CHEYENNE — The Wyoming Supreme Court officially ended a lawsuit against several prominent state officials on Tuesday, Jan. 30, deciding that a Uinta County resident and a former Casper lawmaker don’t have the legal authority to sue state officials over the $300 million Capitol renovation project.
The state high court decision came after Laramie County District Judge Catherine Rogers found in 2017 that former Casper Rep. Gerald Gay and Uinta County resident Karl Allred didn’t have standing – the legal ability to bring a lawsuit in connection with a certain law or statute – in the case.
“I appreciate the good work of the Attorney General representing the State. I was pleased to see the Wyoming Supreme Court’s decision affirming the District Court,” Gov. Matt Mead wrote in a prepared statement.
Mead and other state officials, including the Senate president and speaker of the House, were listed as defendants in the lawsuit.
The complaint alleged that the parties subverted the state Constitution when awarding contracts for the Capitol and Herschler Building renovations and appointing a Capitol Building Restoration Oversight Group.
Justice Kate Fox wrote in the majority opinion that the Supreme Court would not make a constitutional finding on the contracting process, since they found no standing for either person to sue state leaders.
In oral arguments last fall, Cheyenne attorney Drake Hill maintained that Allred’s interest as a Wyoming taxpayer gave him the ability to sue in order to keep state leaders in check.
But “although appellants argued in their brief and at oral argument that they had standing as taxpayers … the word ‘taxpayer’ does not appear in the amended complaint,” Fox wrote in her opinion.
Even if their taxpayer status were considered, the plaintiffs would have likely had to prove that they were “tangibly” harmed or affected by the action.
Allred said he thought the decision could have a negative impact for citizens in the future.
“They have stripped us of our basic rights … to sue for a redress of our grievances,” he said.
As for the former Casper lawmaker, Fox wrote Gay’s “personal disappointment in the actions of the Legislature does not provide him a special right to act.”
Gay said Tuesday that he was “disappointed” in the court’s decision.
“In this decision, they’re essentially saying that a seated, elected legislator doesn’t have standing in this case … this is, in my opinion, a ludicrous decision,’” he said.
Allred said he was frustrated that the court wouldn’t make a decision on the constitutionality of the process.
“The court should at least hear the case … they’re just saying that you don’t have a right to question the government,” he said.
But Justice Keith Kautz wrote in a concurring opinion that bypassing the process that determines standing would violate the separation of powers.
“This approach suggests that the constitutional limits on judicial authority and standing requirements should be ignored or dispensed with when they become obstacles to judicial review,” Kautz wrote.
This likely won’t be the last time the court makes a decision on the Capitol renovation project, however.
Last year, the Wyoming Supreme Court heard arguments in a different lawsuit alleging that the Capitol reconstruction project subverted the Wyoming treasurer’s authority to approve contracts.