Utah Supreme Court

Butler v Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Butler sued Corporation on a respondeat superior theory alleging the driver who negligently caused her injuries was acting as an agent of Corporation. Corporation moved for summary judgment. It did not attach a proposed order nor, when the motion was granted, did it serve a proposed order on Butler. The district court entered a Utah Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 54(b) order certifying the summary judgment order as final. Butler appealed. Corporation moved to dismiss arguing the appeal was untimely. The Court, 4-1, held neither the summary judgment order nor the 54(b) order triggered the appeal clock and dismissed without prejudice for lack of jurisdiction. The majority held that under Utah Rule of Civil Procedure 7(f)(2), an order can be a final order only if the order was submitted in proposed form with the initial memorandum relating to the underlying motion (not the Rule 54(b) motion), the district court rules no further order is needed or, the default provision, the proposed order is served on the other party within 15 days of the district court ruling. The majority also held that Rule 54(b) orders are only final and valid if a Rule 7(f)(2) compliant earlier order has been entered. The majority held that one document can be used satisfy both requirements, but, the document would need to comply strictly with both rules. Here, since none of the alternate means of satisfying Rule 7(f)(2) happened, neither the summary judgment order nor the Rule 54(b) certification order were final and the Court thus lacked jurisdiction. The majority noted that while its interpretation can result in an indefinite time frame to file an appeal, this was a problem for the rules committee to handle. It also noted that either party here can file a new 7(f)(2) compliant motion at any time in this case to obtain a final judgment. The dissent argued the majority approach adopts a wooden interpretation and sets up both potential appellants and appellees for traps. It argued that appellants will no longer know what parts of any 54(b) order are final while potential appellees face literally endless periods of possible appeal. The dissent agued the better approach is to make the relevant initial memorandum the memorandum field with the Rule 54(b) motion. The dissent argued this approach would serve finality and uphold the merger doctrine of all interlocutory orders merging into the final judgment. 

Utah Court of Appeals

State v Daniels

Daniels appealed his prison sentence arguing it was based in part on an erroneous restitution amount and his attorney was ineffective for stipulating to the amount. The panel affirmed. It held any error as to restitution was irrelevant as the sentencing court based its decisions solely on Daniels’ extensive criminal record. It rejected the ineffective assistance claim holding the attorney distinguished between the amount Daniels’ is criminally responsible for from the amount stipulated in order to resolve the issue and had sound tactical reasons to make the stipulation.

Hansen v Department of Workforce Services

Hansen appealed Department’s decision to deny his claim for unemployment benefits and to terminate previously approved benefits under a training exemption and assess an overpayment penalty. The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part. It affirmed as to the rejection holding substantial evidence supported the decision as Hansen knew he was locked out of the system to pick up shifts and did not talk to the employer for two months. It reversed as to the termination and penalty because the governing statutes and regulations do not require those receiving benefits under a training exemption to find work; the termination was inconsistent with other provisions governing work seeking by training exemption employees; Department’s actions (such as a letter reminding Hansen he did not need to seek work) suggest the second job was not a concern; and, it is against public policy to penalize recipients who take part time employment and thus reduce the burden on the unemployment system. 

Uhlig v Public Service Commission

Uhlig sought review of Commission’s order approving water service schedules and rates. The panel dismissed. It held that Uhlig lacked standing because he failed to move to intervene within the period set out in the scheduling order and had no standing as a ratepayer as that theory has been rejected by the Utah Supreme Court.

Widdeson v Widdeson

Wife appealed a modification order and assessment of attorney fees. The panel vacated and remanded. It vacated the order awarding the tax emption for the parties’ child to husband holding there was uncertainty about the facts given the trial court’s failure to consider the consequences to wife being ineligible for head of household status and potential loss of eared income and child tax credits. It vacated the order as to health insurance as the order failed to deal with husband’s willful removal of the youngest child from his plan in violation of the original decree and the improper deduction of health insurance premiums from child support after the removal. It finally vacated the attorney fee award holding the uncertainty about the tax situation and stress from a potential audit made wife’s opposition at least reasonable under the circumstances.

In the Interests of C.M.

C.M. sought to appeal her juvenile delinquency adjudication on the ground that the juvenile court lacked personal jurisdiction over her. The panel affirmed. It first caution C.M.’s attorney to not accuse the juvenile court and the prosecutor of intentional wrongdoing without having any evidence to substantiate those accusations. It next held that because C.M. failed to appeal the order finding a waiver of her jurisdictional argument, the panel could only review the order rejecting her motion to reconsider the waiver ruling. The panel affirmed holding there were no grounds to require the juvenile court to revisit its original determinations.  

In the Interests of F.S.B.

F.S.B. sought review of the denial of his motion to quash a contempt warrant arguing the public interest exception applied and thus the case was not moot even though his case has been dismissed. The panel dismissed holding F.S.B.’s appeal was factual in nature, there was no proof the factual scenario would be repeated and no evidence of an evasion of review.

State v Kataria

Kataria was convicted of aggravated kidnapping, aggravated domestic violence and criminal mischief based on his severely beating his then girlfriend. The district court merged the kidnapping and domestic violence charges. The state appealed the merger and Kataria appealed his convictions arguing his counsel was ineffective and certain evidence was improperly admitted. The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part. It rejected the ineffective assistance claim holding that trial counsel adequately developed evidence of voluntary intoxication through testimony of the victim that Kataria had been drinking, was drunk and not acting like himself as well testimony on the effects of alcohol by two police officers and the availability of judicial notice of the effects of alcohol. The panel held that the victim’s testimony that Kataria was both very drunk and that he was not slurring his speech could both be true and thus it was not prosecutorial misconduct to elicit the testimony. The panel affirmed the admission of photographs of victim’s injuries holding they were relevant to the issue of the extent of victim’s injuries and not unduly prejudicial. The panel, 2-1, reversed as to merger. The majority held that a kidnapping occurred here when Kataria ordered victim to shower off the blood on her body and then return to the shower to remove additional blood as this is not the kind of detention inherent in an aggravated assault. The dissent argued that there was one lengthy assault and the minutes victim spent in the shower did not constitute a break between two different assaults. The dissent expressed concern that affirming here will lead down a slippery slope. 

E&H Land, Ltd. v Farmington City

E&H sold a small parcel of land to City. City decided to not use the parcel to connect two roads. E&H sued for breach of contract, breach of duty of good faith, mutual mistake and promissory estoppel. The district court granted summary judgment to City. The panel affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part. It held that the sale contract was facially ambiguous as the term “understanding” could mean an agreement to do something or merely a possibility of doing something and the plan to do an extension is ambiguous as no description is included in the text, but, attached maps suggest a plan to do the extension using the strip of lands and the maps are incorporated into the contract. Thus, extrinsic evidence is needed to resolve the ambiguity and case was remanded. The panel held the cause of action survives the delivery of the deed as the development plan is collateral to the land sale. The panel on the same reasoning remanded the mutual mistake and good faith claims. It affirmed as to promissory estoppel as a valid contract exists between the parties.

10th Circuit Court of Appeals

United States v Jones

Jones was convicted of unlawful grazing his cattle on public lands and unlawful use of public lands. He appealed arguing insufficient evidence, wrongful grant of a motion in limine baring his evidence about Wyoming fence laws and violation of due process. The panel affirmed. It held overwhelming evidence of guilt was introduced through government rangers and neighboring landowners that Jones knew he was not authorized to graze his cattle on public land and grazed them anyway and that he was required to remove the vehicles and other property from public land and did not do so. The panel affirmed as to the motion in limine as state fencing laws do not apply to federal land and testimony to the contrary by a local sheriff would confuse the jury. It finally held that no due process violation occurred as Jones received notice of the charges ageists him and actively participated pro se in his trial and his arguments to the contrary were frivolous being completely irrelevant.