Justia Utah Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court reversed the district court's grant of Defendants' motion to dismiss this medical malpractice action pursuant to Utah Code 78B-3-423(7) of the Utah Health Care Malpractice Act because Plaintiff failed to obtain a certificate of compliance from the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing (DOPL), holding that the Malpractice Act violates Utah Const. art. VIII, I - the judicial power provision - by allowing DOPL to exercise the core judicial function of ordering the final disposition of claims like those brought by Plaintiff in this case without judicial review. Plaintiff filed suit against Defendants without the certificate of compliance. The district court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss with prejudice citing Utah Code 78B-3-423(7) of the Malpractice Act. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the 2010 amendments to the Malpractice Act empower DOPL to hear and dispose of medical malpractice claims on a final non-appealable basis in violation of Article VIII; and (2) therefore, sections 78B-3-412(1)(b) and Utah Code 78B-3-423 are facially unconstitutional. View "Vega v. Jordan Valley Medical Center, LP" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court allowing Alarm Protection Technology (APT) to substitute itself as the plaintiff in this case and extinguishing Ryan Bradburn's claims against it, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in permitting APT's substitution as plaintiff. After Bradburn's employment with APT as a sales representative ended he sued APT for alleged unpaid commissions. Executing on a confession of judgment it had previously obtained from Bradburn, APT initiated a constable sale and purchased Bradburn's legal right to sue APT. APT then substituted itself into this case for Bradburn and dismissed all claims against itself. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in allowing complete substitution because Utah law permits the tactic used by APT in this case. View "Bradburn v. Alarm Protection Technology, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied Petitioner's petition for extraordinary relief asking the Court to order his admission to the Utah State Bar by waiving one of the rules governing the Utah Bar, holding that, while Petitioner raised important questions about the way in which the Utah Bar interacts with those requesting accommodation, Petitioner did not convince the Court that it should exercise its discretionary authority to grant the relief he sought. Petitioner suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and initially sought accommodation for the July 2018 Bar Examination in Utah. Petitioner later rescinded his accommodation request and took the Bar Exam without any accommodation. Petitioner fell just short of a passing score. Petitioner then brought this petition for extraordinary relief asking the Court to waive one of three rules governing the Utah Bar. The Supreme Court denied the petition, holding that while Petitioner gave the Court reason to think about ways in which the Bar can provide more transparent and responsive service to those seeking accommodation, Petitioner did not meet his burden of demonstrating that the Court should grant him the relief he sought. View "Durbano v. Utah State Bar" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics

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In this tort suit arising out of a basketball game the Supreme Court affirmed as modified the district court's determination that Plaintiff's injury arose out of conduct that was not willful or reckless but was inherent in the game of basketball, holding that participants in any sport are not liable for injuries caused by their conduct if their conduct was inherent in the sport. The district court held that Defendant, another player in the basketball game, owed no duty to Plaintiff because Plaintiff's injury arose out of conduct that was inherent in the game of basketball. The district court adopted a "contact sports exception" providing that participants in bodily contact sports are liable for injuries only when the injuries are the result of conduct that demonstrates a willful or reckless disregard for the safety of the other player. The Supreme Court affirmed on a modified basis, holding (1) the exception to liability arising out of sports injuries should not turn on the defendant's state of mind or be limited just to contact sports; (2) instead, voluntary participants in sports have no duty of care to avoid contact that is inherent in the activity; and (3) Defendant's conduct was inherent in the game of basketball. View "Nixon v. Clay" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury

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In this dispute between parties that both had water rights in the Beaver River the Supreme Court affirmed the portion of the judgment of the district court against Rocky Ford Irrigation Company on its claims against Kents Lake Reservoir Company seeking clarification regarding priority of rights and Kents Lake's obligations as to river administration but reversed the district court's decision not to clarify Kents Lake's measurement obligations, holding that Rocky Ford was entitled to clarification in this regard. As changed occurred both in water rights and in irrigation techniques and the administration of the Beaver River grew more complex, Rocky Ford brought this action against Kents Lake. The district court declined all of Rocky Ford's claims and awarded attorney fees to Kents Lake and Beaver City sua sponte. The Supreme Court held (1) the trial court properly denied Rocky Ford's motion for summary judgment; (2) the trial court did not err when it refused to enter a declaratory judgment that Kents Lake cannot store the water it saves through increased efficiency; (3) the district court erred in refusing to enter a declaratory judgment regarding Kents Lake's measurement obligations; and (4) Kents Lake and Beaver City were not entitled to attorney fees. View "Rocky Ford Irrigation Co. v. Kents Lake Reservoir Co." on Justia Law

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In this family dispute concerning an inheritance from the mother of two sets of sisters the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court ruling that May Harris and Jody Mattena committed a variety of torts in relation to the inheritance and finding them liable for compensatory and punitive damages, holding that the trial court did not err in its rulings during the course of the proceeding. Specifically, the Court held (1) the Liability Reform Act's provision for apportionment of damages, Utah Code 78B-5-818(4)(a), is mandatory only upon a request by a party, and therefore, in absence of a request for apportionment, a trial court acts within its discretion in falling back on the default of joint and several liability; and (2) the provision in Utah Code 78B-8-201(2) providing that evidence of a party's wealth or financial condition shall be admissible only after a finding of liability for punitive damages has been made does not mandate bifurcation of a punitive damages trial in a case in which no party sought to introduce evidence of wealth or financial condition, and the introduction of such evidence is not required as a prerequisite to the availability of a punitive damages award. View "Biesele v. Mattena" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendant on grounds that Plaintiff's malpractice action was barred by the statute of limitations, holding that Plaintiff's claim was timely filed. In his complaint, Plaintiff alleged that he was convicted of two felonies due to the malpractice of Defendant, his trial counsel. After Plaintiff hired new counsel he secured a new deal that replaced his two felony convictions and three misdemeanor convictions. At issue in this case was when Plaintiff's cause of action accrued. The district court concluded that Plaintiff's malpractice action was untimely filed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiff's malpractice claim accrued at the conclusion of his criminal case when he pled guilty to three misdemeanors, and not at the time the jury first returned its guilty verdict, and therefore, Plaintiff's malpractice action was filed within the statute of limitations. View "Thomas v. Hillyard" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's alimony determination in this divorce action, holding that none of Appellant's alleged errors constituted an abuse of the district court's discretion or were plainly incorrect. Because the parties in this case, Nelson Gardner and Christina Gardner, could not agree on the proper terms of Nelson's alimony obligation to Christina, the matter went to trial. The district court determined that Christina was entitled to alimony but, because of her extramarital sexual affairs, the court reduced Christina's alimony award in amount and duration. Christina appealed, alleging five assignments of error. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that Christina's conduct constituted fault or in establishing the terms of her alimony award; (2) Nelson failed to establish that the district court's failure to consider relevant tax consequences constituted a harmful error; and (3) the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to award attorney fees to Christina. View "Gardner v. Gardner" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Supreme Court set aside orders from the Public Service Commission in two related cases, holding that the Commission did not have the authority to impose "interim" rates as an element of the energy balancing account procedures described in Utah Code 54-7-13.5. The Commission issued an order eliminating an "energy balancing account" (EBA) rate processes to PacifiCorp, an electric power provider, and later issued an order adopting the recommendation of the Division of Public Utilities that interim rates be reinstated in the EBA mechanism. After PacifiCorp submitted its 2018 EBA filing that proposed to recover EBA costs in the amount of $28 million on an interim basis the Commission issued an order imposing interim rates. Certain consumer groups challenged the Commission's interim rate orders. The Supreme Court set aside the orders, holding that the interim rates were imposed without a requirement that PacifiCorp prove by substantial evidence that the costs incorporated in the rates were prudently incurred or just and reasonable, which violates the controlling standard set forth in section 54-7-13.5(2)(e)(ii). View "Utah Office of Consumer Services v. Public Service Commission of Utah" on Justia Law

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In this case arising from a severe injury Levi Rutherford sustained when he skied into a patch of machine-made snow the Supreme Court declined Defendant's invitations to hold that Plaintiffs' claims were barred by a release of liability signed by Levi's father or, alternatively, Utah's Inherent Risks of Skiing Act, Utah Code 78B-4-401 to -404 (the Act), holding that the district court correctly denied Defendant's motion for summary judgment. Specifically, the district court held (1) the preinjury release signed by Levi's father was unenforceable; and (2) pursuant to Clover v. Snowbird Ski Resort, 808 P.2d 1037 (Utah 1991), summary judgment was not appropriate as to Plaintiff's claims under the Act. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals with respect to the preinjury release, holding that the release was void as against public policy and affirmed the court of appeals to the extent that it chose to apply Clover to the facts of this case but remanded for a determination in accordance with this Court's clarified implementation of Clover's holding. View "Rutherford v. Talisker Canyons Finance, Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Products Liability