Riggs v Georgia Pacific, LLC

Riggs sued Pacific alleging wrongful death of his mother. Pacific moved dismissed as the mother had successfully sued Pacific for personal injury. The district court denied the motion and the court affirmed. It held Utah code 78B-3-106 grants heirs a right to bring suit and there is no exception for when the victim has successfully sued for personal injury. The Court acknowledged the majority of American jurisdictions that have ruled on the issue bar suit by heirs, but, reasoned Utah’s statute is different thus the result is different. The Court also noted the cases relied on by Pacific dealt with statutory conflicts and thus did not control. The Court finally noted that while personal injury and wrongful death claims are vested in different parties, the damages may overlap and directed trial courts to insure double recovery does not occur.

State v Griffin

Griffin appealed his murder conviction and moved for remand under Appellate Rules 23 and 23B. The Court granted the 23B motion in part. It first held Rule23 provides no substantive rights and thus denied all relief sought in that motion. It next adopted the test developed by the Court of Appeals to evaluate23B motion namely evidence not otherwise in the record, no speculative  allegations of fact that could support a finding of ineffective assistance claim. The Court held that affidavits from prospective witnesses are not required given the difficulties in gaining cooperation for reluctant witnesses. It found three claims needed remand as there was credible evidence one of Griffin’s attorneys had a conflict of interest n that he represented a witness against him in an earlier case, his attorneys failed to investigate statements that note r suspect had a bloody shirt on the night of the murder and the attorneys failed to present evidence that another suspect burglarized the home of the victim the day of eh murder. The other claims had had evidence in the record to evaluate them and were either speculative or demonstrably not prejudicial. The appeal was stayed to allow supplementation of record on the three claims.

State v Jones

Jones appealed his murder, robbery and drug convictions raising evidentiary, prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance arguments. The Court rejected them all and affirmed. It held the Y chromosome based DNA evidence was properly admitted as Court had previously held it admissible as scientific evidence, the district court here fulfilled its gatekeeping role and the evidence was fairly and accurately presented. The Court next rejected Jones’ argument that the whole transcript of an interview should have been admitted holding the district allowed enough context to be introduced to render use of a portion of the transcript fair. Because the argument failed on the merits, counsel was not ineffective for failing to object. The Court under plain error review held that admitting an officer’s observations as to what percentage of crime was drug related was not error as a proper foundation was laid and the jury already knew drugs may have been involved in the murder. The Court held the alleged prosecutorial misconduct during closing argument as the statements targeted Jones’ defense argument, were a permissible inference form the evidence or did not prejudice Jones. The Court affirmed the convictions given Jones admission he was with the victim the night she died, his failure to go to the homeless shelter that night and the missing money, the evidence was sufficient to sustain the convictions. The Court finally found no cumulative error.

Eldridge v Johndrow

Eldridge sued Johndrow for intentional interference with economic relations for sharing true but embarrassing information with commercial clients. The district court found no improper means used, but, denied summary judgment on improper motive as Johndrow had a fall out with Eldridge and was trying to get claims of assault dismissed. The Court held the improper motive branch of the tort should no longer be allowed and reversed. It held that the issue was properly before the Court as the parties briefed it. The Court held stare decisis did not support retaining improper motive given the poor reasoning of the cases which adopted it, the very small amount of cases where the test was met and the inability of parties to rely on it given the vagueness and fact intensive nature of the analysis. The Court also noted concerns that legal commercial practices would be chilled if the doctrine remained available and noted the more objective illegal means prong remained available to plaintiffs.

State v Berela

Berela appealed his rape conviction arguing ineffective assistance of counsel, that 76-5-406 list the only ways nonconsent can be proven and that his motion Under Criminal Procedure Rule 14(b) should have been granted. The court, 4-1, reversed. The majority held that there was no ineffective assistance for failing to raise a mistake of fact defense as that would have undermined the strategy of naming the victim as the person who initiated the sex. However, the majority held there was ineffective assistance for failing to object to a jury instruction that did not require mens rea as to consent and thus reversed. For judicial economy, the Court held that 406 is not an exclusive list of the ways nonconsent is roved. Instead, they held it is a set of circumstances the legislature determined are not consent for policy reasons leaving the general rule that consent is a jury question intact. As to the 14 (b) motion, the Majority held that post-trial motions are clearly discretionary and must be discoverable under state or federal law. The dissent argued the jury instruction error was harmless given the jury’s acceptance of the victim’s account of the incident.

Dahl v Dahl

Wife appealed the divorce decree and the judgment in her action against a trust she and husband placed assets. The Court, with once partial dissent affirmed in art, reversed in part and remanded. As to the trust case, the Court joined the trust as party, held that the Nevada choice of law provision could not be enforced as that would violate Utah’s public policy of equitable distribution of martial property, the trust is revocable because husband retained the right to change any provision including eh irrevocable clause and thus wife had the right to withdraw her property given her status a settlor ended with the divorce. The case was remanded to the divorce court to allow wife to make the withdrawal and to include those assets in the distribution order. As tot eh divorce case, the Court held the judge did not error in denting wife’s motion to disqualify as ruling alone do not evidence bias and eh frustration the judge expressed was with both parties and their attorneys.; the judge’s wife’s surgery was not going to be done by husband or anyone in husband’s practice and the judge had no recollection of wife being a witness 23 years ago in trial judge prosecuted so he could not harbor bias against wife. It affirmed the pretrial evidentiary rulings as wife’s counsel failed to file timely motions, failed to provide the required expert disclosures and failed to identify what items would actually be used at trial and thus the district court did not error in denying the motion, limiting expert testimony and limiting the evidence wife could admit at trial. The Court held there was no abuse in discretion in denying alimony as wife failed to provide any documentation proving her expenses and she received a large property award which would be sufficient to maintain an appropriate lifestyle. The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the property division. It held that certain voluntary transfers from husband to wife should not been subtracted for wife’s award, that ordering wife to pay half of litigation expenses already paid firm marital assets would be a double payment by wife, ordering wife to pay for daily transcripts was correct as she asked for a legal reporter and affirmed characterizations of husband’s retirement accounts and real property as separate property. The Court held that parties can amend their pleadings to assert joint custody given the high value the legislature places on it, but held the error by the district court in not allowing wife to amend was harmless given the determinations the parties proved incapable of cooperating and granting custody to husband was supported by the record. The Court finally held the denial of attorney fees as the $2 million request was unreasonable, the attorney unprofessionally claimed a lien in the marital estate and performed incompetently. The fee agreement was voided and wife’s attorney was referred to the ethics office. The dissent argued the distrct court erred in not granting alimony given wife does not and cannot work and reasonable imputed amounts could be used to set the award.

 

State v Roberts

Roberts appealed the denial of several pre-trial motions in his child pornography case. The Court affirmed. It first reminded litigants that they run the risk of forfeiting issue if they merely say the issue is not adequately briefed. Instead, parties should demonstrate why the issue is inadequately briefed or why the party should win on the merits. The Court adopted the federal rule that there is no expectation of privacy in peer to peer files and, repudiating precedent to the extent it requires retroactive application of statutes when the legislature has made eh statute retroactive, held the subpoena method used here was lawful a the time of the request for Roberts internet address. The Court held that there was no abuse of discretion in limiting discovery of the computer program used by the government to find possible child pornography holding there was no relevance here as an agent checking the images was the basis for the case and inhibiting future cases is a legitimate basis to deny. The Court held Utah’s child porn statute is constitutional because law enforcement investigating crime are different form all others and Roberts lacks standing to raise the rights of his defense attorney who is treated differently form prosecutors. The Court finally held that the district court did not err in allowing expert testimony as the witness satisfied the requirements and the testimony was useful.

Anadarko Petroleum Corporation v Utah Tax Commission

Anadarko challenged its tax bill arguing it was allowed to remove certain interests from its income before tax can be assessed. The Court, 4-1 agreed and reversed the tax commission’s contrary ruling. The majority held that when read together, 59-5-102 and -103.1 remove the interests identified by Anadarko before tax is assessed. The dissent argued that -103.1 is the sole source of deductions to be done in the tax formula and this does not violate the federal constitution as no tax is assessed on federal interests.

Heaps v Nuriche, LLC

Heaps sued the managers of Nuriche for wage law violations. The district court granted summary judgment to the managers. The Court affirmed. It held that Utah law applied as Heaps alleged direct liability for wages not vicarious liability. The Court held that Utah Code 34-28-2(1)(c) applies to identified entities and people who actually employ the claimant. Here, heaps admitted he was an employee of Nuriche and thus had no claim against the managers. It also held that reading thaw statute to apply to employees absurdly makes Heaps criminally liable for Nuriche’s failure to pay him and limiting the statute to high level officers make policy sense, but, there is no textual basis for that reading.

Cottage Capital, LLC v Red Ledges Land Development

Cottage sued Red Ledges to enforce a guarantee. The district court dismissed ruling that Cottage should have brought the action as a counterclaim in an earlier declaratory judgment action between the parties. The Court reversed. It held that under Civil Procedure Rule 13 (a) only counterclaims which are mature must be brought. Here, the Court held that under the terms of the guarantee and the underlying debt, Cottage could decide when to declare default and it did not do so until after the declaratory judgment action was over. The Court adopted a rule requiring such options to declare default to be exercised within a reasonable time in order to prevent inequities.

Graves v North Eastern Services, Inc.

Graves, on behalf of his daughter, sued Services arguing it was negligent in hiring and in failing to train the employee who raped his daughter at one of the facilities Services ran. The district court ruled there was a duty under special relationship principles and denied Services motion for summary judgment. The district court also refused to allow apportionment of fault as the rape was an intentional act. The Court, 5-0 as to duty and expert testimony and 3-2 as to apportionment, affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Court adopted the Restatement Second of Torts section 317 holding it is eminently reasonable to impose direct liability on employers who have reason to know an employee will intentionally harm others and has the ability to prevent it. Here, the employee had been fired for sexual misconduct, the staff at the facticity encouraged neighborhood children to come swim and get candy and thus the elements are met for a duty. The Court held that no expert testimony was needed on the issue of what a reasonable employer would do as background checks or training and supervising call upon a jury’s common sense not scientific principles outside the knowledge of the common member of the community. The majority finally reversed as to apportionment holding the comparative fault statute, Utah Code 78B-5-821(4), requires allocation to anyone who breaches any duty which includes the duty to refrain from intentionally harming others and anyone doing an act or omission that proximately causes harm which includes intentional torts. The majority held neither title of 821 “Contributory Negligence” or legislative history can overcome the plain language of the statute. The majority acknowledge that this construction could result in no liability for services or other allegedly negligent actors, but, the statue controls and lien drawing problems would result in figuring out where reckless ends and intentional begins. The partial dissent argued that the comparative fault statute was originally aimed at overcoming the inequities of comparative negligence and the amendments merely added such actions as product liability to the regime, that the legislative history supports limiting the statutes to negligent actors and allowing intentional torts to be considered will result in innocent victims being barred form recovering from negligent employers.

2 Ton Plumbing, L.L.C. v Thorgaard

2 Ton filed mechanics’ liens for work done on several houses in a development. It later field amended notices including attorney fees in the amount. He sued Thorgaard and others to foreclose the lien and the district court awarded the highest amount of the three liens filed. The Court reversed. It held that under Utah Code 38-1-1 et seq., liens are only allowed for the value of the work actually done based on the plain language of the statute, the balance of rights between contractors and landowners in the statute, the reality that substitute security could never be utilized as the 150% or other value required would ever be increasing and unknowable at any given point in time, the legislature knows how to include attorney fees when it wants and the precedent in other jurisdictions to rule on the issue. The court held that under the statute, each party to the foreclosure suit has 90 days to deposit security and release the lien and the time runs from when the party is served not when the first party was served. Here, Thorgaard’s lender field the required 200% security less than 90 days from service and the lien should have been released. The case was remanded for recalculation of attorney fees because the award was based on the invalid amended liens and the fees incurred by Thorgaard as a result must be considered as well as a more accurate calculation of the reasonable fee award due to 2 Ton.

Herland v Izatt

Herland as personal representative an intoxicated woman who shot herself with Izatt’s handgun sued Izatt alleging negligence causes of action. The district court ruled Izatt owed no duty to the woman and granted summary judgment to Izatt. The Court reversed. It held that a duty to keep firearms from persons known or should be known to be intoxicated should be imposed because it is foreseeable intoxicated persons will hurt themselves or others with the firearm, the Utah legislature has barred possession of firearms by intoxicated person and minors and imposed duties to disarm some of these persons and placed limits on where and how a firearm can be carried, the allegations here that Izatt either gave the gun to the woman or left the gun out free to be accessed are acts not omissions and the burden of securing the firearm is significantly less than the harm the firearm could cause when  an intoxicated person gets ahold of it. The Court noted this duty is similar to the duty not to entrust vehicles to intoxicated person or minors who lack sufficient skill. It also noted that plaintiffs will likely have a hard time proving their case given Utah’ comparative negligence system.

Summum v Pleasant Grove City

Summum sought to install a monument near a Ten Commandments monument in a park in City. City rejected the request and this was ultimately upheld by the United States Supreme Court. Summum then filed suit in state court seeking an order to install the monument basing its arguments on Article I Section 4 of the Utah constitution. The district court denied their petition and the Court, with two justices concurring in part and in judgment, affirmed. The majority held that the neutrality principle adopted in public prayer cases did not apply in the park monument setting given the limited space and the government speech involved. It also noted that the order sought here was not neutral as Utah has a variety of believing and nonbelieving communities. It discussed but did not decide if the Ten Commandment monument violated Section 4 under a context driven endorsement type test. The concurrence argued that the order sought by Summum was unavailable as violating the neutrality principle and  the rest of the majority opinion was inconsistent in that it argued neutrality doesn’t apply to monuments but could apply and religious monuments may be constitutional depending on context.