Wednesday, September 4, 2019
The Wyoming Supreme Court has dismissed a declaratory judgment action in a case brought against the University of Wyoming by a person charged with criminal trespass under these circumstances
Lyle Williams brought a handgun to the Wyoming Republican Convention at a University of Wyoming (UW) facility, despite a UW regulation barring firearms on the UW campus. He was cited for misdemeanor criminal trespass after he refused to either relinquish his handgun or leave campus. Mr. Williams pleaded not guilty in circuit court, and then obtained a stay of the circuit court criminal proceedings while he filed an action for declaratory judgment in district court. He contended that the regulation violated his right to bear arms under the United States and Wyoming constitutions; and that Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-8-401 (LexisNexis 2017) was not a part of the Wyoming Firearms Freedom Act and, thus, preempted the UW regulation prohibiting firearms on campus. A favorable declaration from the district court, or a favorable decision from this Court, would resolve the matter pending in circuit court.
Justice Fox for the majority
Mr. Williams’ declaratory judgment action is indeed an inappropriate “dress rehearsal” in that the district court issued a decision on “an issue to be tried in the main case.” Heilig, 2003 WY 27, ¶ 10, 64 P.3d at 738. Further, the parties’ factual stipulations in the declaratory judgment action will likely collaterally estop the parties to the criminal case from relitigating those factual issues in circuit court. See id. And, just as in Heilig, Mr. Williams’ declaratory judgment action improperly wrested control of the litigation “from the prosecution in the  criminal case because neither the prosecutor nor [the county] was a party to the [district court] declaratory judgment action.” Id. at ¶ 11, 64 P.3d at 739. We find no support for the district court’s conclusion “that this declaratory judgment proceeding will maintain the integrity and efficiency of the judicial system, discourage redundant actions, and minimize their attendant problems.”
Further, forum shopping is the antithesis of judicial economy.
...We hold the district court abused its discretion in concluding that this declaratory judgment action served a useful purpose and entering declaratory relief. Accordingly, we reverse with instructions to dismiss.
Dissent of Justice Kautz joined by Chief Justice Davis
I cannot agree that the majority’s decision promotes judicial economy or demonstrates necessary judicial restraint. It simply avoids the primary issue and forces additional unnecessary litigation. This Court should consider Mr. Williams’ claims on their merits at some point. I see no reason that should not happen now.