The Wyoming Supreme Court building at 2301 Capitol Ave. in Cheyenne. WTE/file

CHEYENNE – The Wyoming Supreme Court has reversed a decision by Laramie County District Court Judge Thomas Campbell concerning the appointment of an estate administrator in a federal civil rights claim against the city of Cheyenne.

Andrew Johnson filed a federal civil rights claim against the city of Cheyenne and several police officers for wrongful conviction and imprisonment after he was deemed innocent regarding a burglary in 1989 in which he was arrested.

For this case, the Supreme Court examined the issues of “did the probate court err in finding that the state of Wyoming had standing to object to the appointment of an administrator for Georgie W. Stanford’s estate.”

The Supreme Court found that the state didn’t have standing to object to the estate appointment, and, because of this, the probate court inappropriately ruled on the merits of the state’s objection. Similarly, the Supreme Court didn’t rule on whether the administrator appointment was valid because of the dismissal after the objection.

“The probate code limits the persons who have standing to contest the appointment of an administrator,” the Supreme Court opinion stated. “Because the state did not meet the probate code requirements for the standing, the district court should have dismissed the state’s objection for failure to state a claim.”

According to the Supreme Court opinion:

In 2013, DNA evidence proved Johnson’s innocence, his conviction was vacated, and he was given an order of actual innocence. On April 17, 2017, he filed a lawsuit against Cheyenne and city police for civil rights violations concerning the investigation and prosecution of the case.

One of the detectives in the case, George W. Stanford, died in 2007, and in order to go forward with a case, Johnson had to file a petition in probate court to get an appointment for an estate administrator for Stanford. The probate court appointed an administrator, but a short time later, the state filed a document titled “Objections of the State of Wyoming to the Appointment of an Administrator for the Above-Captioned Estate.”

On Oct. 15, 2018, the probate court vacated the appointment and closed the estate – which the Supreme Court ultimately reversed.

In a separate case, the Supreme Court affirmed a decision by Laramie County District Judge Steven K. Sharpe to deny a workers’ compensation claim.

The court examined two issues: whether the Office of Administrative Hearings correctly calculated the workers’ compensation limitation period, and if substantial evidence supports the conclusion of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, Workers’ Compensation Division that Margarito Camacho failed to prove the 2011 injury is the reason he can’t work.

On Oct. 14, 2011, Camacho injured his back while working for Lowe’s in Cheyenne when he was lifting a heavy item. The department originally said his injury was worthy of compensation and opened a case.

Though later on, Camacho applied for permanent benefits, which was denied due to his extensive medical history detailing lower back pain before his 2011 injury.

Several doctors evaluated Camacho and said his back pain doesn’t warrant surgery and his descriptions of back pain go beyond any medical findings, according to court documents. Another doctor noted that Camacho had visited the emergency room 26 times since 2006 for lower back pain before the Oct. 14, 2011, injury.

Doctors said because it appears the pain is a preexisting condition, they only gave him a zero to 6% impairment rating, according to the opinion.

The Supreme Court found the department accurately calculated the limitation period for Camacho’s temporary benefits, and there is substantial evidence to support the department’s conclusion that Camacho’s 2011 injury was the cause of his inability go back to work.

Isabella Alves is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s criminal justice reporter. She can be reached at ialves@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3128. Follow her on Twitter @IsabellaAlves96.

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