Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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The Supreme Court reaffirmed its decision in Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment v. Executive Director of Utah Department of Environmental Quality, 391 P.3d 148 (Utah 2016) (Utah Physicians I) and dismissed the petition for review in this case for reasons set forth in the court’s decision in that case. In both cases the Director of the Utah Division of Air Quality approved a permit for a new project at an oil refinery, and the Executive Director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality affirmed the issuance of the permit. In both cases, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and others (collectively, Petitioners) sought to challenge the Executive Director’s final action in a judicial proceeding. In Utah Physicians I, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition on procedural grounds because Petitioners failed to identify specific parts of the Executive Director’s final order they believed were incorrect. Because Petitioners made the same error in this case, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition for review. View "Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment v. Executive Director of Utah Department of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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Friends of Great Salt Lake (Friends) challenged the decision of the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands (Division) granting a mining lease covering a small portion of the Great Salt Lake. Friends made three simultaneous attempts to halt the lease in requests and petitions submitted to the Division or to the Utah Department of Natural Resources (Department). The Division and Department issued a single agency order denying all three. Friends appealed and sought leave to amend its complaint to raise additional constitutional and statutory arguments. The district court affirmed the rejection of Friends’ requests and petitions, denied in part Friends’ attempt to amend its complaint, and subsequently dismissed Friends’ remaining arguments on summary judgment. Friends appealed and, alternatively, sought extraordinary relief. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed in large part and denied Friends’ request for extraordinary relief; and (2) reversed to a limited extent, holding that the Division was required to engage in “site-specific planning” under the applicable provisions of the Utah Administrative Code. Remanded to allow the Department to decide on the appropriate remedy for the failure to perform such planning. View "Friends of Great Salt Lake v. Utah Department of Natural Resources" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the Director of the Utah Division of Air Quality’s (UDAQ) approval of certain changes at Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company’s Salt Lake City Refinery. Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club (collectively, Petitioner) filed a request for agency action challenging the permit allowing the changes at the refinery, arguing that the Director of UDAQ conducted a legally insufficient analysis by approving Tesoro’s changes. Upon completion of permit review adjudicative proceedings, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) recommended that Petitioners’ challenge be dismissed. The Executive Director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality adopted the ALJ’s findings of fact, conclusions of law, and proposed disposition and dismissed each of Petitioners’ arguments. The Supreme Court dismissed Petitioners’ appeal, holding that because Petitioners did not address alleged deficiencies in the Executive Director’s final order in their opening brief, they failed to meet their burden of persuasion on appeal. View "Utah Physicians for a Health Environment v. Executive Director of Utah Department of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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Rocky Mountain Power is required by governing regulations to provide “indicative pricing” to a producer seeking to pursue a power purchase agreement. In 2012, Ellis-Hall Consultants, which is involved in the development of wind power projects and sought to sell power to PacifiCorp through its Rocky Mountain Power division, received an indicative pricing proposal. Rocky Mountain Power later rescinded that proposal and refused to proceed with negotiations on a power purchase agreement under its earlier indicative pricing because the Utah Public Service Commission had since adopted new pricing methodology. The Commission concluded that Ellis-Hall was not entitled to continue to rely on the methodology used in Rocky Mountain Power’s indicative pricing proposal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Ellis-Hall was entitled to proceed in reliance on the methodology set forth in the indicative pricing proposal it received from Rocky Mountain Power. View "Ellis-Hall v. Pub. Serv. Comm’n" on Justia Law

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Rent-A-Center West, Inc. leases and sells a variety of consumer goods. Customers may opt to participate in a liability waiver program for an extra fee. Rent-A-Center charges sales tax on rental payments but not on the liability waiver fee. In 2010, the Utah State Tax Commission issued a statutory notice to Rent-A-Center imposing taxes and interest on the amounts Rent-A-Center charged for the liability waiver fee. In a formal hearing, the Commission found the waiver fee taxable. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the liability waiver fee is not subject to sales and use tax under the plain text of the Utah Tax Code. View "Rent-A-Center v. Tax Comm’n" on Justia Law

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Steven Brown suffered a back injury while working as a school bus driver for the Washington County School District. Brown received workers’ compensation for this injury. In 2007, Brown was reinjured while attending a local festival. The School District denied workers’ compensation liability. An administrative law judge with the Labor Commission concluded that the prior industrial injury was a contributing cause to the second injury and awarded benefits. The Commission and court of appeals affirmed. After clarifying the causation standard under the direct and natural results test for interpreting the Workers’ Compensation Act, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to the Commission to determine whether Brown’s injury met this standard. View "Washington County Sch. Dist. v. Labor Comm'n" on Justia Law

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In an equalization proceeding before the Utah State Tax Commission, Decker Lake Ventures, LLC sought a reduction of the assessed valuation of its property under Utah Code 59-2-1006. Under this statute, the Commission is directed to “adjust property valuations to reflect a value equalized with the assessed value of other comparable properties” upon a determination that “the property that is the subject of the appeal deviates in value plus or minus 5% from the assessed value of comparable properties.” The Commission rejected Decker Lake’s equalization claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Commission did not commit reversible error in its determination of comparability or in its factual findings. View "Decker Lake Ventures v. Utah State Tax Comm'n" on Justia Law

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Law Firm represented an employee in a workers’ compensation claim. Under a settlement agreement, the employee received a disability payment, part of which was earmarked as attorney fees. Defendant also agreed to pay the employee’s medical bills, which included bills from the University of Utah Health Care (Hospital). Law Firm sought to secure additional attorney fees from Hospital and filed an action alleging that it was entitled under a “common fund” theory to recover a percentage of the payments Hospital had received as a result of Law Firm’s efforts in pursuing the employee’s claim. The district court dismissed the action, concluding that the issue was a matter for the Labor Commission. The court of appeals affirmed. Law Firm subsequently asserted a claim before the Labor Commission against Hospital, again arguing for a right to recover fees on a common fund theory. An administrative law judge (ALJ) dismissed the claim, concluding that Law Firm had received all the fees it was statutorily due. Thereafter, Law Firm filed a further attempt at a common fund claim in the district court. The district court dismissed the claim, concluding that further litigation of the matter was barred by the doctrine of issue preclusion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the elements of the doctrine of issue preclusion were amply satisfied in this case. View "Davis & Sanchez, PLLC v. Univ. of Utah Health Care" on Justia Law

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Duane Serrano was injured in a car accident while driving a truck within the scope of his employment with Provo City. More than four years later, Serrano quit his job. Serrano subsequently applied for permanent total disability compensation under the Workers’ Compensation Act. On remand, an administrative law judge (ALJ) found that the preponderance of the evidence showed that Serrano was permanently and totally disabled as a result of his accident and awarded him permanent disability payments. The Utah Labor Commission affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Serrano proved the elements of a permanent total disability claim; (2) the ALJ did not abuse her discretion by initially denying Serrano’s claim but then awarding benefits after the Labor Commission instructed her to reconsider the evidence; and (3) award of benefits should not commence on the date that Serrano was deemed to be permanently and totally disabled because of the extraordinary delay in resolving Serrano’s claim. View "Provo City v. Utah Labor Comm’n" on Justia Law

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Amy Sawyer was a special education teacher for the Jordan School District. When Sawyer received a failing score for her second Jordan Performance Appraisal System (JPAS) evaluation, Sawyer was informed that she would be required to pass a third JPAS evaluation to keep her job or that she could resign in order to avoid the third evaluation. Concerned that if she were terminated that she would not find future employment as a teacher, Sawyer elected to resign rather than submit to a third JPAS evaluation. The Department of Workforce Services (DWS) denied Sawyer’s application for unemployment benefits based upon its finding that Sawyer quit her job without good cause. An administrative law judge (ALJ) upheld DWS’s decision, and the Workforce Appeals Board affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) good cause to quit is a fact-like mixed question of law and fact reviewed deferentially; but (2) the ALJ and Appeals Board applied an incorrect legal standard to this mixed question. Remanded. View "Sawyer v. Dep’t of Workforce Servs." on Justia Law