable controversy: The questions presented are political in nature and must be addressed by the legislature rather than the courts.

(5) The appellants' action is defective because they failed to join every taxpayer as a party.

(6) The appellants' action should be dismissed for failure to request a proper remedy.

Since the appellees asserted these numerous grounds as bases for dismissal in the district court and since the district court did not specify on which ground or grounds he based his grant of dismissal, we will address each of these issues serially, giving to each a brief but clearly defined answer, before proceeding to the principal question raised by this appeal i. e., is the Wyoming system of financing public education in violation of the Wyoming Constitution? As the momentum of the opinion accelerates, these preliminary questions will fade from sight as superficial.

Appellees assert that the appellants' complaint does not state a claim on which relief can be granted. The appellants are claiming that under the Wyoming Constitution they have a right to a school financing system that provides a relatively uniform amount of money on an annual per-pupil basis to each of the Wyoming school districts, 3 i. e., they are entitled to an equal educational opportunity. Further they claim that under the financing system which has been established by the legislature they are denied such an equal educational opportunity. Wyoming has adopted the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act, supra. It is evident from a reading of that

Page 316

Act and the case law interpreting it that the instant action was properly brought under the auspices of that legislation. The appellants seek a determination of their rights and status under the constitution and statutes of this state. 4 We will not deny the direction of the Act that it be liberally construed and administered, particularly when there is a question of great public importance as is the one before us. Brimmer v. Thomson, Wyo. 1974, 521 P.2d 574. Those statutes empower the courts to grant relief of a declaratory nature. We can only conclude that the appellants' complaint states a claim on which relief can be granted.

Appellees assert that the complaint lacks specificity in that it fails to enumerate the statutes which it claims to be in violation of the Wyoming Constitution in that appellants contented themselves with stating merely that the "system" of financing public education is in violation of the constitution. Although it certainly may have been better had the appellants been more detailed in their allegations, we cannot conclude that the complaint was so deficient as to require dismissal, particularly since we do not intend to be as specific in our disposition as appellees might wish. Whether the specificity standard has been satisfied is to be determined in terms of whether the pleadings give fair notice to the opposing party. Harris v. Grizzle, Wyo.1979, 599 P.2d 580. We cannot ignore that appellees demonstrated from the very beginning their complete understanding of the statutes that appellants complained of and how those statutes contributed to the ailments described in the complaint. We can only conclude that the appellants' use of the language "system" of financing public education, under the special and unique circumstances of this case, was as plain and clear a reference to statutes as if they had cited them by chapter and section numbers. We have no problem locating the pertinent constitutional provisions...

To continue reading

Request your trial
163 practice notes
  • Gannon v. State, No. 113,267
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • March 2, 2017
    ...duty to uphold and implement the New Hampshire Constitution...."); 390 P.3d 485Washakie County School Dist. No. One v. Herschler , 606 P.2d 310, 319 (Wyo. 1980) ("Though the supreme court has the duty to give great deference to legislative pronouncements and to uphold constitution......
  • William Penn Sch. Dist. v. Pa. Dep't of Educ., No. 46 MAP 2015.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • September 28, 2017
    ...whether the financing of such a system is ‘thorough and efficient.’ "). But see, e.g., Washakie Cnty. Sch. Dist. No. 1 v. Herschler, 606 P.2d 310, 333–35 (Wyo. 1980) (expressing that because education is a fundamental right under the state constitution, the government's funding scheme ......
  • Cathcart v. Meyer, No. 04-32
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • May 4, 2004
    ...of Revenue and Taxation of State of Wyoming, 770 P.2d 223, 226 (Wyo.1989) and Washakie County School District Number One v. Herschler, 606 P.2d 310, 316 "The doctrine of standing is a jurisprudential rule of jurisdictional magnitude. At its most elementary level, the standing doctrine ......
  • Richards v. League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), No. D-2197
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • October 6, 1993
    ...context of public elementary and secondary school education as a fundamental right, see Washakie County School Dist. No. 1 v. Herschler, 606 P.2d 310, 334 (Wyo.1980); Crawford v. Bd. of Education, 17 Cal.3d 280, 295, 130 Cal.Rptr. 724, 734-35, 551 P.2d 28, 38-39 (1976); Serrano v. Priest, 5......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
161 cases
  • Gannon v. State, No. 113,267
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • March 2, 2017
    ...duty to uphold and implement the New Hampshire Constitution...."); 390 P.3d 485Washakie County School Dist. No. One v. Herschler , 606 P.2d 310, 319 (Wyo. 1980) ("Though the supreme court has the duty to give great deference to legislative pronouncements and to uphold constitution......
  • William Penn Sch. Dist. v. Pa. Dep't of Educ., No. 46 MAP 2015.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • September 28, 2017
    ...whether the financing of such a system is ‘thorough and efficient.’ "). But see, e.g., Washakie Cnty. Sch. Dist. No. 1 v. Herschler, 606 P.2d 310, 333–35 (Wyo. 1980) (expressing that because education is a fundamental right under the state constitution, the government's funding scheme ......
  • Cathcart v. Meyer, No. 04-32
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • May 4, 2004
    ...of Revenue and Taxation of State of Wyoming, 770 P.2d 223, 226 (Wyo.1989) and Washakie County School District Number One v. Herschler, 606 P.2d 310, 316 "The doctrine of standing is a jurisprudential rule of jurisdictional magnitude. At its most elementary level, the standing doctrine ......
  • Richards v. League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), No. D-2197
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • October 6, 1993
    ...context of public elementary and secondary school education as a fundamental right, see Washakie County School Dist. No. 1 v. Herschler, 606 P.2d 310, 334 (Wyo.1980); Crawford v. Bd. of Education, 17 Cal.3d 280, 295, 130 Cal.Rptr. 724, 734-35, 551 P.2d 28, 38-39 (1976); Serrano v. Priest, 5......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • GLIMPSES OF REPRESENTATION-REINFORCEMENT IN STATE COURTS.
    • United States
    • Constitutional Commentary Vol. 36 Nbr. 2, September 2021
    • September 22, 2021
    ...require that Ihe stale provide substantially equal educational opportunity to all students); Washakie Cnty. Sch. Dist. No. 1 v. Hcrschler, 606 P.2d 310 (Wyo. 1980) (striking down Wyoming's property-tax based system that results in low-wealth districts receiving less revenue per student than......

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