Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Utah Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court answered three questions certified to it by the United States District Court for the District of Utah in this case challenging a civil fine issued under the Political Activities of Public Entities Act, Utah Code 20A-11-1205, answering, inter alia, that a Utah state district court does not have appellate jurisdiction to review the Utah County Board of Commissioners' decision upholding a fine levied under the statute. Further, the Supreme Court answered (1) the term "ballot proposition" as used in Utah Code 10A-11-1205(1) encompasses the entire referendum process, including the period of time before a referendum's sponsors have obtained the requisite number of signatures on the referendum petition; and (2) the term "ballot proposition" as used in section 10A-11-1205(1) includes the signature gathering phase of the referendum process, even if the challenged local government action is later found to be administrative in nature and therefore not subject to a referendum. View "Downs v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the award of benefits entered by the Utah Labor Commission in favor of Jessica Wilson, holding that the Commission did not err in concluding that Wilson's injuries arose out of, and in the course of, her employment with her employer, Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG). Wilson sustained injuries after tripping and falling in a parking lot while walking into work. Wilson requested benefits from IHG. IHG denied Wilson's claim, concluding that, under the going-and-coming rule, Wilson's accident did not arise out of and in the course of her employment. An ALJ with the Commission reviewed Wilson's claim and concluded that Wilson was entitled to benefits under the premises rule. The Commission affirmed, concluding that the communal parking area where the accident occurred was proof IHG's premises for purposes of determining compensability. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Commission properly determined that Wilson's accident occurred on IHG's premises and that, under case law, this constituted an accident in the course of her employment. View "Intercontinental Hotels Group v. Utah Labor Commission" 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 set aside orders from the Public Service Commission in two related cases, holding that the Commission did not have the authority to impose "interim" rates as an element of the energy balancing account procedures described in Utah Code 54-7-13.5. The Commission issued an order eliminating an "energy balancing account" (EBA) rate processes to PacifiCorp, an electric power provider, and later issued an order adopting the recommendation of the Division of Public Utilities that interim rates be reinstated in the EBA mechanism. After PacifiCorp submitted its 2018 EBA filing that proposed to recover EBA costs in the amount of $28 million on an interim basis the Commission issued an order imposing interim rates. Certain consumer groups challenged the Commission's interim rate orders. The Supreme Court set aside the orders, holding that the interim rates were imposed without a requirement that PacifiCorp prove by substantial evidence that the costs incorporated in the rates were prudently incurred or just and reasonable, which violates the controlling standard set forth in section 54-7-13.5(2)(e)(ii). View "Utah Office of Consumer Services v. Public Service Commission of Utah" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court ruling in favor of Salt Lake City Corporation (City) in this dispute over whether the City’s denial of Jordan River Restoration Network’s (JRRN) fee waiver request with regard to the City’s grant of JRRN’s request for documents, holding that any error was harmless. JRRN and its founder (collectively, JRRN) filed a request with the City seeking every document related to the construction of a sports complex and asked the City to provide the documents without charge. The City granted the document request but denied the fee waiver request. The City Records Appeals Board ordered the City to provide the requested documents at no charge.The State Records Committee also ruled in JRRN’s favor. On judicial review, the district court upheld the City’s decision to deny the fee waiver, concluding that the fee waiver denial was reasonable. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court conducted the review contemplated by the Government Records Access and Management Act; and (2) while the court made some procedural errors, each error was harmless. View "Salt Lake City Corp. v. Jordan River Restoration Network" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court finding that the language of Utah Code 59-7-113 was ambiguous and that section 113 did not permit the income allocation that the Utah State Tax Commission had imposed upon See’s Candies, holding that the district court properly employed the arm’s length transaction standard to determine that the Commission improperly allocated See’s income. The Commission in this case allocated certain royalty payments See’s had deducted from its taxable income back to See’s as taxable income. The district court decided that the allocation was inappropriate and allowed See’s to take the deductions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the language of section 113 is ambiguous; (2) the district court properly looked to the statute’s federal counterpart and its accompanying regulations for guidance; and (3) the district court correctly determined that the Commission improperly allocated See’s income. View "Utah State Tax Commission v. See’s Candies, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that, as used in the National Bank Act, Congress’s use of the word “located” is ambiguous, and therefore, Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. National Resource Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984), requires that the Court defer to the “not unreasonable” interpretation the Comptroller of the Currency has provided. After Loraine Sundquist's property was sold, the Federal National Mortgage Association brought this action seeking an order forcing Sundquist from her home. The district court entered an eviction order. On interlocutory review, Sundquist asserted that the sale was invalid because Utah law does not permit a bank to act as a trustee on a trust deed. The primary inquiry became whether corporations were permitted to serve as trustees of trust deeds under the laws of the State in which ReconTrust Co., the trustee on the deed of trust, was located. The Supreme Court concluded that the statutory language was unambiguous and that a federally chartered “bank” that seeks to foreclose on real property in Utah must comply with Utah law. On appeal, the Supreme Court overturned its previous decision, holding that the Comptroller’s interpretation of the relevant statute required deference. The Court remanded the case for an evaluation of where ReconTrust is located under the correct standard. View "Bank of America v. Sundquist" on Justia Law

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In 2010, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) condemned an access point from Bangerter Highway to the West Point Shopping Center. At the time of the condemnation, the shopping center was owned by FPA West Point, LLC. FPA leased buildings in the shopping center to a number of businesses, including K MART Corporation (Kmart). Both FPA and Kmart entered the condemnation proceedings, asserting rights to just compensation. The first appeal (Utah Department of Transportation v. FPA West Point, LLC) addressed valuation methods in the context of a condemnation award determination. In that case, the Utah Supreme Court held that courts must use the aggregate-of-interests approach (which determines the value of properties with divided ownership interests by assessing the value of each property interest separately) in deciding the amount of a condemnation award. In this appeal the issue presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether the district court erred by granting a condemnation award to Kmart, a lessee, even though Kmart’s lease contained a clause terminating its leasehold interest in the event of a condemnation. The Court held that it did: because the termination clause extinguished all of Kmart’s compensable property interests, Kmart was not entitled to compensation. Accordingly, the district court’s grant of a condemnation award to Kmart was reversed. View "UDOT v. Kmart Corp." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s finding that Mark Haik lacked standing to challenge a change application that sought to add acreage to accommodate a private water system and the court’s denial of Haik’s motion to amend his petition, holding that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion. Haik, who wanted water for his undeveloped canyon lots, challenged a change application that would add acreage to accommodate a water system that would serve ten homes in Little Cottonwood Canyon. After the State Engineer approved the application, Haik filed petition seeking a trial de novo of the State Engineer’s order. Haik also moved for leave to amend. The district court dismissed Haik’s petition, concluding that it lacked jurisdiction because Haik lacked standing where the change application did not directly impact Haik’s property or his water rights. The court also denied Haik’s motion to amend. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Haik lacked standing because he was not aggrieved by an order of the State Engineer; and (2) Haik’s motion to amend was properly denied because Haik did not attach a proposed amended petition and any amendment would be futile. View "Haik v. Jones" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Board of Oil, Gas, and Mining to impose a joint operating agreement (JOA) on J.P. Furlong Company’s relationship with the party operating a drilling unit that included Furlong’s mineral lease. Furlong complained that the Board accepted, without making any of the changes to the JOA that Furlong wanted, the JOA the operator proposed. On appeal, Furlong argued that the Board erroneously applied the law to conclude that the JOA was just and reasonable and that there was not substantial evidence to support the Board’s decision. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Board correctly applied the law and rendered a decision supported by substantial evidence. View "J.P. Furlong Co. v. Board of Oil & Gas Mining" on Justia Law