Utah Standards of Appellate Review - Third Edition

JurisdictionUtah,United States
CitationVol. 23 No. 5 Pg. 10
Pages10
Publication year2010
Utah Bar Journal
Volume 23.

Vol. 23, No. 5, 10. Utah Standards of Appellate Review - Third Edition

Utah Bar Journal
Volume 23 No. 5
Sep/Oct 2010

Articles

Utah Standards of Appellate Review - Third Edition

by Norman H. Jackson and Lisa Broderick Thornton

B. Challenging Discretionary Rulings

1. Introduction

As discussed in the first article of this series, appellants often characterize issues as "findings of fact" when they are actually issues challenging discretionary rulings made by the trial court. The traditional "abuse of discretion" standard of review, as well as the discretion granted in mixed question situations, were discussed at length in State v. Pena, 869 P.2d 932, 936-40 (Utah 1994).

2. Traditional Abuse-of-Discretion Standard

The abuse-of-discretion standard flows from the trial court's significant role in pre-appellate litigation. The trial court has "'a great deal of latitude in determining the most fair and efficient manner to conduct court business.'" Bodell Constr. Co. v. Robbins, 2009 UT 52, ¶ 35, 215 P.3d 933 (quoting Morton v. Cont'l Baking Co., 938 P.2d 271, 275 (Utah 1997)); accord State v. Rhinehart, 2006 UT App 517, ¶ 9, 153 P.3d 830. This is because the trial judge "'is in the best position to evaluate the status of his [or her] cases, as well as the attitudes, motives, and credibility of the parties.'" Bodell, 2009 UT 52, ¶ 35 (alteration in original) (quoting Morton, 938 P.2d at 275); accord Rhinehart, 2006 UT App 517, ¶ 25.

a. Civil Cases

Until an appellate court has determined that a particular fact situation does or does not satisfy the legal standard at issue, the trial court has discretion to venture into that area and make that determination. See Pena, 869 P.2d at 939 n.5. A trial court abuses its discretion if there is "no reasonable basis for the decision." Tschaggeny v. Milbank Ins. Co., 2007 UT 37, ¶ 16, 163 P.3d 615 (internal quotation marks omitted); accord Gudmundson v. Del Ozone, 2010 UT 33, ¶ 10, 232 P.3d 1059 (stating trial court abuses its discretion if decision exceeds the limits of reasonability); Richards v. Brown, 2009 UT App 315, ¶ 12, 222 P.3d 69; Williams v. Bench, 2008 UT App 306, ¶ 7, 193 P.3d 640; Riley v. Riley, 2006 UT App 214, ¶ 15, 138 P.3d 84; Lefavi v. Bertoch, 2000 UT App 5, ¶ 16, 994 P.2d 817 (providing appellate court will affirm trial court's decision on appeal if reasonable basis exists for determination). A trial judge's determination will be reversed if the ruling "is so unreasonable as to be classified as capricious and arbitrary, or a clear abuse of discretion." Anderson v. Thompson, 2008 UT App 3, ¶ 11, 176 P.3d 464 (internal quotation marks omitted); accord In re Weiskopf, 2005 UT App 313, ¶ 1, 123 P.3d 453. An abuse of discretion may be demonstrated by showing that the trial court relied on an erroneous conclusion of law. See Kilpatrick v. Bullough Abatement, Inc., 2008 UT 82, ¶ 23, 199 P.3d 957.

(i) Examples of Pretrial Discretion

(1) Whether the trial court properly denied a motion to change venue. See Grantsville v. Redevelopment Agency of Tooele City, 2010 UT 38, ¶ 53, 233 P.3d 461; United States Bank Nat'l Ass'n v. HMA, L.C., 2007 UT 40, ¶ 30, 169 P.3d 433.

(2) Whether the trial court properly granted or denied injunctive relief. See Carrier v. Lindquist, 2006 UT 105, ¶ 26, 37 P.3d 1112.

(3) Whether the trial court properly denied a motion to amend a pleading. See Grantsville, 2010 UT 38, ¶ 50; Davencourt atPilgrims Landing Homeowners Ass'n v. Davencourt at Pilgrims Landing, LC, 2009 UT 65, ¶ 13, 221 P.3d 234 (regarding a motion to amend a complaint); Red Cliffs Corner, LLC v. J.J. Hunan, Inc., 2009 UT App 240, ¶ 14, 219 P.3d 619.

(4) Whether the trial court properly conducted voir dire. See Boyle v. Christensen, 2009 UT App 241, ¶ 7, 219 P.3d 58; Bee v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., 2009 UT App 35, ¶ 8, 204 P.3d 204.

(5) Whether the trial court properly denied a motion to continue. See In re V.L., 2008 UT App 88, ¶ 30, 182 P.3d 395.

(6) Whether the trial court should summarily enforce a settlement agreement. See LD III, LLC v. BBRD, LC, 2009 UT App 301, ¶ 13, 221 P.3d 867.

(7) Whether the trial court properly enforced a scheduling order. See Posner v. equity Title Ins. Agency, Inc., 2009 UT App 347, ¶ 23, 222 P.3d 775.

(8) Whether the trial court properly imposed discovery sanctions. See Bodell Constr. Co. v. Robbins, 2009 UT 52, ¶ 35, 215 P.3d 933; SFR, Inc. v. Comtrol, Inc., 2008 UT App 31, ¶ 9, 177 P.3d 629.

(9) Whether the trial court properly ordered that a trial should be bifurcated. See Clayton v. Ford Motor Co., 2009 UT App 154, ¶ 9, 214 P.3d 865, cert. denied, 221 P.3d 837.

(10) Whether the trial court properly dismissed a case for failure to prosecute. See Gillmor v. Blue Ledge Corp., 2009 UT App 230, ¶ 6, 217 P.3d 723.

(11) Whether the trial court properly refused to reconsider a nonfinal summary judgment order. See IHC Health Servs. Inc. v. D and K Mgmt., Inc., 2008 UT 73, ¶ 27, 196 P.3d 588; Chilton v. Young, 2009 UT App 265, ¶ 4, 220 P.3d 171, cert. denied, 230 P.3d 127 (Utah 2010).

(12) Whether the trial court improperly failed to require the posting of a bond for a temporary restraining order. See Kenny v. Rich, 2008 UT App 209, ¶ 22, 186 P.3d 989.

(13) Whether the trial court properly granted or denied a motion to reconsider summary judgment. See Tschaggeny v. Milbank Ins. Co., 2007 UT 37, ¶ 16, 163 P.3d 615; Johnson v. Gold's Gym, 2009 UT App 76, ¶ 10, 206 P.3d 302, cert. denied, 215 P.3d 161 (Utah 2010).

(ii) Examples of Discretion Exercised During Trial

Most examples of challenges to discretion exercised during trial arise in the evidence context, which will be covered in a later article.

(1) Whether the trial court properly determined not to award punitive damages. See White v. Randall, 2007 UT App 45, ¶ 23, 156 P.3d 849.

(2) Whether the trial court determined the proper amount for a punitive damage award. See Campbell v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 2004 UT 34, ¶ 12, 98 P.3d 409.

(3) Whether the trial court properly decided to award damages. See Richards v. Brown, 2009 UT App 315, ¶ 12, 222 P.3d 69.

(4) Whether the trial court properly ordered specific performance. See Covey v. Covey, 2003 UT App 380, ¶ 18, 80 P.3d 553.

(5) Whether the trial court properly fashioned an equitable remedy. See Ockey v. Lehmer, 2008 UT 37, ¶ 42, 189 P.3d 51; Collard v. Nagle Constr. Inc., 2006 UT 72, ¶ 13, 149 P.3d 348; In re estate of LeFevre, 2009 UT App 286, ¶ 10, 220 P.3d 476, cert. denied, 230 P.3d 127 (Utah 2010); OLP, LLC v. Burningham, 2008 UT App 173, ¶ 11, 185 P.3d 1138, aff'd, 2009 UT 75, 225 P.3d 177.

(iii) Examples of Post-Trial Discretion

(1) Whether the trial court properly denied a motion for a new trial. See Smith v. Fairfax Realty, Inc., 2003 UT 41, ¶ 25, 82 P.3d 1064; State v. Pena, 869 P.2d 932, 938 (Utah 1994) ("At the extreme end of the discretion spectrum would be a decision by the trial court to grant or deny a new trial based on insufficiency of the evidence."); Wasatch Cnty. v. Okelberry, 2010 UT App 13, ¶ 9, 226 P.3d 737; Markham v. Bradley, 2007 UT App 379, ¶ 14, 173 P.3d 865.

(2) Whether the trial court properly modified a final judgment. See Dixon Bldg, LLC v. Jefferson, 2010 UT App 34, ¶ 6, 127 P.3d 266.

(3) Whether a trial court should grant a motion for relief from a judgment. See Davis v. Goldsworthy, 2008 UT App 145, ¶ 10, 184 P.3d 626 (default judgment).

(4) Whether the amount of attorney fees awarded was proper. See Kenny v. Rich, 2008 UT App 209, ¶ 23, 186 P.3d 989; Bonneville Distrib. Co. v. Green River Dev. Assocs., Inc., 2007 UT App 175, ¶ 44, 164 P.3d 433.

(5) Whether the trial court properly declined to award attorney fees. See Fisher v. Fisher, 2009 UT App 305, ¶ 8, 221 P.3d 845, cert. denied, 230 P.3d 127 (Utah 2010).

(6) Whether the trial court should award costs. See Giusti v. Sterling Wentworth Corp., 2009 UT 2, ¶¶ 20, 78, 201 P.3d 966 (stating appellate courts review a trial court's denial of costs for abuse of discretion); Dale K. Barker Co., PC v. Bushnell, 2009 UT App 385, ¶ 8, 222 P.3d 1188 (same).

(7) Whether the trial court should grant, modify, or revoke probation, which is a civil proceeding. See State v. Killpack, 2008 UT 49, ¶ 58, 191 P.3d 17 (denying probation); State v. Orr, 2005 UT 92, ¶ 9, 127 P.3d 1213 (extending probation); State v. Candedo, 2008 UT App 4, ¶ 2, 176 P.3d 459.

(8) Whether the trial court properly determined the prevailing party. See Crowley v. Black, 2007 UT App 245, ¶ 6, 167 P.3d 1087.

(9) Whether trial court properly denied a motion for reconsideration. See Tschaggeny v. Milbank Ins. Co., 2007 UT 37, ¶ 16, 163 P.3d 615.

b. Criminal Cases

A trial court abuses its discretion if its decision is beyond the limits of reasonableness. See State v. Clopten, 2009 UT 84, ¶ 6, 223 P.3d 1103; State v. Alfatlawi, 2006 UT App 511, ¶ 20, 153 P.3d 804. If the actions of the trial court are inherently unfair, it has also abused its discretion. See State v. Valdez, 2008 UT App 329, ¶ 4, 194 P.3d 195 (mem.), cert. denied, 200 P.3d 193 (Utah 2010). The exercise of discretion "'necessarily reflects the personal judgment of the trial court,'" and an appellate court can properly find abuse only if "'no reasonable [person] would take the view adopted by the trial court.'" State v. Butterfield, 2001 UT 59, ¶ 28, 27 P.3d 1133, abrogated by State v. Clopten, 2009 UT 84, 223 P.3d 1103 (alteration in original) (quoting State v. Brown, 948 P.2d 337, 340 (Utah 1997)); accord State v. Hight, 2008 UT App 118, ¶ 2, 182 P.3d 922.

(i) Examples of Pretrial Discretion

(1) Whether the trial court properly denied a motion to remove a juror for cause. See State v. Kell, 2002 UT 106, ¶ 17, 61 P.3d 1019; State v. Lafferty, 2001 UT 19, ¶ 58, 20 P.3d 342.

(2) Whether the trial court should grant or deny a motion to sever offenses. See...

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