Friday, December 22, 2006

Summary 2006 WY 158

Summary of Decision issued December 20, 2006

[SPECIAL NOTE: This opinion uses the "Universal Citation." It was given an "official" citation when it was issued. You should use this citation whenever you cite the opinion, with a P.3d parallel citation. Please note when you look at the opinion that all of the paragraphs are numbered. When you pinpoint cite to a quote, you should cite to this paragraph number rather than to any page number. If you need assistance in putting together a citation using the Universal Citation form, please contact the Wyoming State Law Library.]

Summaries are prepared by Law Librarians and are not official statements of the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Case Name: Haney v. Cribbs and DRM, Inc.

Citation: 2006 WY 158

Docket Number: 05-279 & 06-69

Appeal from the District Court of Campbell County, the Honorable John Perry, Judge

Representing Appellants (Plaintiffs): Jeremy D. Michaels of Michaels & Michaels, P.C., Gillette, Wyoming; and Heather Noble, Jackson, Wyoming.

Representing Appellees (Defendants): Patrick J. Murphy and Michael J. Lansing of Williams, Porter, Day & Neville, P.C., Casper, Wyoming.

Issue: Case No. 05-279: In a case involving personal injuries to an employee covered by worker’s compensation against third party tortfeasors where notice to the State of Wyoming is required under W.S. § 27-14-105(b), did the district court err in dismissing the case when the State received a copy of the complaint by regular mail, rather than certified mail return receipt requested. Case No. 06-69: The certified questions to be answered were: Does the savings statute, Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-3-118, apply to allow a plaintiff to refile a personal injury case which was filed within the time afforded by Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-3-105(a)(iv)(c) (for 4 years) of the accident, but which was eventually dismissed without prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, where the action is refiled within one year of the dismissal of the original action but not within four years of the date of the action causing the injury. Rule 3(a) of the Wyoming Rules of Civil Procedure states that “[a] civil action is commenced by filing a complaint with the court.” For the purposes of invoking the savings statute, is a lawsuit “commenced” by mere filing, even where, as here, a court does not have subject matter jurisdiction within the statutory period for the bringing of the action.

Holding: In June 2001, RaNaye Haney (RH) was struck from the rear while driving a City of Gillette garbage truck by a truck driven by an employee of DRM. She received worker’s compensation benefits. Days before the statute of limitations expired in 2005, the Haneys filed a complaint against DRM seeking to recover all damages suffered in the accident. The district court dismissed the complaint because it was served on the Wyoming Attorney General and the Director of the Wyoming Department of Employment by regular U.S. mail rather than by certified mail return receipt requested. The Haneys later filed a renewed and identical complaint and properly served on it on the attorney general and the director. The Haneys then urged the district court to submit two certified questions to the Court which are Case No. 06-69.

Case No. 05-279 Standard of Review: The district court ruled as a matter of law that the Haneys’ complaint should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Court reviews a question of law de novo.
Was Actual Receipt of Notice of the Lawsuit Adequate in Light of the State’s Interest in this Litigation? The legislature’s decision to require that service be accomplished by certified mail on the attorney general and the department is not designed to protect torfeasors from suit by an injured employee but to protect the State’s interest in its share of any recovery. In Terex, the Court decided that although § 27-14-105(b) imposed no time limit in which service had to be accomplished, a reasonable time needed to be prescribed. The Court turned to W.R.C.P.3(a) and concluded that such service must be achieved within sixty days of the filing of the complaint. Under Terex, the instant action was not deemed commenced until service was actually perfected. Service was not perfected until after the expiration of the statute of limitations and therefore, the action was barred by the statute of limitations. The Court declined to treat the notices at issue as “substantial compliance.”
Case No. 06-69: (Certified Questions) Whether Wyoming’s savings statute operated to “save” the Haneys refiled complaint from being dismissed. The complaint was refiled on October 31, 2005 and thereafter properly served on the attorney general and the department. If the savings statute does apply, the Haneys had one year in which to commence a new action. That year began to run from the date on which the district court dismissed their original action (October 26, 2005.) The action commenced on October 31, 2005 readily meets that deadline. The Haney’s action was filed in due time. And it failed other than “on the merits.” Relying on their opinions in Clause and Hoke, the Court stated the Haneys may commence a new action within one year after the date of the failure of their original action. In Hoke the Court concluded that the benefits of the savings statute did not rescue Hoke from her plight, but the Court did so for reasons that were not applicable to the Haneys’ circumstances. The instant case differs from Hoke and Rosa in that all parties entitled to notice of the lawsuit were given ample notice of it. The pivotal difference is that the district court had jurisdiction of the case art the time the case was field. Section 27-14-105(b) is unambiguous in its language that “service of the complaint on the director and attorney general is a jurisdictional requirement in order to maintain the suit.” The Court stated the jurisdictional issue in the instant case was not traditional subject matter jurisdiction nor was it one of personal jurisdiction. The Court noted that the service rules only speak in terms of service on a defendant and in this action, the State was not a defendant. The savings statute does allow a plaintiff to refile a personal injury case which was filed within the time afforded by Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-3-105(a)(iv)(C) of the accident, but which was eventually dismissed without prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, because of restrictions found in § 27-14-105(b), where the action is refiled within one year of the dismissal of the original action. The Court stated it was unnecessary for them to answer the second certified question. The matter was remanded to the district court for further proceedings.


J. Hill delivered the opinion and answer.

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