Utah Appellate Highlights, Utah Appeals Court, October 2017

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.

State in re P.F.
2017 UT App 159 (August 24, 2017)

In this appeal from the juvenile court’s order terminating parental rights of the child, the mother argued, among other things, that the child should have been placed with family or a member of her tribe as prescribed in the Indian Child Welfare Act.  The court of appeals affirmed the termination order, holding that bonding with a foster family can qualify as “good cause” where, as here, the initial placement did not violate the ICWA.

State v. Holm
2017 UT App 148 (August 10, 2017)

Holm was convicted of negligent homicide resulting from a traffic accident. During voir dire, Holm was not allowed to ask follow-up questions of individuals who had indicated they or someone close to them had been involved in a serious car accident.  The court of appeals reversed the conviction, holding that as proposed voir dire questions draw closer to probing potential bias, the court’s discretion in deciding whether to allow the questioning narrows, and when requested voir dire questions go directly to the existence of actual bias, the court’s discretion disappears.

White v. White
2017 UT App 140 (August 3, 2017)

After a divorce, the husband placed ownership of his home into a single member LLC, and then failed to pay certain judgments.  The court of appeals held that under the plain meaning of the statutory homestead exemption, the exemption could not be claimed by the LLC.

Rule v. Rule
2017 UT App 137 (August 3, 2017)

The court of appeals held that it was an abuse of discretion for the district court to make its alimony determination by assessing the wife’s needs and calculating her actual expenses at the time of trial, rather than the standard of living established during the marriage.  The district court’s conclusion that the parties’ combined resources were insufficient to sustain the marital standard was not a sufficient justification to bypass the traditional needs analysis which requires consideration of the marital standard.

State v. Reyos
2017 UT App 132 (July 28, 2017)

An acquaintance of the defendant told police that the defendant admitted to killing the victim, but at trial the acquaintance testified that he had no recollection of making this statement.  The trial court admitted a recording of the acquaintance’s statement into evidence, and the jury ultimately convicted the defendant of aggravated murder.  The defendant argued on appeal that the admission of the recorded statement violated his Sixth Amendment right of confrontation because the acquaintance was unavailable for examination due to his amnesia. The court rejected this argument, concluding that unavailability under the confrontation clause is narrow and literal.  A witness is unavailable if he does not testify but is available if he does.  The court also rejected the defendant’s constitutional challenges to Utah’s aggravated murder sentencing scheme, and accordingly affirmed his conviction.

State v. Magness
2017 UT App 130 (July 28, 2017)

The defendant asked to withdraw his guilty plea, arguing that it was not knowingly and voluntarily made due to misleading statements made by the prosecution that had undermined the voluntariness of the plea.  The court of appeals agreed, holding that the district court too narrowly focused on Rule 11 requirements, and should have considered the totality of the circumstances, including the defendant’s reasonable reliance on the prosecutor’s misleading statements.

Silva v. Silva
2017 UT App 125 (July 28, 2017)

After the husband obtained a judgment against his ex-wife in their divorce proceeding due to her failure to convey real property the divorce court had awarded to him, the husband brought this suit against his wife and daughters alleging fraudulent conveyance and seeking to quiet title.  Upon motion by the husband, the Court ordered alternative service by publication.  When the wife did not appear, the district court entered default judgment and a writ of execution on three of the wife’s properties, including the property at issue.  The wife appeared through counsel later that month and moved to set aside the default under Rule 60(b).  The district court denied this motion.  The three properties were then sold at a sheriff’s sale.  The court of appeals held that the wife did not receive the notice required by due process because the husband had not acted diligently and taken all reasonably practical steps to give the wife actual notice.  The district court therefore lacked jurisdiction over the wife and the judgment, as well as the sheriff’s sale and deed based on that judgment, was void. 

Christensen v. Christensen
2017 UT App 120 (July 20, 2017)

The court of appeals reversed the district court’s decision not to terminate alimony, which was based on the district court’s conclusion that the wife was not “cohabitating” with her boyfriend, with whom she lived.  The district court erred in considering whether the wife and her boyfriend held themselves out as husband and wife or had a reputation for being married, because those were legally irrelevant considerations.

Sauer v. Sauer
2017 UT App 114 (July 13, 2017)

In this divorce case, the wife had estimated her housing needs for the purpose of alimony.  The trial court rejected her estimate based on its concern that she may not be able to continue living with a friend and, as a result, her figures were neither credible nor relevant.  Relying on Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, the trial court imputed needs based upon the amount claimed by the husband.  On appeal, the husband argued the court should have been bound by the wife’s estimate.  The court of appeals held the trial court did not abuse its discretion by imputing a housing amount equal to that claimed by husband for the purposes of determining alimony, where there was no credible and relevant evidence of wife’s need.