Utah Appellate Highlights, Utah Supreme Court, February 2018

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.

A.S. v. R.S.,
2017 UT 77 (Nov. 14, 2017)

The Utah Supreme Court dismissed this appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction. The timeliness of the notice of appeal hinged on the timeliness of a Rule 59 motion for new trial, which appellant relied on to toll the time for appeal. Appellant had filed his memorandum in support just before midnight on the deadline to do so, but the motion was not filed until just after midnight the following day. Utah’s electronic filing system and its guidelines establish that the filing date and time is when a filing is received and posted in the electronic system, even if there are technical difficulties that created a delay from the actual filing. The court held that the motion filed shortly after midnight was untimely, even though the memorandum was filed before midnight. The memorandum did not constitute a “motion”; and Rule 6(b)(2) prohibited the district court from extending the time for father to file his Rule 59 motion.

Porenta v. Porenta,
2017 UT 78 (Nov. 15, 2017)

In the midst of divorce proceedings, Husband transferred the couple’s marital home to his mother, intending to void Wife’s claim to the home. Before the divorce was finalized, Husband died. At trial, the court held that the transfer was fraudulent, and awarded the home to Wife. Mother appealed, arguing there was no ongoing debtor-creditor relationship as required under the Utah Fraudulent Transfer Act (UFTA) as this relationship was extinguished upon Husband’s death. Affirming the trial court’s holding, the Utah Supreme Court held that although the UFTA does require an ongoing debtor-creditor relationship, the death of a spouse during a divorce proceeding does not abate the action in regards to property rights that have been determined by the court, and therefore the debtor-creditor relationship was not extinguished upon Husband’s death, and the claim survived against Husband’s estate.

In re R.G.,
2017 UT 79 (Nov. 15, 2017)

Two juvenile defendants accused of aggravated sexual assault appealed the denial of a motion to suppress post-Miranda statements to detective. The supreme court held that the juveniles knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waived their Miranda rights, given the totality of the circumstances, even though parents were not present during the interview. In a footnote, the court observed that best practices might include videotaping the interview, notifying parents, inviting a parent to be present, and taking additional steps to ensure that the juvenile understood the import of the Miranda warning. 

State v. Rettig,
2017 UT 83 (Nov. 22, 2017)

Under the Plea Withdrawal Statute, a defendant must move to withdraw his or her guilty plea prior to sentencing or pursue relief under the Post-Conviction Remedies Act. In this case, the defendant argued that the Plea Withdrawal Statute infringed upon his right to appeal a criminal case under the Utah Constitution. The supreme court held that the Plea Withdrawal Statute does not unconstitutionally foreclose a defendant’s right to appeal, because it merely set out procedural requirements for preserving a direct appeal of a motion to withdraw a guilty plea. 

Bylsma v. R.C. Willey,
2017 UT 85 (Dec. 1, 2017)

In this product liability case, the supreme court rejected the “passive retailer” immunity doctrine of Sanns v. Butterfield Ford, 2004 UT App 203, 94 P.3d 301, as a misreading of the Liability Reform Act. It held that, because the Act preserves the doctrine of strict liability, all parties in the product’s chain of distribution remain strictly liable for sale of a dangerously defective product. To prevent total fault from exceeding 100%, the court held that fault should be allocated on the basis of duty. Since all strictly liable parties have breached the same duty, they should be treated as a single unit for purposes of fault apportionment. The passive retailer then has an implied indemnity claim against the manufacturer for any amount it might be required to pay under the strict liability claim.

Waite v. Labor Comm’n,
2017 UT 86 (Dec. 1, 2017)

The Utah Worker’s Compensation Act has a provision that limits the time an injured worker has to prove a claim to twelve years from the date of the accident. Petitioners, two workers who sought permanent disability benefits more than twelve years after the accident leading to their injury, argued that the provision was an unconstitutional statute of repose under the Open Courts Clause of the Utah Constitution. The Utah Supreme Court agreed that the statute acted as a statute of repose, as it was capable of cutting off a claimant’s right to assert a claim. However, the statute of repose was not unconstitutional because the statute was enacted for the valid legislative purpose of ending prolonged liability for insurance companies and employers, and the twelve-year cut-off was not arbitrary or unreasonable.

Neese v. Utah Bd. of Pardons & Parole,
2017 UT 89 (Dec. 14, 2017)

The defendant filed a petition for extraordinary relief arguing that the parole board violated his due process rights by classifying him as a sex offender and requiring that he complete sex offender treatment as a condition of his parole. The supreme court held that before it can take the refusal of an inmate to participate in sex offender treatment into consideration in deciding whether to grant parole, the parole board must provide timely written notice of the allegations, the opportunity to call witnesses, and a written decision explaining the basis for the determination.

SMS Financial v. CCB, LLC,
2017 UT 90 (Dec. 27, 2017)

In this case, the Utah Supreme Court held the doctrine of equitable conversion protects a buyer’s interests in land when a land sale contract becomes capable of specific enforcement by the buyer, including where buyer-friendly conditions have yet to be satisfied.