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Wood v. Wasco County

Court of Appeals of Oregon

September 19, 2018

John L. WOOD, an individual, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
WASCO COUNTY, political subdivision of the State of Oregon; Scott Hege; Steve Kramer; and Rod Runyon, each in their individual and official capacities as members of the Board of County Commissioners of Wasco County, Oregon, Defendants-Respondents.

          Argued and Submitted January 30, 2017.

          Wasco County Circuit Court 1500040CC; Karen Ostrye, Judge.

          Andrew J. Myers argued the cause for appellant. Also on the briefs was Peachey & Myers, P.C.

          Kristen A. Campbell argued the cause for respondents. Also on the brief was Timmons Law PC.

          Before DeVore, Presiding Judge, and Garrett, Judge, and Powers, Judge. [*]

         Case Summary: In this case brought under Oregon's Public Meetings Law, ORS 192.610 to 192.695, plaintiff challenges the grant of summary judgment to defendants, arguing that the trial court erred in concluding that the case was moot and that it was not likely to evade review in the future. Held: Once the board rescinded the challenged decision, the only nonspeculative relief requested by plaintiff that was based on present facts had been rendered moot. However, the trial court erred in entering judgment in defendants' favor when the case was moot.

         Vacated and remanded with instructions to enter a judgment of dismissal.

         [294 Or.App. 156] POWERS, J.

         In this case brought under Oregon's Public Meetings Law, ORS 192.610 to 192.695, plaintiff challenges the grant of summary judgment to Wasco County, Scott Hege, Steve Kramer, and Rod Runyon, individually and in their capacities as members of the Board of County Commissioners of Wasco County (collectively "defendants"), arguing that the trial court erred in concluding that the case was moot and that it was not likely to evade review in the future. We conclude that, after Wasco County rescinded the challenged decision, the case was moot and that there is nothing about this case that suggests a similar decision by the county would evade review or terminate before it could be fully adjudicated. Finally, although we agree with the trial court's conclusion that the case was moot, we conclude that the trial court erred by entering a judgment in favor of defendants after concluding that the case was moot rather than entering a judgment of dismissal. Accordingly, we vacate and remand with instructions to enter a judgment of dismissal.

         The relevant facts are few and undisputed. In 2013, Wasco County entered into an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with Sherman County and Gilliam County to form the North Central Public Health District (NCPHD). In December 2014, the Board of County Commissioners of Wasco County held its regularly scheduled meeting, which included an item on the agenda related to a quarterly report about the county's participation in NCPHD. At that meeting, the board discussed the report, and the presenter representing NCPHD left the meeting. After the board discussed some unrelated items, one of the commissioners made a motion to give notice of Wasco County's intent to withdraw from NCPHD and to not sign a renewal IGA for NCPHD. The commissioners voted unanimously in favor of that motion.

         In February 2015, plaintiff initiated this action, alleging that defendants violated Oregon's Public Meetings Law by voting to withdraw from NCPHD. Specifically, plaintiff alleged that, in violation of the public meetings law, the agenda for the December 2014 meeting did not [294 Or.App. 157] include an item regarding the withdrawal from NCPHD and that defendants communicated privately outside of a public meeting on the decision to withdraw from NCPHD. Plaintiff's prayer for relief asked the court (1) to declare void the county's decision to give notice of its intent to withdraw; (2) for attorney fees and costs, and (3) "[f]or such other further relief as the court deems equitable and just to assure conformance of Defendants with Oregon's public meeting laws."

         Five days after plaintiff filed his complaint, the board held a meeting that included on its agenda the issue of the county's participation in NCPHD. At that meeting, the commissioners voted unanimously to rescind the December 2014 decision to give notice of Wasco County's intent to withdraw from NCPHD.

         Based on the rescission, defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the case was moot and otherwise nonjusticiable relying on Krisor v. Henry, 256 Or.App. 56, 300 P.3d 199, rev den, 353 Or. 787 (2013). Plaintiff opposed defendants' motion contending that under Harris v. Nordquist, 96 Or.App. 19, 771 P.2d 637 (1989), there does not need to be a completed decision by a public body for an action brought under the public meetings law to be justiciable. Plaintiff further remonstrated that Krisor was distinguishable because, unlike the plaintiff in Krisor, who mainly sought to have the court void a hiring decision, plaintiff in this case requested additional relief. Plaintiff also argued that the case was justiciable because defendants' conduct was capable of repetition and likely to evade review in the future, which satisfied the standard in ORS 14.175.[1]

         The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants, explaining: "I'm looking at a complaint here [294 Or.App. 158] that is moot. The decision has been withdrawn. And with regards to ORS 14.175, I do not think that the challenge[d] polic[ies] or practice[s] are likely to evade judicial review." The court then entered an order granting defendants' motion, concluding that: (1) the challenged policy was not likely to evade judicial review; (2) plaintiff's claim was ...


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