Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Utah Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the district court dismissing Plaintiff's claims that Defendant, his employer, fired him in violation of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in his compensation agreement with Defendant, holding that the court of appeals' application of the covenant was improper. In his complaint, Plaintiff claimed that Defendant fired him in an effort to avoid payment of commissions and that, even though he was an at-will employee, his termination violated the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. In dismissing the claims, the district court concluded that the covenant could did not apply in this context. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the covenant can be invoked to prevent employers form using at-will termination to avoid obligations under the compensation agreement. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the covenant of good faith and fair dealing may not be applied to contradict express contractual terms; and (2) the court of appeals' application was inconsistent with the express terms of the compensation agreement and with the parties' course of dealings. View "Vander Veur v. Groove Entertainment Technologies" on Justia Law

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In this breach of contract action the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing two of the district court's pretrial evidentiary rulings, holding that the court of appeals did not err in holding that the district court incorrectly excluded expert testimony and other evidence proposed by Plaintiff. Plaintiff, Northgate Village Development, LC, brought this action against the City of Orem seeking to recover the cost of cleaning up property Northgate had purchased from the City. The district court granted summary judgment for the City. The court of appeals reversed. On remand, the City made pretrial motions to exclude some of Northgate's proposed evidence. The district court granted the motion as to Northgate's proposed evidence and excluded Northgate's experts as a discovery sanction. Northgate filed an interlocutory appeal. The court of appeals reversed both evidentiary orders. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court erred in excluding Northgate's proposed expert testimony as a discovery sanction because it applied the wrong version of Utah R. Civ. P. 26; and (2) the district court abused its discretion in excluding the challenged evidence as irrelevant under Utah R. Evid. 401 and as prejudicial under Utah. R. Evid. 403. View "Northgate Village Development, LC v. City of Orem" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Public Service Commission denying PacifiCorp's application for approval of an agreement between PacifiCorp and Monticello Wind Farm, LLC (MWF) for the purchase of wind energy, holding that the Commission was not obligated to approve the agreement under the circumstances of this case. Under Utah and federal law, PacifiCorp and MWF could set the terms for their agreement in one of two ways by either fixing pricing based on PacifiCorp's avoided costs, which would make the contract one negotiated within the Commission's framework, or negotiating their own pricing terms and contractually limiting the scope of the Commission's review. The Commission reviewed the pricing to ensure consistency with PacifiCorp's avoided costs, but the pricing was based on a methodology the Commission had discontinued. The Commission concluded the pricing could not be deemed consistent with PacifiCorp's avoided costs and denied the application. On appeal, MWF asserted that the parties opted out of the Commission's framework, and therefore, the Commission was obligated to approve the agreement. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that this was an agreement the Commission could reject if it obligated PacifiCorp to purchase energy at a price higher than its avoided costs. View "Monticello Wind Farm, LLC v. Public Service Commission of Utah" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court denying the petition filed by Petitioners, a same-sex married couple and a woman and her husband requesting that the court validate their agreement that the woman act as a gestational surrogate for the couple, holding that Utah Code 78B-15-802(2)(b), which precludes same-sex male couples from obtaining a valid gestational agreement, is unconstitutional. A married couple, both men, entered into an agreement with a woman and her husband to have the woman act as a gestational surrogate to carry a fertilized embryo that contained the genetic material of one of the couple. This type of gestational agreement is not enforceable in Utah unless it is validated by a tribunal, and a court may not validated the agreement if medical evidence is not presented showing that the "intended mother" is unable to bear a child or will suffer health consequences if she does. Petitioners filed a petition requesting that the district court validate their gestational agreement, but the court denied the petition because neither of the intended parents were women. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the statute is unconstitutional and that the unconstitutional subsection should be severed. The Court then remanded this case for further proceedings. View "In re Gestational Agreement" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decision to exclude all evidence of Keystone Insurance Agency's alleged damage under Utah R. Civ. P. 26(d)(4) in Keystone's suit against Inside Insurance, the court's dismissal of all of Keystone's claims with the exception of Keystone's request for declaratory relief, and the court's dismissal of Inside's counterclaims, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion. In its complaint, Keystone requested that the district court declare Keystone a member of Inside and sought to inspect certain records. Inside asserted several counterclaims. After the district court entered its judgment the Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Keystone failed to provide Inside with a viable computation of its claimed damages in compliance with Utah R. Civ. P. 26(a)(1)(C), and therefore, the district court properly excluded Keystone's damages evidence under rule 26(d)(4); (2) the district court properly denied Keystone's motion for reconsideration; and (3) the district court did not abuse its discretion by dismissing with prejudice Inside's expulsion counterclaim seeking expulsion of Keystone as a member of Inside pursuant to Utah R. Civ. P. 41(a)(2) and (c). View "Keystone Insurance Agency, LLC v. Inside Insurance, LLC" on Justia Law

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In this contract dispute stemming from a seller-financed real estate transaction, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court, holding primarily that the district court was not precluded by the mandate rule from determining that the promissory note did not require the buyers to pay any incurred late fee amounts to bring note current because the court construed an ambiguity in the note against the defendants, as drafters, without first considering extrinsic evidence. The buyers purchased the real estate with a promissory note that required them to make an installment payment each month and a final balloon payment. The note applied a ten percent base interest rate on the unpaid principal and established consequences if the buyers missed an installment payment, including a late fee and bump up in the base interest rate until the note was brought current. The buyers made the installment payments but disagreed over the amount owing the final balloon payment, leading to litigation. The Supreme Court remanded the case for a new determination after the court considers relevant extrinsic evidence and held that the district court did not clearly err in determining that extrinsic evidence showed that the parties did not intent the note's late fee to apply to the final payment. View "Brady v. Park" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court declined to overturn a rule established in St. Benedict’s Development Co. v. St. Benedict’s Hospital, 811 P.2d 194 (Utah 1991), in which the Court held that to prevail on a claim for intentional interference with contract the plaintiff must show that the defendant interfered through “improper means,” holding that “improper means” test remains a good rule. Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant alleging that Defendant intentionally interfered with Plaintiff’s contracts with its employees. Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff failed to provide proof of “improper means” to support its claim. The federal district court concluded that there appears to be no clear, controlling Utah law regarding the interpretation of “improper means” and certified the question to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held (1) the element of improper means is firmly established in Utah law and rests upon a firm legal footing, and therefore, this Court declines to overturn St. Benedict’s; (2) the definition of “improper means” provided in Leigh Furniture & Carpet Co. v. Isom, 657 P.2d 293 (Utah 1982), and St. Benedict’s is reaffirmed; and (3) to prove the element of improper means based on an alleged violation of an established industry rule or standard the plaintiff must provide evidence of an objective, industry-wide standard. View "C.R. England v. Swift Transportation Co." on Justia Law

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In this complaint alleging fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and breach of fiduciary duty against Van Wagoner & Bradshaw, LLC, an accounting firm, and Coldwell Banker Commercial, the Supreme Court largely affirmed as to the issues raised in cross-petitions for certiorari but reversed and remanded as to the issue as to whether Plaintiff was entitled to a jury instruction on nondisclosure fraud. Reperex, Inc. brought this action after a business it purchased in a deal brokered by Coldwell failed. All of the claims against Coldwell were dismissed before trial. Two of the claims against Bradshaw were dismissed before trial, and the remaining fraud claim went to trial, where Bradshaw prevailed. The court of appeals affirmed as to Bradshaw but reversed as to Coldwell. Coldwell and Reperex filed cross-petitions for certiorari. The Supreme Court held (1) Coldwell could not be held liable despite a nonreliance clause in Coldwell’s contract with Reperex; (2) expert testimony was not required to sustain Reperex’s breach of fiduciary duty claim; (3) Reperex failed to establish a basis for overcoming protections available to Bradshaw under Utah Coe 58-26a-602; but (4) as to the lack of a jury instruction on nondisclosure fraud, the case must be remanded for a determination of whether Bradshaw owed Reperex a duty of disclosure under the common law. View "Reperex, Inc. v. Coldwell Banker Commercial" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the jury’s $2.75 million award for non-economic damages in this legal malpractice and breach of contract case, holding that the case did not qualify as one of the “rare” cases where non-economic damages can be recovered for breach of contract. Plaintiff sued Defendants for legal malpractice, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and negligent hiring, training, and supervision after Defendants failed to bring Plaintiff’s claim before the statute of limitations ran. The jury found in favor of Plaintiff on each of the claims, awarding her $750,000 in damages for breach of contract and $2.75 million for the emotional distress Plaintiff suffered as the result of the malpractice. The Supreme Court vacated the non-economic damages award, holding that, under either a breach of contract or breach of fiduciary duty theory, the district court erred in upholding the award for emotional distress damages. The Court also vacated the attorney fees award and held that the district court correctly denied Plaintiff’s litigation expenses. View "Gregory & Swapp, PLLC v. Kranendonk" on Justia Law

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An action is commenced under Utah law not by the filing of a motion for leave to amend but by the filing of a complaint. Many years after filing suit against other defendants a homeowners association sued the general contractor on a construction project. By the time the homeowners association finally filed an amended complaint naming the general contractor the statute of repose had run on six buildings in the project. The general contractor filed motion for summary judgment, asserting that the claims against it were time barred. The district court denied the motion, concluding that the amended complaint related back to the date the motion for leave to amend was filed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the homeowners association’s claims were time barred because no viable complaint was filed within the repose period and the complaint did not relate back to a timely pleading. View "Gables v. Castlewood" on Justia Law