Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Summary 2013 WY 65

Summary of Decision May 24, 2013

Justice Hill delivered the opinion for the Court. Affirmed.


Docket Number: S-12-0202

URL: http://www.courts.state.wy.us/Opinions.aspx

Appeal from the District Court of Natrona County, the Honorable David B. Park, Judge

Representing Appellants: Ann Rochelle, of Rochelle Law Offices, P.C., Casper, WY.

Representing Appellees: William W. Harden, Casper, WY for Appellee Lankford; and Judith A. W. Studer, Carissa D. Mobley, and Marty L. Oblasser of Schwartz, Bon, Walker & Studer, LLC; Casper, WY for Appellee Hanks. Argument by Mr. Harden and Ms. Oblasser.

Guardian ad Litem: Larry Middaugh, Casper, WY.

Representing the Attorney General of the State of Wyoming as Amicus Curiae: Gregory A. Phillips, Wyoming Attorney General; Robin Sessions Cooley, Deputy Attorney General; and Travis J. Kirchhefer, Senior Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Mr. Kirchhefer.

Date of Decision: May 24, 2013

Facts: Maureen Utley (Utley) and Norma Ballweg (Ballweg) (collectively Petitioners) petitioned to be appointed permanent guardians of their elderly uncle, Thomas Lankford. The district court dismissed the guardianship petition after finding Petitioners were not qualified to serve as guardians because their potential to inherit from Lankford created a disqualifying conflict of interest. On appeal, Petitioners contend that the district court erred in finding a conflict of interest. In the alternative, they assert that the guardianship conflict waiver statute, which allows a court to waive conflicts but limits that authority to conflicts of a spouse, adult child, parent, or sibling of a ward, violates their due process and equal protection rights.

Issues: Petitioners present the following issues on appeal: Issue No. One: Statute: Did Appellants have “interests that may conflict” with those of the ward “during the guardianship period” simply because Appellants were nieces and potential beneficiaries of the ward’s Will such that they were precluded from serving as guardians for their Uncle? Issue No. Two: Due Process: Can the State, consistently with due process requirements under the U.S. Constitution and the Wyoming Constitution, irrebuttably presume under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 3-2-107 that all persons other than a “spouse, adult child, parent or sibling” have a conflict of interest with the ward without allowing those persons to provide individualized proof that they are competent to serve as guardian for their relative or individualized proof that the conflict is insubstantial? Issue No. Three: Equal Protection: Why should the interests of a “spouse, adult child, parent or sibling” be subject to the statutory exception under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 3-2-107(b) allowing for a hearing, but not those of nieces, nephews, cousins, and other relatives? Is Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 3-2-107 violative of equal protection under the U.S. Constitution and the Wyoming Constitution?

Holdings: The district court did not err in finding that Petitioners had a conflict of interest that disqualified them from serving as Lankford’s guardians, and we do not address Petitioners’ constitutional claims. Affirmed.

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

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