Idaho Supreme Court Addresses Issues of First Impression

This Spring, the Idaho Supreme Court issued several opinions addressing issues of first impression. Below are the highlights from one of these opinions, Westover v. Cundick. We’ll discuss the other cases that have addressed new issues in the coming weeks.

In Westover v. Cundick, 2017 Opinion 33 (Apr. 14, 2017) (slip op.), the Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 54(c) imposes a duty on a district court to sua sponte grant injunctive relief when it is not requested.  The Court addressed a prior version of Rule 54(c), which provided: “every final judgment shall grant the relief to which the party in whose favor it is rendered is entitled, even if the party has not demanded such relief in his pleadings.”  (Emphasis added.) The Court concluded that a lower court was not obligated to grant unrequested relief based on the plain language of the Rule because the plaintiffs were “not the ‘party in whose favor’ the judgment was rendered.” Slip op. at 5. However, the Court noted that Rule 54(c) has been amended, effective July 2016, to provide: “final judgment should grant the relief to which each party is entitled, even if the party has not demanded that relief in its pleadings.” Id. at 5 n.1 (emphasis added). The Court provided no guidance as to how its holding would apply to the current Rule 54(c) language. With the holding in Cundick being closely tied to the very language modified in the Rule, it appears that this issue could come before the Court again in the coming years.

Amendments to the Idaho Appellate Rules address electronic briefs, standard transcripts in criminal appeals, and appealable judgments from the magistrate courts

The Idaho Supreme Court recently announced amendments to Idaho Appellate Rules 11.1, 12.1, 12.2, 25, 27(f), 28(g), 32(b), 33, 34(a), 34.1, and 40. The changes go into effect July 1, 2017. Attorneys handling appeals before the Supreme Court should note that the submission of electronic briefs will be mandatory. Criminal appellate attorneys will want to consider changes to the reporter’s standard transcript. Attorneys who handle magistrate appeals involving child custody need to be aware of changes to Rules 11.1, 12.1, and 12.2.

There are other rule changes as well. Here are the highlights: Continue Reading

Idaho Supreme Court amends Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 54 to address changes to Idaho Code § 12-121

In response to the Idaho Supreme Court’s controversial decision in Hoffer v. Shappard, 160 Idaho 868, 380 P.3d 681 (2016), the Idaho legislature amended Idaho Code § 12-121 (effective March 1, 2017). The statute now reads:

In any civil action, the judge may award reasonable attorney’s fees to the prevailing party or parties when the judge finds that the case was brought, pursued or defended frivolously, unreasonably or without foundation. This section shall not alter, repeal or amend any statute that otherwise provides for the award of attorney’s fees.

In response to the change, the Idaho Supreme Court recently announced an amendment to Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 54, adding the following provision as Rule 54(e)(2):

Pursuant to Idaho Code Section 12-121. Pursuant to the statutory amendment effective March 1, 2017, attorney fees under Idaho Code Section 12-121 may be awarded by the court only when it finds that the case was brought, pursued or defended frivolously, unreasonably or without foundation, which finding must be in writing and include the basis and reasons for the award. No attorney fees may be awarded pursuant to Idaho Code Section 12-121 on a default judgment.

Rule 54(e)(2) is effective retroactively as of March 1, 2017. You can read the full amendment here:

Idaho Supreme Court Justice candidates are announced

Today the Idaho Judicial Council announced 15 candidates for the position of Idaho Supreme Court Justice. The position was created with the retirement of Justice Daniel Eismann. The candidates include one Idaho Court of Appeals judge, six district court judges, and eight practicing lawyers. They are:

  • BEVAN, G. RICHARD, is a District Judge of the Fifth Judicial District, Twin Falls, Idaho
  • DOMAN, ANDREW P., is a Lawyer in private practice in St. Maries, Idaho
  • GUTIERREZ, SERGIO A., is a Judge for the Idaho Court of Appeals, Nampa, Idaho
  • HAMILTON, DAVID J., is a Lawyer in private practice in Twin Falls, Idaho
  • McKENZIE, CURT D., is a Lawyer in private practice in Boise, Idaho
  • MOELLER, GREGORY W., is a District Judge of the Seventh Judicial District, Rexburg, Idaho
  • POINTS, MICHELLE R., is a Lawyer in private practice in Boise, Idaho
  • PRICE, STEVEN B., is General Counsel, Ada County Highway District, Garden City, Idaho
  • RAINEY, REBECCA A., is a Lawyer in private practice in Boise, Idaho
  • SCOTT, JASON D., is a District Judge of the Fourth Judicial District, Boise, Idaho
  • STEGNER, JOHN R., is a District Judge of the Second Judicial District, Moscow, Idaho
  • THOMSON, JEFFREY A., is a Lawyer in private practice in Boise, Idaho
  • TINGEY, JOEL E., is a District Judge of the Seventh Judicial District, Idaho Falls, Idaho
  • WIEBE, SUSAN E., is a District Judge of the Third Judicial District, Fruitland, Idaho
  • WOODARD, WADE L., is a Lawyer in private practice in Boise, Idaho

I understand the Judicial Council will hold candidate interviews on July 31, 2017.

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:

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.