Friday, December 19, 2008

Summary 2008 WY 152

Summary of Decision issued December 19, 2008

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

Case Name: Sublette Cty. Sch. Dist. #9 et al v. McBride State Superintendent of Pub. Instruction

Citation: 2008 WY 152

Docket Number: S-08-0073

W.R.A.P. 11 Certified Questions from the District Court of Sublette County, the Honorable Nancy J. Guthrie, Judge.

Representing Appellant Schools: Mark W. Gifford and Kelley A. Anderson of Law Offices of Gifford & Brinkerhoff, Casper, Wyoming, for Sublette School District #1; Tracy J. Copenhaver of Copenhaver, Kath, Kitchen & Kolpitcke, LLC, Powell, Wyoming for Sublette School District #9 and Lincoln County #1; Ford T. Bussart of Bussart, West & Tyler, PC, Rock Springs, Wyoming, for Campbell School #1; Joel M. Vincent of Vincent & Vincent, Riverton, Wyoming, for Fremont School District #24.

Representing Appellee: Bruce A. Salzburg, Wyoming Attorney General; Michael R. O’Donnell, State’s School Finance Counsel, Special Assistant Attorney General.

Certified Questions: Is Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 21-13-102(c) unconstitutional in light of the amendment to Article 15, Section 17 of the Wyoming Constitution? Do ex post facto principles impact the Wyoming Department of Education’s calculation of rebated revenue if the districts have encumbered, obligated or spent any of the funds sought by the Department?

The issue that first must be determined is whether the 2006 Amendment was impliedly repealed by Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 21-13-102(c). If the Amendment was impliedly repealed then the district may well be required to rebate to the Department one hundred percent of the difference between their local funding revenues and the statewide average revenues for the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 fiscal years as opposed to the historical amount of seventy-five percent. If it was not repealed then the five school districts are obligated only to rebate the traditional seventy-five percent rebate for those two years and may retain the remaining twenty-five percent, which roughly translates into a collective dispute over $97,550,113.36.
There is no express clear abrogation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 21-13-102(c). It was necessary for the Court to decide if there was an obvious, clear, and strong conflict between the 2006 Amendment and § 21-13-102(c) in effect at that time. After review, the Court determined that the provisions of the pre-existing statute were not inconsistent with the subsequent constitutional amendment, so there was no basis on which to declare the statute impliedly repealed. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 21-13-102(c) remained in effect until the Legislature expressly repealed the statue in 2008.
The five appellant school districts also asked the Court to go one step further in declaring that § 21-13-102(c) did not create unconstitutional, wealth-based disparities in the amount of education funding distributed by the State, even with the seventy-five percent cap. The districts argued that unconstitutional inequality was related solely to funding levels that primarily or predominantly depend upon local wealth as opposed to funding levels that simply permit educational enhancements based on local wealth. The Court has never directly considered the constitutionality of the seventy-five percent rebate limit. Previous comments were a neutral observation of the fact that under prior legislation, excess rebate funds could be recaptured by the school districts as a possible source of funding for local enhancements.

Conclusion: The Court concluded that the 2006 Amendment to Wyoming Constitution, Article 15, Section 17, did not impliedly repeal Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 21-13-102(c). That statute remained in effect until its express repeal in 2008, and the seventy-five percent limit on the special school district property tax rebate imposed by § 21-13-102(c) remained in place for the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 fiscal years for all Wyoming school districts. Accordingly, the five Appellant school districts were entitled to recapture any rebate amounts in excess of the seventy-five percent cap and are not now obligated to pay those sums over to the Department. Having so concluded, the Court declined to make any determination on the constitutionality of the now-repealed seventy-five percent cap. Finally, the determination that Appellants are entitled to retain their excess local funds for 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 moots the second certified question.
The answer to the District Court’s first Certified Question was “yes” in the sense that § 21-13-102(c) was not impliedly repealed by the 2006 Amendment.


D.J. Donnell delivered the decision.

Link: .

[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.]

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