Articles Posted in Utah Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s grant of Patricia and Robert Porenta’s marital home to Patricia in this case involving a fraudulent transfer of the home to Robert’s mother (Mother). During the divorce proceedings of Patricia and Robert, Robert transferred his interest in the couple’s marital home to Mother with the intent to avoid Patricia’s claim to the home. Robert subsequently died, and the divorce case was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Thereafter, Patricia filed this action against Mother alleging that the transfer was fraudulent under the Utah Fraudulent Transfer Act. The district court granted the marital home to Patricia. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Utah Fraudulent Transfer Act requires an ongoing debtor-creditor relationship when a claim under the Act is filed, and the debtor-creditor relationship was in this case was not extinguished when Robert died because an ongoing debtor-creditor relationship existed between Patricia and Robert’s estate; and (2) the trial court did not err in granting Patricia the entire marital home rather than money damages, but the matter is remanded for a determination of the current status of title. View "Porenta v. Porenta" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court did not reach the merits in this matter where Father appealed the district court order awarding Mother attorney fees and costs for the underlying juvenile court proceedings for lack of jurisdiction and awarded Mother reasonable attorney fees and costs on appeal. The juvenile court denied Father’s petition to terminate Mother’s parental rights and granted Mother custody of the parties’ minor children. The court also ordered Father to pay all fees and costs incurred by Mother. When jurisdiction over the case had been transferred to the district court, the court granted Mother’s motion for attorney fees. Father filed a motion to alter or amend under Utah R. Civ. P. 59 challenging the award. The Supreme Court held (1) the district court lacked the authority to rule on the merits of the Rule 59 motion because it was not timely filed, and therefore, the earlier order of the district court was the final judgment on the underlying matter of attorney fees and costs; (2) the Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction to rule on the merits of this case; and (3) Mother is awarded reasonable attorney fees and costs on appeal. View "Smith v. Smith" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the court of appeals affirming the district court’s conclusion that Jillian Scott cohabited with J.O, her ex-boyfriend, and, therefore, her alimony payments terminated under Utah Code 30-3-5(1). The statutory language governing termination of alimony provides that alimony “terminates upon establishment by the party paying alimony that the former spouse is cohabiting with another person.” See Utah Code 30-3-5(10). On appeal, Jillian argued that the district court’s interpretation of the statute was incorrect because it failed to account for the present tense of the verb “is.” The court of appeals disagreed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the plain language of section 30-3-5(1) requires the paying spouse to establish that the former spouse is cohabiting at the time the payment spouse files the motion to terminate alimony; and (2) the court of appeals erred when it found that Jillian and J.O. cohabited. View "Scott v. Scott" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the district court denying Birth Father’s motion to intervene in this contested adoption. Both Birth Father and Birth Mother were members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and their Child was an Indian child. Birth Mother executed a voluntary relinquishment of parental rights and consent to adoption and represented that her brother-in-law was the Child’s biological father. No Indian tribe received notice of the proceedings. The district court terminated Birth Mother’s parental rights and determined that the biological father was not a “parent” under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Birth Father later filed a motion to intervene in the proceedings in order to establish paternity. The court denied Birth Father’s motion to intervene on the basis that he was not a parent under either the ICWA or Utah’s adoption statutes. A majority of the court held that Birth Father was a “parent” under the ICWA and, as such, was entitled to participate in the proceedings below on remand. View "In re Adoption of B.B." on Justia Law

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The juvenile court erred in using a per se rule that “[h]itting a child with a belt or strap or another object is abuse” because the rule is overbroad and alters the statutory meaning of “abuse” within the meaning of the Utah Code. This case involved four children. Mother was the mother of all four children, and Father was the biological father of the younger two. The State filed a petition seeking to adjudicate the children as abused and neglected under Utah Code 78A-6-105. The parties stipulated to a number of findings of fact. The juvenile court determined that Parents abused the children under section 78A-6-105. Parents appealed, arguing that the juvenile court erred when it concluded that spanking a child with a belt, without any additional proof of harm, constitutes abuse within the meaning of Utah law. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that the stipulated facts did not support an abuse determination. View "In re K.T." on Justia Law

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Ten years after the parents of B.W.D. and her younger sisters divorced, B.W.D. filed an amended petition alleging that Father had abused and neglected her younger sisters. B.W.D. petitioned the juvenile court to transfer custody solely to her. The juvenile court sua sponte dismissed the petition without giving B.W.D. an opportunity to be heard, basing much of its decision on Utah Code 78B-13-802, which provides that a court must decline jurisdiction if it would have jurisdiction only “because a person invoking the jurisdiction has engaged in unjustifiable conduct.” The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the juvenile court erred in applying an “unjustifiable conduct” test, and its inconvenient-forum determination was deficient, leading it to erroneously deny B.W.D.'s petition. View "In re S.W." on Justia Law

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The district court terminated Father’s parental rights with respect to his child, making the child legally available for adoption by her stepfather. Father appealed the termination order. The court of appeals certified the case for transfer to the Supreme Court. At issue before the Supreme Court were Father’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel and claims to the right to counsel under the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and under the due process clause of the Utah Constitution. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Father had a federal due process right to counsel in the district court proceedings and that that right was erroneously denied in violation of Father’s federal due process rights. View "In re K.A.S." on Justia Law

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Mother’s parental rights to her daughter were terminated. During the termination proceedings at the juvenile court, Mother was unrepresented by counsel. At the end of the proceeding, the juvenile court found by clear and convincing evidence that Mother was unfit as a parent and that it was in the best interests of the child to be placed with Adoptive Parents. Mother appealed, challenging on multiple constitutional grounds Utah Code 78A-6-1111(2), the statutory scheme that provides appointed counsel for indigent parents in state-initiated parental termination proceedings while denying such counsel for indigent parents in privately initiated proceedings. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) section 78A-6-1111(2) is not facially unconstitutional; but (2) the court erred in relying on the statute to deny Mother’s request for counsel without considering Mother’s circumstances and due process rights. View "In re E.K.S." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed an action seeking to establish his paternity in and custody over a child he believed to be his son (Child). Both Plaintiff and Mother were residents of Colorado. Mother travelled to Utah two days before Child’s birth and gave birth to Child in Utah. Mother then relinquished Child to a Utah-based adoption agency. For reasons unrelated to this appeal, the district court dismissed the case, but the Supreme Court reversed and remanded. After remand, Adoptive Couple intervened in Plaintiff’s action to request that his suit be dismissed, arguing that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction under the Utah Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). The district court granted the motion to dismiss, concluding that Utah was not Child’s home state for purposes of the UCCJEA. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err by dismissing Plaintiff’s case on the basis that it lacked jurisdiction under the UCCJEA. View "Nevares v. Adoptive Couple" on Justia Law

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A 14-year-old student at Juan Diego Catholic High School suffered serious and life-threatening injuries while using a lift to replace light bulbs in the auditorium, during his drama class. The lift tipped over as students pushed it from one light fixture to another, causing him to suffer life-threatening injuries, including traumatic brain injury. His parents filed a lawsuit, individually and as parents and guardians of the student, claiming negligence and vicarious liability, and seeking to bring a personal claim for loss of filial consortium. The district court dismissed the loss of filial consortium claim and certified the dismissal as final. The Utah Supreme Court vacated, adopting a cause of action for loss of filial consortium to allow parents to recover for loss of filial consortium due to tortious injury to a minor child in cases where the injury meets the definition set forth in Utah Code section 30-2-11, the spousal consortium statute. The court concluded that such a cause of action is not legislatively preempted. View "Benda v. Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City" on Justia Law