Utah Appellate Highlights, Utah Appeals Court, April 2017

State v. Steed
2017 UT App 6 (Jan. 6, 2017)

After defendants’ convictions for failure to file tax returns were overturned, the district court denied their request for a refund of tax penalties and interest they had paid pursuant to a restitution order.  The court held that the order of acquittal eliminated the court’s jurisdiction to impose restitution, and the Steeds were entitled to a refund.  However, because the Steeds voluntarily entered into a private pay-to-stay contract with the Wasatch County Jail, they were not entitled to a refund of the costs of incarceration.  In addition, they were not entitled to a refund of supervision fees paid to Adult Probation and Parole, as the Steeds actually received the State’s supervision services—a result the court characterized as “troubling at an intuitive level.”

State v. Martinez-Castellanos
2017 UT App 13 (Jan. 20, 2017)

Trial counsel’s failure to provide the defendant a meaningful opportunity to participate in the in-chambers voir dire of potential jurors, either by being physically present or through discussion after, constituted deficient performance.  Without deciding whether voir dire is, as a general matter, a critical stage of trial at which a defendant has a right to be present at all times, the court held that the in-chambers voir dire in this case was sufficiently important that the defendant had a right to participate.

Rhen v. Christensen
2017 UT App 21 (Feb. 2, 2017)

The defendant challenged the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the plaintiff on the first two elements of his slander of title claim—publication of a slanderous statement disparaging the claimant’s title and that the statement was false.  The defendant claimed, among other things, that he had a valid attorney’s lien on the plaintiff’s property.  The court affirmed the district court’s holding that the defendant attorney did not have a valid statutory attorney’s lien.  It explained, “An attorney’s single comment concerning property not at issue in the divorce and not owned by the client, made in the course of performing extensive divorce-related work for the client, is too tenuous to connect the legal work to the Property.”

Patterson v. Knight
2017 UT App 22 (Feb. 2, 2017)

The parties’ handwritten settlement agreement after mediation stated that it was subject to drafting a final agreement that would include a non-disparagement provision and other terms.  One party sent the other a draft of a more formal agreement shortly after the mediation, and roughly a month later, the other party responded that they could not agree to the terms as drafted and that they were terminating the proposed mediation agreement.  The court of appeals affirmed enforcement of the settlement agreement, noting that the repudiating party could not rely on its own failure to follow through with reasonable efforts to craft the contemplated written agreement to defeat the condition of drafting a more formal agreement.

Mower v. Simpson
2017 UT App 23 (Feb. 2, 2017)

Affirming a summary judgment, the court of appeals held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by striking a declaration that (a) directly contradicted the declarant’s sworn deposition testimony and (b) contained conclusory and speculative statements that lacked specificity or foundation.

Reperex, Inc. v. Child, Van Wagoner & Bradshaw
2017 UT App 25 (Feb. 9, 2017)

The validity of a contractual provision that released a business broker from any liability for the buyer’s reliance on its statements depends on allegations or proof of fraud, not on the breadth of the clause, repudiating a prior memorandum decision of the court that suggested otherwise.

Welty v. Retirement Board
2017 UT App 26 (Feb. 9, 2017)

Decedent was required under a divorce decree to designate petitioner as his life insurance beneficiary until their minor children reached the age of 18, but he had violated the order and changed the beneficiary to his current spouse shortly before he died.  The insurer paid the death benefit to the designated beneficiary, and six years later the ex-wife sought an order requiring benefits to be paid to her.  The court held that the plain language of the applicable statute required PEHP to pay life insurance benefits to the man’s last named beneficiary, which it had done, and the divorce decree was not part of the insurance contract, so no second payment was required.

Brown v. Williams
2017 UT App 29 (Feb. 16, 2017)

An employee of the IRS was struck by a co-employee while walking into work in the employer’s parking lot.  The court held that because the accident occurred on the employer’s premises, in a parking lot dedicated to its employees, workers’ compensation provided the exclusive remedy.

State v. Van Huizen
2017 UT App 30 (Feb. 16, 2017)

Appealing a conviction for aggravated robbery, the defendant argued that the juvenile judge should have been required to recuse herself for lack of impartiality under Utah’s Code of Judicial Conduct prior to binding the defendant over to stand trial as an adult.  The court held that the judge’s marriage to the chief criminal deputy in the prosecuting entity’s office gave rise to an appearance of impropriety, and that the defendant was entitled to another bindover hearing, even in the absence of a showing of prejudice.

RJW Media Inc. v. Heath
2017 UT App 34 (Feb. 24, 2017)

Discussing the disclosure requirements for non-retained experts for the first time since the 2011 revision to the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, the court of appeals held that the district court abused its discretion by allowing a party to present opinions of a non-retained expert, because the party failed to provide a summary of the witness’s testimony, as required by Rule 26, until four days prior to trial.

C504750P LLC v. Baker
2017 UT App 36 (Feb. 24, 2017)

Faced with clear evidence that the defendant was evading service of process, the court of appeals upheld service by publication against a due process challenge, holding the plaintiff had been reasonably diligent in its efforts to serve the defendant.

Lindsey v. Lindsey
2017 UT App 38 (Mar. 2, 2017)

In this divorce case, the district court concluded, on summary judgment, that husband’s business interests were separate property.  Surveying the exceptions to the general presumption that separate property will not be divided, the court of appeals affirmed, holding that wife’s maintenance of the marital household, standing alone, was insufficient to demonstrate contribution to the opposing party’s pre-marital business interests.  The court left open the issue of whether a correctness or deference standard of review would apply to a district court’s pre-trial categorization of marital property.

Rocky Mountain Builders Supply v. Marks
2017 UT App 41, (Mar. 3, 2017)

A Utah resident agreed to construct two gazebos and a shed on defendant’s property in Montana.  The court of appeals rejected the defendant’s claim that the Utah forum selection clause in the contract was unenforceable.  The court held that, although one of the parties was a business entity and the other an individual, there was no reason to conclude that the forum selection clause was unreasonable or unfair; and that Utah’s exercise of jurisdiction over the subject matter only requires a rational nexus to the case or parties.

Case summaries for Appellate Highlights are authored by members of Snow Christensen & Martineau’s Appellate Practice Group.  For more information, visit our Appellate Highlights page.