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Judge dismisses part of Evanston gun policy lawsuit

By Sheila McGuire

Uinta County Herald

Via- Wyoming News Exchange

EVANSTON — The lawsuit against Uinta County School District No. 1 regarding the district’s concealed carry rule, Rule CKA, will be allowed to continue. A ruling issued by Judge Steven K. Sharpe on Nov. 27 granted in part and denied in part the district’s motion to dismiss the suit.

On Aug. 26, the first day of the 2019-20 school year, plaintiffs Tim and Katie Beppler, Nathan Prete and Tiffany Eskelson-Maestas filed suit against the district over the concealed carry rule asking for injunctive relief based on four counts. Court documents filed in the case showed plaintiffs claimed the rule was in violation of the Wyoming Constitution because it violated the equal protection rights of students and parents who don’t want to be educated in the presence of firearms and was additionally in violation of the enabling statute, W.S. 21-3-132, because it failed to establish instructor qualifications.

Additionally, plaintiffs claimed the rule was arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion and that the district failed to follow procedures that are legally required under the Wyoming Administrative Procedures Act (WAPA).

In response, the district filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, claiming the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction in the case because a petition for review should have been filed within 30 days of the school board’s decision to adopt the rule in April of this year. To date, no petition for review has been filed at all.

The district further claimed the constitutionality of the rule couldn’t be challenged without also challenging the enabling statute itself, which would necessitate legal proceedings against the state law rather than the district rule.

A hearing was held on Oct. 22, during which Sharpe, of First District Court in Laramie, heard oral arguments from lawyers Sharon Rose and Michael Rollin, representing the plaintiffs, as well as district legal counsel Geoff Phillips.

In the ruling issued last week, Sharpe granted the district’s motion to dismiss on two of the counts in the plaintiffs’ complaint — those claiming the rule was arbitrary and capricious and that the district failed to follow WAPA requirements — agreeing that a petition for review on those issues should have been filed in accordance with state law. Both counts were dismissed with prejudice.

However, Sharpe denied the district’s motion to dismiss on the counts related to constitutionality of the rule and a possible violation of the enabling statute, finding the court does have jurisdiction to consider those claims for declaratory and injunctive relief.

Further arguments will therefore be scheduled to consider those counts. In addition, the plaintiffs may decide to appeal Sharpe’s decision on the other two counts to the Wyoming Supreme Court.

In a blow to the plaintiffs, Sharpe denied a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the district, which would have prevented implementation of the rule as the case continues to make its way through the courts.

The court found the plaintiffs based their motion for a restraining order entirely on the counts related to the arbitrary and capricious nature of the rule and the failure to follow WAPA requirements. As Sharpe dismissed both of those counts, the court ruled the motion was denied as moot.

The district may continue to allow armed staff in Evanston schools as both sides continue to argue their case.