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In this contract dispute stemming from a seller-financed real estate transaction, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court, holding primarily that the district court was not precluded by the mandate rule from determining that the promissory note did not require the buyers to pay any incurred late fee amounts to bring note current because the court construed an ambiguity in the note against the defendants, as drafters, without first considering extrinsic evidence. The buyers purchased the real estate with a promissory note that required them to make an installment payment each month and a final balloon payment. The note applied a ten percent base interest rate on the unpaid principal and established consequences if the buyers missed an installment payment, including a late fee and bump up in the base interest rate until the note was brought current. The buyers made the installment payments but disagreed over the amount owing the final balloon payment, leading to litigation. The Supreme Court remanded the case for a new determination after the court considers relevant extrinsic evidence and held that the district court did not clearly err in determining that extrinsic evidence showed that the parties did not intent the note's late fee to apply to the final payment. View "Brady v. Park" on Justia Law

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In this case alleging a defect in a ladder, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court dismissing Plaintiff's claims on the ground that Plaintiff failed to carry the burden of presenting grounds for the establishment of a duty under AMS Salt Industries, Inc. v. Magnesium Corp. of America, 942 P.2d 315 (Utah 1997), and its progeny, holding the district court applied the wrong legal standard in dismissing Plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff was injured when she fell off a pump house ladder to make an adjustment to a pump at a splash pad located in the City of Springville. Plaintiff sued the contractor the city hired to construct the splash pad and pump house and the subcontractor hired by the contractor to manufacture the ladder. The district court granted Defendants' motions for summary judgment on the ground that they did not owe Plaintiff a legal duty. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the Restatement (Second) of Torts framework endorsed in Tallman v. City of Hurricane, 985 P.2d 892 (Utah 1999), and not the factors set forth in AMS Salt, controlled in this case. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed, holding that Tallman controlled and that remand was required for consideration of the relevant duty inquiry adopted in Tallman. View "Sumsion v. J Lyne Roberts & Sons Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's summary judgment decision denying Appellant's petition for relief under the Post-Conviction Remedies Act (PCRA), Utah Code 78B-9-101, et seq., holding that Appellant failed to satisfy his burden of persuasion on appeal. Appellant was convicted of aggravated burglary, theft, and criminal mischief. Appellant later filed a petition for post-conviction relief arguing that he was entitled to relief under the PCRA. The district court granted summary judgment for the State. On appeal, Appellant argued that his due process rights under the Utah Constitution were violated when certain evidence was destroyed in accordance with rule 4-206 of the Utah Code of Judicial Administration. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Appellant failed to comply with any portion of the PCRA that could offer him relief; and (2) Appellant failed to demonstrate that the disposal of evidence violated his state due process rights. View "Sandoval v. State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the district court summarily dismissing Appellant’s petition for post-conviction relief, holding that the district court erred in determining that, as a matter of undisputed fact and law, Appellant was not prejudiced by his defense counsel’s conduct at either the guilt or sentencing phases of Appellant’s trial. In 1985, Appellant was sentenced to death for murder. In 2011, Appellant’s current counsel located two witnesses who testified in the murder case, and obtained their sworn declarations that the police threatened them if they did not cooperate in the case against Appellant, that their testimony was coached, and that they were instructed to lie under oath about benefits they received from the State. Appellant filed a petition for post-conviction relief based upon these revelations, but the district court dismissed the petition. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for an evidentiary hearing, holding that Appellant demonstrated a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether he was prejudiced. View "Carter v. State" on Justia Law

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In this action brought by the State seeking to overturn a conviction it recently obtained, the Supreme Court vacated the order of the district court denying the State’s Utah. R. Civ. P. 60(b) motion in the underlying criminal proceeding, holding that the district court had jurisdiction to adjudicate the State’s motion and that rule 60(b) provided the mechanism through which the State may bring its challenge. After final judgment had been entered against Bela Fritz, the State returned to the district court claiming Fritz had misled it about his identity. The State filed a motion under rule 60(b) seeking to vacate the conviction, sentence, and judgment. The district court denied the motion, concluding that following imposition of a valid sentence, a district court loses subject matter jurisdiction over a criminal case and that the State needed to proceed under the Post-Conviction Remedies Act. The State filed this petition for extraordinary relief asking that the Supreme Court direct the district court to exercise jurisdiction over the State’s motion for relief under rule 60(b). The Supreme Court exercised its discretion and granted the writ, thus vacating the order denying the State’s motion and instructing the district court to exercise jurisdiction over the matter. View "State v. Honorable Ann Boyden" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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In this case involving the tree-tier structure established by Utah R. Civ. P. 26, the Supreme Court affirmed the decisions of the district court and court of appeals rejecting Petitioner’s motion for post-trial amendment of his tier designation so that he could receive more damages, holding that the facts of this case, the relevant law, and the rules of the tier structure dispositively opposed Petitioner’s preferred outcome. The three-tier structure established by Rule 26 requires plaintiffs to plead one of three tiers based on expected damages. Petitioner pled a Tier two case, which involved a limit on recoverable damages, and did not amend his pleading before trial. The jury awarded Petitioner a total of $640,989 in damages. After trial, Petitioner moved to amend his pleadings. The district court denied the motion and reduced the judgment to $299,999.99, commensurate with the limits of Petitioner’s Tier 2 designation. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) where Petitioner pled and litigated a Tier 2 case, Petitioner’s damages were commensurately reduced after trial; and (2) there is no permitted modification of the tier designation once trial commences and no indication that Petitioner impliedly consented to litigating a higher tier case even if he could. View "Pilot v. Hill" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s decision denying Dr. LeGrand P. Belnap discovery as to allegedly defamatory statements made by Drs. Ben Howard and Steven Mintz in peer review meetings, holding that there is no bad faith exception to Utah R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). At issue was whether there is a bad faith exception to discovery and evidentiary privileges under Rule 26(b)(1) for statements made and documents prepared as part of a health care provider’s peer review process. Dr. Belnap was denied discovery as to alleged defamatory statements concerning Dr. Belnap’s application for surgical privileges at Jordan Valley Medical Center. Dr. Belnap filed this interlocutory appeal, arguing that Rule 26(b)(1) includes a bad faith exception. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) there is no bad faith exception to Rule 26(b)(1)’s peer review privilege; and (2) even looking to the legislative history, there is still no bad faith exception. View "Belnap v. Howard" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court declined to overturn a rule established in St. Benedict’s Development Co. v. St. Benedict’s Hospital, 811 P.2d 194 (Utah 1991), in which the Court held that to prevail on a claim for intentional interference with contract the plaintiff must show that the defendant interfered through “improper means,” holding that “improper means” test remains a good rule. Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant alleging that Defendant intentionally interfered with Plaintiff’s contracts with its employees. Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff failed to provide proof of “improper means” to support its claim. The federal district court concluded that there appears to be no clear, controlling Utah law regarding the interpretation of “improper means” and certified the question to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held (1) the element of improper means is firmly established in Utah law and rests upon a firm legal footing, and therefore, this Court declines to overturn St. Benedict’s; (2) the definition of “improper means” provided in Leigh Furniture & Carpet Co. v. Isom, 657 P.2d 293 (Utah 1982), and St. Benedict’s is reaffirmed; and (3) to prove the element of improper means based on an alleged violation of an established industry rule or standard the plaintiff must provide evidence of an objective, industry-wide standard. View "C.R. England v. Swift Transportation Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law, Contracts

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court striking down the Public Waters Access Act (PWAA), Utah Code 73-29-101 to 73-29-208, under “public trust” principles set forth in Utah Const. art. XX, 1, holding that the district court erred in treating the easement established by Conaster v. Johnson, 194 P.3d 897 (2008), as a matter beyond the legislature’s power to revise or revisit. The Supreme Court held in Conaster that the incidental right of touching the privately-owned bed of state waters is reasonably necessary to the public right to float on the water and to wade in the waters for recreation. Thereafter, the legislature enacted the PWAA, which restricted the scope of the Conaster easement by foreclosing the right to touch a streambed for purposes other than flotation. The Utah Stream Access Coalition then filed this lawsuit asserting a constitutional right of its members to wade in waters of the Provo River flowing through land owned by VR Acquisitions. The district court granted relief. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that its analysis in Conaster was based only on common-law easement principles, and because common-law decisions are subject to adaptation or reversal by the legislature, the district court erred in treating the Conaster easement as a right rooted in constitutional soil. View "Utah Stream Access Coalition v. VR Acquisitions, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant’s conviction under Utah’s witness retaliation statute, Utah Code 76-8-508.3, holding that the statute does not criminalize threats a person makes regarding a witness outside the witness’s presence and without an intention to have the threat communicated to the witness. Section 76-8-508.3 makes it a crime to direct a threat of harm or a harmful action against a witness or a person closely associated with that witness as retaliation against that witness. After Defendant was convicted, he challenged his conviction on the ground that the witnesses that were the subject of the alleged threat were not present when Defendant made the threat. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the witness retaliation statute criminalizes only those threats that the threat-maker intended to be communicated to the witness; and (2) therefore, the court of appeals incorrectly interpreted the requirements of the statute. View "State v. Trujillo" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law