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 v. Sanchez
2018 UT 31 (July 5, 2018)

In rejecting an appeal for a murder conviction, the court held that the subjective element for demonstrating extreme emotional distress under the special mitigation statute required a showing that (1) the defendant was “exposed to extremely unusual and overwhelming stress,” (2) that he had an “extreme emotional reaction” to the stress such that his capacity for reason was overcome, (3) that the emotional distress was not the result of a mental illness, and (4) that the distress was not “substantially caused by his own conduct.”

Espenschied Transp. Corp. v. Fleetwood Servs., Inc.
2018 UT 32 (July 5, 2018)

As part of a settlement of a wrongful death suit, a trucking company agreed to pursue claims against its insurance agent and use any funds recovered to satisfy attorney fees and the settlement in the wrongful death.  In the subsequent lawsuit, the district court granted the insurance agent’s motion for summary judgment because the trucking company suffered no actual damages.  Affirming, the supreme court declined the plaintiff’s invitation to extend Ammerman II to insurance agents and brokers, and held that the plaintiff had failed to create a genuine issue of material of fact on damages, primarily because the plaintiff had never paid any money as a result of the settlement and consent judgment.

Teamsters Local 222 v. Utah Transit Auth.
2018 UT 33 (July 9, 2018)

The court dismissed this appeal on mootness grounds without reaching the merits of the dispute over whether UTA supervisors had collective bargaining rights.  The court held that the controversy became moot when the supervisors held an election and voted not to unionize.

Mower v. Baird
2018 UT 29 (July 11, 2018)

The district court granted summary judgment to the defendant therapist, concluding that the therapist did not owe a duty to the non-patient parent who sued her.  The supreme court reversed this decision and remanded for further proceedings, holding that a treating therapist working with a minor child owes a limited duty to a non-patient parent to refrain from affirmative acts that recklessly violate the standard of care in a manner that gives rise to false memories or false allegations of sexual abuse committed by the non-patient parent.

Build v. UDOT
2018 UT 34 (July 17, 2018)

The court repudiated an interpretation of a prior line of cases purporting to place limits on a successor judge’s authority to overturn a predecessor judge’s rulings.  The court held that a successor judge has the same authority as the predecessor judge in reviewing and overturning prior decisions, and that the supposed limits placed on successor judges by the prior case law are merely advisory statements of best practices, not enforceable standards on appeal.

Gregory & Swapp, PLLC v. Kranendonk
2018 UT 36 (July 26, 2018)

In this legal malpractice action, the jury awarded the plaintiff $2.75 million in non-economic damages arising out of emotional distress.  Vacating and remanding for a new trial, the supreme court held that the trial court erred in allowing the plaintiff to recover damages for emotional distress based on a breach of contract theory, where neither the nature nor the language of the contract demonstrated that emotional distress damages were expressly contemplated by the parties.

Haik v. Jones
2018 UT 39 (Aug. 7, 2018)

This was an appeal from the district court’s dismissal of a petition for judicial review of the State Engineer’s approval of a water right change application.  The court held the appellant lacked statutory standing because he was not an “aggrieved party.”  While the majority assumed that the appellant could rely on public interest standing but held the requirements of that standing were not met in this case, it noted in a footnote that “Any invocation of the public standing doctrine should come with a warning label that two members of this court have expressed serious doubt about the intellectual underpinnings of the doctrine and have invited further discussion of its continued viability.”

Copper Hills Custom Homes, LLC v. Countrywide Bank, FSB
2018 UT 56 (Sept. 27, 2018) (amended opinion)

The court held that when a court certifies its decision as final and appealable under Rule 54(b) based on lack of factual overlap between the claims, the certified order should “detail the lack of factual overlap between the certified and remaining claims” as well as include an “express determination by the district court that there is no just reason for delay,” and provide the district court’s reasoning for that determination.

Savely v. Utah Highway Patrol
2018 UT 44 (Aug. 22, 2018)

The Utah Highway Patrol seized nearly $500,000 in cash from the plaintiff after a traffic stop.  The plaintiff filed suit seeking to have his money returned to him after it sat in a UHP bank account for seventy-five days and no forfeiture proceedings were filed in a Utah state district court.  The district court initi concluded that it lacked in rem jurisdiction over the seized funds because a federal magistrate had issued a seizure warrant for the money on behalf of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the UHP had sent a check for the cash amount to the DEA, although that check was never cashed.  On appeal, the court reversed and remanded, concluding that a district court begins exercising in rem jurisdiction, at the very latest, when property is held for forfeiture and that the federal seizure warrants had no effect on the district court’s in rem jurisdiction.

State v. Martinez Castellanos
2018 UT 46 (Aug. 29, 2018)

The court overturned a court of appeals decision ordering a new trial due to the cumulative errors at the district court.  The court held that under the cumulative error doctrine, only those errors that are substantial enough to cause harm can accumulate.  Minor errors that could result in no harm do not accumulate so as to warrant a new trial.

Judd v. Bowen
2018 UT 47 (Aug. 29, 2018)

The supreme court revoked its grant of certiorari review after briefing and argument on the basis the criteria for certiorari set forth in Utah R. App. P. 46 were not present and certiorari had been improvidently granted.  In doing so, the court discussed the bases for certiorari review and “encourage[d] future parties to keep in mind the guidelines we have set out in this opinion as they prepare their petitions for certiorari.”