Idaho Supreme Court Refuses to Modify the Workers Compensation Exclusive Remedy Doctrine

In order to provide near certain relief for employees injured in the course of employment, the Idaho Worker’s Compensation Act withdrew the common law remedies workers traditionally held against their employers. This compromise limits employers’ liability in exchange for providing sure and speedy relief for injured workers and is encapsulated in Idaho Code § 72-209, or the exclusive remedy provision. Recently, in two closely watched cases, Marek v. Hecla, Limited, 2016 Opinion 132 (November 18, 2016) and Barrett v. Hecla Mining Co., 2016 Opinion 133 (November 18, 2016), the Idaho Supreme Court provided guidance on a narrow exception to this provision under Idaho Code § 72-209(3). Section 72-209(3) allows an employee to pursue common law claims against an employer in a narrow circumstance: “where the injury or death is proximately caused by the willful or unprovoked physical aggression of the employer, its officers, agents, servants or employees.” Continue Reading

Idaho Supreme Court announces significant change to standard for attorney fees under Idaho Code § 12-121

The Idaho Supreme Court announced a new standard for an award of attorney fees under Idaho Code § 12-121. See Hoffer v. Shappard, 2016 Opinion No. 105 (Idaho Sept. 28, 2016). Section 12-121 reads: “In any civil action, the judge may award reasonable attorney’s fees to the prevailing party or parties, provided that this section shall not alter, repeal or amend any statute which otherwise provides for the award of attorney’s fees.” Since 1979, Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 54(e)(2) has limited the Idaho courts’ discretion to award attorney fees under the statute to instances where a case was “brought, pursued or defended frivolously, unreasonably or without foundation.”

Not anymore. Under the standard announced in Hoffer, “prevailing parties in civil litigation have the right to be made whole for attorney fees they have incurred ‘when justice so requires.’” Id. at 20. The Court did not offer guidance on the meaning of “when justice so requires.” Because the new standard “may have profound effects on litigants,” it does not become effective until March 1, 2017. Id. at 21. But, notably, the new standard “will have prospective effect, applying to all cases that have not become final as of that date.” Id. Continue Reading

Idaho Courts Not Authorized to Appoint Co-Guardians of a Minor

In the case of Does I v. Does II, Docket No. 43651-2015, 2016 Opinion No. 56 (May 27, 2016), the Idaho Supreme Court vacated a judgment that appointed two sets of part-time co-guardians for a minor child and set forth a visitation schedule between the sets of guardians. The case originated after the minor child’s paternal grandparents (Does I) and the minor child’s maternal great-aunt and -uncle (Does II) each filed separate petitions seeking to be appointed as the child’s co-guardians. The magistrate court granted both petitions in part, giving each set of co-guardians the “full powers and duties of a guardian” under Idaho Code § 15-5-209. The magistrate entered a judgment appointing Does I as the primary guardians and appointing Does II as co-guardians having a set visitation schedule with the child.

The Idaho Supreme Court reversed. In doing so, the Court made several clarifying points about the nature of guardianship in Idaho. First, upon appointment, “[a] guardian in his or her discretion has the authority to have the custody of the ward and to determine with whom and under what conditions the ward can visit with others.” Slip op. at 3. Second, guardianship is not a custody proceeding. As such, the court’s authority in a guardianship proceeding is limited to appointing the guardian and removing the guardian, “but not to manag[ing] how the guardian exercises his or her powers and responsibilities.” Id. at 5. Third, building on the preceding two points, the Idaho guardianship statute does not authorize the court to appoint more than one guardian or co-guardians for the child. “Multiple guardians cannot each have the powers and responsibilities of a sole parent”; rather, “[t]here can be but one guardian appointed, and that guardian is to have all the powers and responsibilities of a sole parent.” Id. at 5, 6.  As a result, when the court is presented with two or more guardianship petitions that meet the statutory requirements under Idaho Code §§ 15-5-204 to -207, the court must appoint as guardian the sole petitioner whose appointment would be in the child’s best interest. The other petitions must be dismissed.

Idaho Supreme Court Imposes I.A.R. 11.2 Sanctions Sua Sponte

In the case of Akers v. Mortensen, 2016 Opinion No. 50 (April 27, 2016), the Idaho Supreme Court imposed I.A.R. 11.2 sanctions sua sponte against an attorney who was no longer representing a party to the appeal.

I.A.R. 11.2 provides that every document filed with the Court must be signed. This signature constitutes a certificate that, to the best of the signer’s knowledge, the filing “is well grounded in fact and is warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law, and that it is not interposed for any improper purpose.” Recently the Court has clarified that sanctions may be awarded under I.A.R. 11.2 when an attorney violates either the “frivolous filings clause” or the “improper purpose clause” of the rule. Sims v. Jacobson, 157 Idaho 980, 342 P.3d 907, 914 (2015). Sims noted the departure from prior opinions, which required violation of both clauses.

In Akers, after filing a brief and shortly before oral argument, the appellant substituted counsel. Despite the change of counsel, the Court concluded sua sponte that the attorney who submitted the appellant’s brief violated the frivolous filings clause of I.A.R. 11.2. Counsel filed a four-page brief challenging the lower court’s allocation of attorney fees. The Court found it “impossible” to find an argument that the district court abused its discretion when the brief did “not even mention the word ‘discretion.’” Slip. op. at 3. Concluding that the brief was devoid of both relevant argument and citation to authority, the Court found sanctions appropriate.

For other examples of the Court sua sponte imposing I.A.R. 11.2 sanctions, see Jim & Maryann Plane Family Trust v. Skinner, 157 Idaho 927, 342 P.3d 639, 648 (2015), and Bettwieser v. New York Irrigation District, 154 Idaho 317, 330, 297 P.3d 1134, 1147 (2013).

Objections to Attorney Fees Must Be Particular to Avoid Waiving Issue On Appeal

The Idaho Supreme Court recently instructed that to preserve issues regarding the reasonableness of attorney fee awards for appeal, objections must be stated with particularity in a motion to disallow costs. In Fagen, Inc. v. Rogerson Flats Wind Park, LLC, 2016 Opinion No. 8 (Jan. 26, 2016), following judgment, the plaintiff filed a memorandum of costs seeking $99,452 in attorney fees. The plaintiff sought attorney fees incurred by both its Minnesota and Idaho counsel. The defendants objected, arguing the fees were unreasonable, but failed to raise specific objections to the fee request.  On that basis, the district court awarded the plaintiff the full amount of fees requested.

On appeal, the defendants argued that the district court erred by concluding that the rates of Minnesota counsel, which were vastly higher than rural Idaho market rates, were reasonable. The Supreme Court refused to consider the issue, explaining:

The appropriate manner in which to object to the attorney fees claimed in a memorandum of costs is to file and serve timely on adverse parties “a motion to disallow part or all of such costs.” I.R.C.P. 54(e)(6), 54(d)(6). A motion must “state with particularity the grounds therefor.” I.R.C.P. 7(b)(1).

Slip op. at 4. Here, defendants’ objection did not specifically address the reasonableness of Minnesota counsel’s hourly rate. Without this specific objection, the Supreme Court concluded that defendants were raising the issue for the first time on appeal and would not consider it.

You can read the full opinion here: http://www.isc.idaho.gov/opinions/42684.pdf

The Idaho Supreme Court proposes amendments to Idaho Appellate Rule 5, Special Writs and Proceedings

Idaho Appellate Rule 5 sets forth procedures for special writs and other proceedings over which the Idaho Supreme Court has original jurisdiction. The Court recently proposed adding five new subsections to the rule.  The amendments address the form of the Court’s denial of a petition for a writ of mandamus or prohibition or issuance of a peremptory writ (proposed subsection (e)) and procedures for a prevailing party to seek costs (proposed subsections (f)-(i)).  Of particular note, proposed subsection (g) lists 11 categories of costs, one of which is reasonable attorney fees.  Look for the amendments to be issued later in 2016.

Idaho Supreme Court Is Bound by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Interpretations of Federal Law

Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court in a per curiam decision, reversed the Idaho Supreme Court’s decision on an award of attorney fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. In the case of James v. City of Boise, 158 Idaho 713, 351 P.3d 1171 (2015), the Idaho Supreme Court granted attorney fees to the City of Boise without an analysis of whether the Plaintiff’s action was frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation, as is mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of 42 U.S.C. § 1988 in Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5 (1980).  See James, 158 Idaho at 734, 351 P.3d at 1192. The Idaho Supreme Court concluded  it had discretion to award attorney fees without this analysis because while “the [U.S.] Supreme Court may have the authority to limit the discretion of lower federal courts, it does not have the authority to limit the discretion of state courts where such limitation is not contained in the statute.” Id.

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed, explaining: “Section 1988 is a federal statute. ‘It is this Court’s responsibility to say what a [federal] statute means, and once the Court has spoken, it is the duty of other courts to respect that understanding of the governing rule of law.’” James v. City of Boise, 577 U.S. ___, 2016 WL 280883 (2016) (citations omitted). “The Idaho Supreme Court, like any other state or federal court, is bound by this Court’s interpretation of federal law.” Id.

You can read the full opinion here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/15pdf/15-493_5h26.pdf. We wrote about the Idaho Supreme Court’s decision in James in May 2015.

The Idaho Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Announce Their Spring Terms for 2016

The Idaho Supreme Court and Idaho Court of Appeals announced their respective 2016 Spring Terms in the January 2016 edition of The Advocate.  Of note, the Supreme Court does not have hearings scheduled in March and will travel to Coeur d’Alene and Lewiston in April, to Idaho Falls and Pocatello in May, and to Twin Falls in June.  The Court of Appeals scheduled hearings in Boise through June.  The terms look like this:

Idaho Supreme Court Regular Spring Term for 2016

Boise ………………………………………………………………………………… January 11, 13, 15, 19, 22

Boise   ……………………………………………………………………………………  February 8, 10, 12, 17

Boise (Concordia Univ. School of Law) …………………………………………   February 19

Boise ……………………………………………………………………………………..  April 1, 4

Coeur d’Alene …………………………………………………………………………. April 6, 7

Lewiston   ……………………………………………………………………………….  April 8

Boise ……………………………………………………………………………………… May 9, 11

Idaho Falls ……………………………………………………………………………… May 4

Pocatello   ………………………………………………………………………………  May 5, 6

Boise ……………………………………………………………………………………… June 1, 3, 6

Twin Falls ………………………………………………………………………………. June 8, 9

Idaho Court of Appeals Regular Spring Term for 2016

Boise ……………………………………………………………………………………… January 7, 12, 14, 28

Boise ……………………………………………………………………………………… February 9, 11, 16, 18

Boise ……………………………………………………………………………………… March 8, 10, 15, 17

Boise ……………………………………………………………………………………… April 5, 12, 19, 21

Boise ……………………………………………………………………………………… May 10, 17, 19, 24

Boise ……………………………………………………………………………………… June 7, 9, 14, 16

Changes to the Idaho Appellate Rules effective January 1, 2016

Amendments to Idaho Appellate Rules 11, 11.1, 17, 28, 30, 34.1 and 118 went into effect January 1, 2016. Here is an overview of the amendments:

I.A.R. 11. Appealable judgments and orders. The rule now requires a copy of the final judgment or order to be attached to the notice of appeal.

I.A.R. 11.1. Appealable judgments from the magistrate court. When an appeal is taken from the magistrate court, a copy of the final judgment must also be attached to the notice of appeal.

I.A.R. 17. Notice of appeal – content. Again, a copy of the final judgment or order must be attached to the notice of appeal.  Note that the suggested form of the notice of appeal includes this language:  “A copy of the judgment or order being appealed is attached to this notice, as well as a copy of the final judgment if this is an appeal from an order entered after final judgment.”

I.A.R. 28. Preparation of clerk’s or agency’s record – content and arrangement. For administrative proceedings, the standard clerk’s record now includes the findings of fact and conclusions of law made by a referee or a hearing officer.

I.A.R. 30. Augmentation or deletions from transcript or record. The current rule requires motions to augment to include as attachments the documents sought to be augmented.  The amendment requires each page of each document to be separately and sequentially numbered.

I.A.R. 34.1. Electronic briefs. In criminal appeals, the parties may choose to file only an electronic brief.  In civil appeals, the rule remains the same:  the parties may file an electronic brief but still must file paper copies of the brief as required under I.A.R. 34.

I.A.R. 118. Petition for review by the Supreme Court. A party aggrieved by an opinion or order of the Court of Appeals may petition for review by the Supreme Court.  The amendment simply breaks out the briefing procedures for petitions for review into a stand-alone subsection.

The Idaho Supreme Court Just Awarded Your Client Attorney Fees on Appeal; Don’t Forget to Timely File a Memorandum of Costs

Two recent cases before the Idaho Supreme Court highlight the procedure—and the importance of following the procedure—for securing an award of attorney fees on appeal.

The first case is City of Challis v. Consent of the Governed Caucus, 2015 Opinion No. 92 (Sept. 25, 2015). There, the Court awarded attorney fees and costs to the Caucus. In doing so, the Court clarified that it was the Supreme Court’s duty, not the duty of the district court, “to determine an appropriate award of fees and costs incurred on appeal . . . .” The Court explained: “In the event that the Caucus timely submits a memorandum of costs and fees” under I.A.R. 40(c) and 41(d), the Court is responsible for evaluating “that memorandum, and any objections thereto, to determine an appropriate award of attorney fees and costs.” (Emphasis added.) Pursuant to the Idaho Appellate Rules, a timely submission means that a memorandum for costs and attorney fees is filed “[w]ithin 14 days of the filing and announcement of the opinion on appeal.” See I.A.R. 40(c), 41(d).

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