CHEYENNE – The Wyoming Supreme Court has ruled that a local attorney didn’t commit malpractice when she failed to meet a filing deadline for her client, which caused them to be denied a termination hearing.
Attorney Gay Woodhouse, of Woodhouse Roden Nethercott LLC, was retained by Thomas Scranton, a former city of Cheyenne employee, to appeal his termination in 2016. When he was fired, Scranton had 15 days to request a hearing to contest his termination.
Woodhouse was responsible for filing this request and missed the 15-day deadline. Therefore, Scranton was denied a hearing in front of the Personnel Commission, and then, later, he was denied this hearing again by Laramie County District Court judicial review.
For the appeal, the Supreme Court examined if expert testimony was necessary to prove that Woodhouse’s malpractice caused Scranton’s injuries, if the malpractice was the cause of Scranton’s injuries, and if there was a genuine issue of material facts in the case.
The high court affirmed District Judge John Fenn’s summary judgment in favor of Woodhouse that she didn’t commit malpractice against Scranton. Fenn, who serves the Fourth Judicial District in Sheridan, was presiding over the case in place of any of the Laramie County judges.
In August 2018, Scranton filed a complaint against Woodhouse and her law firm for malpractice due to Woodhouse’s late filing, causing him to miss the opportunity for a hearing in front of the Personnel Commission.
Scranton said as a result of Woodhouse’s alleged malpractice, he was “denied the chance to be reinstated” and lost $571,800 in wages in benefits. Woodhouse admitted that by failing to meet the filing deadline, her actions were below the standard of care, but weren’t malpractice.
The high court ruled that Scranton failed to show that there was an issue of material fact in his case. The Supreme Court also stated that in order to win a malpractice case, someone must show that the damages they’re facing are a direct result of the attorney’s actions, which isn’t the case for Scranton.
By the time Woodhouse was retained, there was already a thorough investigation against Scranton conducted by the city of Cheyenne. The investigation concluded that Scranton used profane language, demeaned female staff, described a sexual dream about a female employee in the workplace, gave the city incorrect information about his education, and he accepted a promotion and pay raise without doing the required job duties.
Woodhouse said based on this information, even if she had filed the hearing request on time, she could conclude “with a reasonably degree of certainty,” that Scranton wouldn’t have be reinstated with the city.
“Mr. Scranton hired me to file an appeal of his dismissal from employment by the city of Cheyenne, and by mailing, rather than hand delivering, the notice of appeal, I missed the deadline. It is something I regret and have taken steps to avoid in the future,” Woodhouse said in a statement submitted online to the WTE. “However, as the case developed, it became apparent that due to Mr. Scranton’s own conduct and decisions, he no doubt would not have been reinstated in his position with the city.”
She said it’s a relief to her the case was ruled in her favor in the Supreme Court, as it was in the district court, and she believes it leaves Scranton in the same position that he would have been if he had had his termination hearing.
The high court also agreed that even if Woodhouse had filed the request on time, Scranton wouldn’t have been reinstated. Furthermore, Scranton’s damages from losing his job weren’t caused by Woodhouse, and he failed to present evidence that her actions caused him damage.
In addition, the Supreme Court stated that it’s not contested that Scranton put inaccurate information on his job application to the city of Cheyenne and didn’t disclose that he was fired from past jobs when the city requested this information on his application. For this reason alone, the city of Cheyenne would have had an “after-acquired evidence defense” against Scranton that could prevent him from recovering damages.