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Citation: 2007 WY 166
Docket Number: 06-159
Appeal from the
Representing Appellants (Plaintiffs): Bruce S. Asay of Associated Legal Group, LLC,
Representing Appellees (Defendants): David Evans and Brandi L. Monger of Hickey & Evans, LLP,
Issues: Whether the district court erred in holding that a termination without notice and a hearing was compliant with the due process procedures required in 42 USC § 1983. Whether the district court erred in dismissing Appellants’ claim for breach of contract. Whether the district court erred in dismissing Appellants’ claim for Title VII sexual discrimination. Whether the summary judgment motions were deemed denied pursuant to Rule 6(c)(2) of the Wyoming Rules of Civil Procedure after 90 days. Whether the court should recognize the importance of prior precedence in a companion case with exactly the same legal and factual basis. Whether the court’s findings were contrary to the evidence. Whether the district court erred in granting summary judgment on Appellants’ claim for breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing. Whether the district court erred in finding the plaintiffs were terminated on a day other than when they were fired.
Facts/Discussion: Appellants appeal from an order granting summary judgment to Laramie County School District No. 1 (LCSD) on their claims for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, violation of 42 USC § 1983 and sex discrimination in violation of 42 USC § 2000(e)(2).Standard of Review: When reviewing an order granting summary judgment, the Court considers the record de novo.
Jurisdiction: Relief was sought under W.R.A.P. 2.01 within the 15 days provided. The question is whether Appellants made a showing o excusable neglect. The Court was unable to find from the facts that the district court abused its discretion in granting the extension. LCSD’s counsel could not verify that he sent a copy of the order to Appellants’ counsel as required. The hearing on the motion for reconsideration was originally scheduled within the 30 days for filing a notice of appeal. A reasonable inference can be made that if the hearing had been held as scheduled, Appellants’ counsel would have realized then that the order had been entered and filed a notice of appeal and no extension would have been necessary. Instead, LCSD’s counsel asked for a continuance and the hearing was rescheduled for June 7, past the 30 day period for filing a notice of appeal. Upon realizing the district court had entered an order, Appellants’ counsel requested an extension of time to file a notice of appeal. The request was made within the 15 days provided for in Rule 2.01. Given Appellants’ counsel’s claim that he did not receive notice of the summary judgment order and LCSD’s inability to verify that it forwarded him a copy, the district court reasonably could have concluded excusable neglect was shown as required by Rule 2.01. The district court did not abuse its discretion in granting the 15 day extension.
Due Process: To establish a 42 USC § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate that he has been deprived of a right secured by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, and that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. Before considering the due process claim in light of
Breach of Contract: The language in Article 20.5 of the LCSD employee contract conflicted with that of Article 16.1. The Appellants’ employment agreement did not contain clear language that required discharged employees to file a grievance, or comply with grievance procedures or be barred from judicial relief. The Court held that Appellants’ failure to file a grievance did not preclude them from filing a breach of contract claim in court.
Sex Discrimination: The Court agreed with the district court’s conclusion that the Appellants’ assertions did not establish a genuine issue of material fact on their Title VII claim.
Deemed Denied: The deemed denied rule applies to post trial motions not ruled upon within 90 days of filing. The lapse of 90 days from the filing of a summary judgment motion does not deprive the district court of jurisdiction to decide the motion. The Court held that the district court retained jurisdiction to enter its summary judgment order after 90 days had expired.
Federal Court Ruling: Appellants’ contention that the state district court was bound by the federal court decision in Titus was without merit. The Court stated that while they consider relevant federal precedent, they are not bound by it.
Specific District Court Finding: The Court’s holding that genuine issues of material fact exist for trial meant the parties would have the opportunity to present evidence on the issue.
Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing: The WGCA provides immunity for actions of governmental entities. The WGCA does not except this tort from the general rule of immunity. LCSD has immunity from the claim unless, as Appellants maintain, it waived its immunity in accordance with Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-39-118(b) (LexisNexis 2007) by purchasing insurance coverage for employment claims. Selected provisions of the insurance policy were contained in the record. Assuming there was no other provision in the policy to the contrary, the insurance policy did not cover liability for the Appellants’ claims and did not waive LCSD’s immunity from their claims.
Holding: Genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether the Appellants were denied notice and a meaningful pre-termination hearing as required by due process. Therefore, the Court reversed the district court’s summary judgment ruling on their § 1983 claim. The Court also reversed the district court’s order on the breach of contract claim because they concluded as a matter of law the employment agreement did not require Appellants to file a grievance after they were terminated.
No genuine issues of material fact existed on the Appellants’ sex discrimination / hostile work environment claim and the Court affirmed the summary judgment on their Title VII claim. The Court also affirmed the summary judgment on their claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing because, from the record, it appeared LCSD was immune from liability.
Affirmed in part and reversed in part.
J. Kite delivered the opinion.
Link: http://tinyurl.com/2uuvcx .