Articles Posted in Utah Supreme Court

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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

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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 dismissed the appeal from several orders related to the disposition of mechanic’s liens, holding that the Court lacked appellate jurisdiction because the Utah R. Civ. P. 54(b) certifications were flawed. Acting pursuant to Rule 54(b), the district court sought to certify as final and appealable the orders at issue. Plaintiff appealed those orders to the Supreme Court. The Court, however, found that the Rule 54(b) certifications were flawed and therefore dismissed the appeal, taking the opportunity of this case to readdress and refine the steps that parties and district courts must take to ensure proper certification under Rule 54(b) in order to avoid unnecessary remands. View "Copper Hills Custom Homes, LLC v. Countrywide Bank, FSB" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed this appeal from a contest over the state water engineer’s resolution of who owned the water rights to Minnie Maud Creek, holding that the Court lacked jurisdiction because the district court’s certification of its summary judgment ruling as final under Utah R. Civ. P. 54(b) was improper. The district court granted summary judgment upholding the state engineer’s proposed determination that The Minnie Maud Reservoir and Irrigation Company was the owner of the disputed water rights. EnerVest and Hammerschmid Trust appealed. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, holding (1) the Court did not have a final judgment before it for review; and (2) EnerVest lacked appellate standing because it was not aggrieved by the district court’s decision and so lacked appellate stand, and therefore, the Court declined to exercise its discretion to treat this appeal as a petition for interlocutory appeal. View "EnerVest v. Utah State Engineer" on Justia Law

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At issue was three questions certified to the Supreme Court by the federal district court relating to the interpretation of the Governmental Immunity Act of Utah (Immunity Act), Utah Code 63G-7-101 to -904. The Supreme Court provided the applicable legal standard for determining what is an instrumentality of the state, exercised its discretion to decline to establish a legal standard for public corporation immunity, and declined to answer the second and third certified questions because those questions were relevant only if one of the entities involved was an instrumentality of the state or a public corporation and that decision must be made by the district court, thereby necessitating answers to those questions. View "GeoMetWatch Corp. v. Utah State University Research Foundation" on Justia Law

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In this case asserting various claims against a number of defendants, the Supreme Court dismissed this appeal, holding that the district court’s order was not a final judgment because the court failed to dispose of Plaintiffs’ civil conspiracy claim against two defendants. In their complaint, Plaintiffs asserted twenty-five causes of action against multiple defendants. The district court granted partial summary judgment and summary judgment in favor of some defendants on several causes of action and granted default judgment against two defendants on some claims. After post-trial proceedings, the district court issued its amended final order of judgment. Both parties appealed. The Supreme Court dismissed the case for lack of appellate jurisdiction, holding that the record indicated that the district court’s final order did not dispose of all claims brought by Plaintiffs against two defendants, and therefore, the final judgment rule was not met. View "Wittingham, LLC v. TNE Limited Partnership" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed this appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction, holding that the Utah R. Civ. P. 54(b) certifications were flawed. The Court then clarified the steps parties and district courts must take to ensure proper certification under Rule 54(b) in order to avoid unnecessary remands. Acting pursuant to Rule 54(b), the district court sought to certify as final and appealable several orders related to the disposition of mechanic’s liens. Plaintiff appealed those orders. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal in its entirety, holding that the 54(b) certification orders at issue were deficient for four reasons outlined in this opinion. View "Copper Hills Custom Homes, LLC v. Countrywide Bank, FSB" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed Appellant’s appeal from the district court’s denial of Appellant’s motion to amend his counterclaim and to join a party, holding that it lacked appellate jurisdiction because the district court’s order did not offer sufficient findings and conclusions to understand the court’s reasoning and because the district court did not enter findings supporting the conclusion that the certified order was final. The parties presented this case as an appeal from a final order pursuant to Utah R. Civ. P. 54(b), but the district court’s rule 54(b) certification did not make the requisite express determination that there was no just reason for delay. Further, the district court failed to offer the necessary rational under Utah R. Civ. P. 52(a), which functioned as a practical bar to the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction. Therefore, the district court did not enter any final order in this case, and no exception to the final judgment rule existed conferring appellate jurisdiction on the Supreme Court. View "First National Bank of Layton v. Palmer" on Justia Law

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In holding that the successor judge in this case had authority to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims for breach of contract and consequential damages and committed no reversible error by doing so, the Supreme Court repudiated any language in its precedent that suggests that a successor judge on a case is bound by nonfinal decisions and rulings made by his predecessor. Plaintiff, who was hired by the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) to work on different construction projects, filed various claims against UDOT and other contractors on the projects. UDOT moved for summary judgment on claims for breach of contract on the “Arcadia” project and claims seeking consequential damages. Judge Kennedy, the original judge assigned to the case, denied both motions. Judge Kennedy was then replaced in this case by Judge Harris. Judge Harris ultimately dismissed Plaintiff’s claims for breach of contract and consequential damages. Plaintiff filed this interlocutory appeal, arguing that Judge Harris violated the so-called coordinate judge rule, which Plaintiff alleged limits the discretion of a successor judge to revisit decisions of a predecessor. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) a successor judge has the same power to review nonfatal decisions that a predecessor would have had; and (2) Judge Harris did not commit reversible error by dismissing the claims at issue. View "Build v. Utah Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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An action is commenced under Utah law not by the filing of a motion for leave to amend but by the filing of a complaint. Many years after filing suit against other defendants a homeowners association sued the general contractor on a construction project. By the time the homeowners association finally filed an amended complaint naming the general contractor the statute of repose had run on six buildings in the project. The general contractor filed motion for summary judgment, asserting that the claims against it were time barred. The district court denied the motion, concluding that the amended complaint related back to the date the motion for leave to amend was filed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the homeowners association’s claims were time barred because no viable complaint was filed within the repose period and the complaint did not relate back to a timely pleading. View "Gables v. Castlewood" on Justia Law