Utah Appellate Highlights, Utah Supreme Court, November 2016

Sierra Club v. DEQ
2016 UT 49 (Oct. 26, 2016)
The Executive Director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality dismissed a request for agency action.  Rather than addressing alleged deficiencies in the Executive Director’s final order in their opening brief, the petitioners instead challenged underlying steps in the agency process.  The court struck the portions of the petitioners’ reply brief in which they, for the first time, addressed the Executive Director’s final order.  The petitioners’ failure to challenge the appropriate decision in their principal brief led the court to dismiss the appeal on the basis that the petitioners had not met their burden of persuasion.

Bagley v. Bagley
2016 UT 48 (Oct. 26, 2016)
An individual, acting as personal representative and sole heir of her deceased husband, brought an action against herself for negligently causing her husband’s death.  The Utah Supreme Court held that the wrongful death and survival action statutes unambiguously allow a person acting in the legal capacity of an heir or personal representative to sue him or herself in an individual capacity for negligently causing a decedent’s death or injury.

Mackin v. State
2016 UT 47 (Oct. 21, 2016)
After taking his ex-girlfriend’s purse, the defendant fled the scene.  His ex-girlfriend dove into his vehicle’s passenger window and climbed in while the defendant continued to drive.  The defendant was subsequently convicted of aggravated robbery based upon the use of the car as a deadly weapon.  On appeal, the Supreme Court held that a defendant may be convicted of aggravated robbery for using an object in a manner capable of causing serious bodily injury or death, even if the object is not ordinarily considered a weapon

Brierley v. Layton
2016 UT 47 (Oct. 21, 2016)
The district court granted a motion to suppress evidence obtained while a warrant application remained pending.  The Court of Appeals reversed based upon the inevitable discovery doctrine and a four-factor test articulated by the Tenth Circuit.  Reversing the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court held that the City failed to carry its burden of showing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that evidence would have been inevitably discovered in the absence of a warrant.  In doing so, the Supreme Court declined to apply the Tenth Circuit’s four-factor test.

Little Cottonwood Tanner Ditch Co. v. Sandy City
2016 UT 45 (Oct. 20, 2016)
This appeal involved a post-judgment motion to modify the 1910 Morse Decree, the final decree that adjudicated the right to use the waters of Little Cottonwood Creek.  The district court denied the post-judgment motion to modify, holding it did not have authority to reopen the hundred-year-old case to modify the final judgment.  The Utah Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not have common law authority to modify the Morse Decree through a post-judgment motion, and the Morse Decree itself did not authorize the motion.

Washington Townhomes, LLC v. Washington County Water Conservancy District
2016 UT 43 (Oct. 3, 2016)
The Utah Supreme Court reaffirmed that in order to qualify for certification under Rule 54(b), a decision must constitute a “judgment as to one or more but fewer than all of the claims or parties” at issue in the case.  Because the district court’s order granting partial summary judgment in favor of the defendant did not finally dispose of any claim and did not finally adjudicate the interests of a party, the court held that Rule 54(b) certification was improper.  It accordingly dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

Holmes v. Cannon
2016 UT 42 (Sept. 8, 2016)
The court overruled Panos v. Smith’s Food & Drug Centers, Inc., 913 P.2d 363 (Utah Ct. App. 1996), and held that a dismissal for failure to prosecute under Utah R. Civ. P. 41(b) is with prejudice unless the judge specifies otherwise in the order.

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.