Bylsma v R.C. Wiley

Bylsma appealed the dismissal of his product liability and warranty claims and the denial of his motion for attorney fees. The Court, with two justices concurring in part and judgment, reversed and remanded. The majority held that the Liability reform Act, Utah Code 78B-5-817 to 823, abolished joint and several liability but did not eliminate strict product liability; Utah’s product liability doctrine holds the manufacturer and all sellers and intermediaries in the chain of supply liable without a showing of fault in order to place the costs of injury form unsafe products to lie on the suppliers and maximize the opportunities for recovery and the only place liability comes into play is indemnity of a retailer form a manufacture never as to liability of supplier to injure consumer; the passive retailer doctrine adopted by the Utah Court of Appeals and applied by the district court here is incompatible with Utah’s strict product liability doctrine as it conflates negligence theories with strict liability theories and shields retailers from  liability based on culpability contrary to the imposition of liability on all manufacturers and sellers when an unreasonably dangerous product injures a consumer regardless of the care exercised by any entity or person in the chain of supply and further held the indemnity action portion of product liability is not contribution among tortfeasors but method to transfer all of the recovery from retailer to manufacturer retained under 5-817 to 823; that on remand the district court must treat the entire chain of supply as one unit as there is no factual or legal basis to divide liability which is not arbitrary or relies on negligence concepts and this treatment of the whole chain of supply as one unit is consistent with the legislative history of the statute and the sole comparison is between the strictly liable chain and negligent actors usually the plaintiff; it adopted the Texas approach of having the jury find whether or not strict liability exists and then compares any causation by a negligent plaintiffs and requires the sued retailer, manufacturer or other part of the chain to pay the amount owed with indemnity allowed as third party claim or aspirate action; and rejected the concurrence’s approach as relative fault of members of the chain of supply is legally irrelevant and based on negligence concepts which do apply in the product liability setting. It revered as to attorney fees both because the district court erroneously dismissed the product liability and warranty claims and under 78B-5-826 the only claim which the reciprocal fee statute applies is the rescission claim which Bylsma won and thus fees should have been awarded. Lee and Pearce concurred in part and judgment arguing that 5-817-823 replaced the compensation scheme adopted by the Court in its strict product liability doctrine with a mandatory apportionment of fault among the chain of supply and the majority approach fails to follow the plain language of the statute, agreed the passive retailer rule is also inconsistent with product liability doctrine which survived adoption of 5-817 to 823 and argued the indemnity claim is barred by 5-817 to 823 but certain contractual and statutory claims not based on reallocating fault may still be allowed.

Waite and Ortega v Utah Labor Commission

Waite and Ortega appealed Commission’s rejection of their claims for workers’ compensation permanent disability benefits arguing the twelve year limit in 34A-2-417(2)(a)(ii) is unconstitutional. The Court, with two justices concurring in judgment, affirmed.  The majority held that 2-417(2)(a)(ii) is a statue of repose as it limits recovery based on the date of injury not the date when a person becomes totally disabled, that the abrogation of permanent total disability benefits after twelve years have passed from the date of injury does not violate the Open Courts Clause in Utah Constitution Article I, Section 11 under the Court’s Judd decision as the legislature resolved a fairly debatable policy issue of whether to set a time limit and setting the limit serves the purposes of keeping workers’ compensation rates low, makes the risks more manageable and avoids limitless litigation which were argued by the insurance industry during consideration of the bill that became law and the twelve year limit is reasonable and not arbitrary as it narrowly tailored to serve the policy, is longer than the applicable civil statute of limitations and is equivalent to the longest repose period in other states. It rejected Lee’s arguments about overruling Judd as it is unnecessary here and his offered interpretation was not proposed by the parties. Lee concurred in judgment arguing the issue of whether the Judd and earlier Berry case should be retained is fairly before the Court and should be decided; that eh Berry-Judd line of cases is not entitled to deference under of stare decsisis because the line of cases has not been firmly established as the rules is difficult to apply and inherently fuzzy, upset precedent in the area and has no support in the text of Article I, section 11 or under the original understanding of the text; that the Open Courts Clause is a term of art and as of 1896 focused on access to courts to vindicate vested rights not limiting legislative power to prospectively change law and the Berry-Judd decisions are inconsistent with this meaning; that a prohibition on retroactively abolishing a vested cause of action or reducing the time period to raise the claim exists under the Open Courts clause; and the repose statute here was enacted before the claims here and they were properly denied. Pearce concurred in judgment arguing that the majority correctly applied the Berry Judd rule, that Lee is correct Berry-Judd is not entitled to stare decsisis deference particularly as it changed the law in the open Courts Clause area and has been subjected to attack in several cases, but, reminded anyone seeking to overrule Berry-Judd will need to provide detailed historical analysis using evidence from the founding of Utah that the proposed new interpretation is better than the one in Berry-Judd and that he did no Join Lee’s concurrence as the historical argeutmns have not yet  been subjected to the adversarial process yet.

Petersen v Utah Labor Commission and Granite School District

Petersen appealed Commission’s decision affirming denial of his claim for temporary total disability benefits arguing the eight-year limit in Utah Code 35-1-65 is unconstitutional. The Court, with two justices concurring in judgment, affirmed. The majority held that 1-65 is a statue of repose as it limits recovery based on the date of injury not the date when a person becomes totally disabled, 1-65 does not violate the Open Courts Clause in Utah Constitution Article I, Section 11 as temporary disability benefits were created by the workers compensation statute and the repose provision has been there from the beginning and 1-65 thus does not abrogate any cause of action or remedy and the fact workers compensation abrogated any common law claim here does not change the outcome as the compensation scheme as a whole adequately replaces common law claims. Lee and Pearce individually concurred in judgment for the reasons set out in their Waite opinions.

State v Rowan and George

The State appealed the grant of Rowan and George’s motion to suppress. The Court, with a three-member majority and the same justices concurring and two concurring in judgment, revered and remanded. The majority held that the district court failed to read the supporting affidavit for the search warrant here as a whole in a  commons sense fashion and when viewed under the correct standard the evidence that a confidential informant knew about someone buying marijuana from California, packaging it for sale and had guns in the house, that the informant knew this because of previous purchases and participation in drug activity and an account of a controlled buy of marijuana at the same house the distribution occurred before was enough to find probable cause. Himonas, joined by Durrant and Durham added a  concurrence arguing that there was no need in this case to determine if Utah’s constitution mandates an exclusionary rule without a good faith exception as there was probable cause to issue the warrant here, avoiding constitutional issues serves the values of respecting past courts, stability, judicial restraint and the wisdom of letting hard questions percolate until the time comes to decide and the exclusionary rule under the state constitution was recognized in 1990 and has proven workable so far. Lee, joined by Pearce, concurred in judgment arguing that there was probable cause to issue the warrant here; that the Court should have decided the state constitutional issue and repudiated the exclusionary rule adopted in 1990 as the issue was fully briefed, the cases adopting the rule did not evaluate the original meaning of Article I, section 14 of the Utah constitution and there is no evidence the original meaning encompassed an exclusionary remedy and thus the issue of remedies belongs to the common law and political processes, the exclusionary rule is not the best approach given the lack of remedy for the innocent victims of unlawful searches and the costs of letting the guilty go free and the exceptions required to overcome some of those costs and adopting a money damages remedy would avoid those costs and bring clarity to the law; and that constitutional avoidance is inappropriate here given the district court relied on state constitutional principles in reaching its decision, refusing to answer the question of what exceptions are part of eh state exclusionary rule fosters confusion instead of certainty.