Justia Idaho Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts
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Choice Feed, Inc. sued Ray and Susan Montierth, alleging that Ray breached an oral agreement to sell his feedlot property to Choice Feed once he arranged a 1031 tax deferred agreement. Although Ray collected money from Choice Feed that was to go toward the purchase of the feedlot property, he never arranged the 1031 exchange. Instead, without notice to Choice Feed, Ray sold the feedlot property to someone else while continuing to accept monthly payments from Choice Feed. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury found in favor of Choice Feed on one count of fraud against Ray, awarded compensatory damages, and assessed $250,000 in punitive damages. Ray moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which the district court granted in part, thereby reducing the jury’s awards of both the compensatory and punitive damages. Ray appealed the jury’s verdict, including the compensatory and punitive damages that were reduced by the district court. Choice Feed cross-appealed the district court’s decision granting Ray’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and the resulting reduction in damages. After its review, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court on all issues raised in Ray’s direct appeal: (1) to deny Ray’s motion to dismiss for Choice Feed’s failure to plead fraud with particularity; (2) to give jury instructions that conformed with the evidence presented at trial; (3) to allow Choice Feed to seek improvement expenses as damages at trial; (4) to allow the jury to consider punitive damages; and, (5) to consider punitive damages in its prevailing party analysis and its conclusion that Choice Feed was the prevailing party. The Supreme Court also rejected Ray’s argument that Choice Feed did not have standing to bring suit or that it was not the real party in interest and the Court declined to add a tenth element of a transfer or sale of property to common law fraud. On Choice Feed’s cross-appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the district court’s decision to grant Ray’s JNOV motion and reduce the compensatory damage and punitive damage awards as raised in Choice Feed’s cross-appeal. However, the Court affirmed the district court on Choice Feed’s remaining issue raised in its cross-appeal concerning the award of prejudgment interest to Ray on his open account hay claim. Costs and attorney fees are awarded to Choice Feed as the overall prevailing party on appeal. View "Choice Feed Inc. v. Montierth" on Justia Law

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Lester McMillan bought a dilapidated house that Terry Asher and Pamela Kitchens (“the Ashers”) planned to repair. The parties orally agreed that the Ashers would perform certain repairs to make the house livable, rent the house from McMillan for five years, and then buy the house from McMillan. For reasons that were disputed, the sale was never consummated. However, the Ashers continued to live in the house, make improvements to the property, and pay monthly rent to McMillan. After relations between the parties soured, McMillan sued to evict the Ashers. The Ashers then sued McMillan for specific performance of the oral contract to convey or, in the alternative, restitution for the value of the improvements. The district court found the oral contract was unenforceable, but awarded the Ashers restitution for certain improvements. McMillan appealed, alleging the district court erred in determining that he was unjustly enriched and in determining the amount of restitution. The Idaho Supreme Court found the district court did not err, except for a minor miscalculation of the amount of restitution. View "Asher v. McMillan" on Justia Law

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Originally, Western Pacific Timber, LLC (WPT) was solely owned by Timothy Blixseth (Blixseth). Andrew Hawes contended Blixseth hired him to be general counsel for WPT in 2005, and that when he was hired, Blixseth agreed on behalf of WPT to provide him with a severance package based on the length of his employment. After 2012, Blixseth no longer retained any ownership interest or management responsibility in WPT. When WPT terminated Hawes’ employment in 2017, Hawes asserted that he had a severance agreement in place that had been negotiated with Blixseth on behalf of WPT, by which he would receive $100,000 for each year of employment, capped at five years, for a total of $500,000. However, Hawes could not produce a signed copy of any agreement. WPT refused to pay the claimed severance pay, and instead offered a significantly smaller severance package. Hawes rejected WPT’s offer. Hawes then sued WPT for breach of contract. The case proceeded to trial on Hawes’ claim of an oral contract. Ultimately, the jury returned a special verdict finding that WPT was liable to Hawes for $500,000 in severance pay, an award which was later trebled by the district court. The district court also awarded Hawes the full amount of his requested attorney fees which constituted 35% of Hawes’ gross recovery. WPT unsuccessfully moved for a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Hawes v. Western Pacific Timber LLC" on Justia Law

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This case involved a fee dispute between two attorneys arising from a purported fee-sharing agreement. The underlying case involved an airman in the U.S. Air Force who was injured while driving through Idaho on his way to a posting in Alaska. The airman hired an Alaska attorney, Stephen Merrill, to represent him in pursuit of his personal-injury claims in Idaho. Merrill associated Erik Smith, an Idaho attorney, to act as local counsel in the airman’s suits. At a point in the proceedings, the airman terminated Merrill’s representation. Smith ultimately settled the case and retained the entire attorney fee. Merrill then sued Smith seeking his proportionate share of the fee. Smith moved for summary judgment which was granted by the district court. Merrill appeals. After review of the trial court record, the Idaho Supreme Court concluded the district court erred in granting summary judgment to Smith: Smith failed to meet his burden as the moving party on summary judgment. "When Smith filed his motion for summary judgment, he alleged that it was undisputed that there was no agreement reached between the parties, written or oral. This bald assertion contradicted the crux of Merrill’s complaint that the agreement about fee sharing had been reached over the course of the email correspondence. However, Smith did not support this assertion by presenting evidence or by citing to any admissible evidence in this record." View "Merrill v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Scott Carter, Amelia Carter, and Scott Carter, Inc., dba Carter Dental (collectively “Carter”) appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Gateway Parks, LLC (hereinafter “Gateway”). This case concerned Carter’s second attempt to litigate the propriety of the use of his investment funds in a proposed snowpark in Eagle, Idaho. Carter sued Gateway for common law fraud in the inducement and under the “general fraud” provisions of the Uniform Securities Act of 2004 (Idaho Code section 30-14-501, et seq), alleging Gateway had misrepresented and failed to disclose its use of Carter’s investment funds in Gateway with an intent to defraud him. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Gateway, finding Carter’s claims were: (1) barred by the statute of limitations and res judicata; and (2) because Carter could not establish the essential elements of a fraud claim. The district court also awarded attorney fees and costs to Gateway. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Carter v. Gateway Parks LLC" on Justia Law

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While living in California, Jefri and Debbie Davis sought to purchase a home in northern Idaho, and hired Charles Tuma and Tuma’s broker, Donald McCanlies, to help them. Tuma and McCanlies both worked for Johnson House Company, which in turn was doing business as Coldwell Banker Resort Realty. Some years after purchasing the property in question, the Davises learned that the road they believed provided access to their home, did not in fact do so. The Davises filed suit against Tuma, McCanlies, and Coldwell Banker Resort Realty (collectively, the Defendants), alleging fraud and constructive fraud. The Defendants moved for summary judgment against the Davises. The Davises responded, filing several declarations, portions of which the Defendants moved to strike. The Davises also sought to amend their complaint to add claims for unlicensed practice of law, surveying, or abstracting; and breach of contract and violation of contractual duties. The district court granted the Defendants’ motions for summary judgment and to strike, but did not specifically identify which statements were being stricken. The district court also denied the Davises’ motion to amend their complaint without explanation of the reasoning behind the decision. The Idaho Supreme Court found genuine issues of material facts to preclude the grant of summary judgment to Defendants. Further, the Court concluded the district court abused its discretion in denying the Davises' motion to amend their complaint. The Court vacated the trial court judgment entered and remanded for further proceedings. View "Davis v. Tuma" on Justia Law

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In the summer of 2014, Mark and Jennifer Porcello sought to purchase property In Hayden Lake, Idaho. After making various pre-payments, the amount the couple was still short on a downpayment. Mark and Jennifer could not qualify for a conventional loan themselves. They hoped another property in Woodinville, Washington, owned by Mark’s parents, in which Mark and Jennifer claimed an interest, could be sold to assist in the purchase of the Hayden Lake property. In an effort to help Mark and Jennifer purchase the property, Mark’s parents, Annie and Tony Porcello, obtained financing through a non-conventional lender. "In the end, the transaction became quite complicated." Annie and Tony’s lawyer drafted a promissory note for Mark and Jennifer to sign which equaled the amount Annie and Tony borrowed. In turn, Mark signed a promissory note and deed of trust for the Hayden Lake house, in the same amount and with the same repayment terms as the loan undertaken by his parents. In mid-2016, Annie and Tony sought non-judicial foreclosure on the Hayden Lake property, claiming that the entire balance of the note was due and owing. By this time Mark and Jennifer had divorced; Jennifer still occupied the Hayden Lake home. In response to the foreclosure proceeding, Jennifer filed suit against her former in-laws seeking a declaratory judgment and an injunction, arguing that any obligation under the note had been satisfied in full when the Woodinville property sold, notwithstanding the language of the note encumbering the Hayden Lake property. Annie and Tony filed a counter-claim against Jennifer and a third-party complaint against Mark. A district court granted Jennifer’s request for a declaratory judgment. However, by this time, Annie and Tony had died and their respective estates were substituted as parties. The district court denied the estates’ request for judicial foreclosure, and dismissed their third-party claims against Mark. The district court held that the Note and Deed of Trust were latently ambiguous because the amount of the Note was more than twice the amount Mark and Jennifer needed in order to purchase the Hayden Lake property. Because the district court concluded the note and deed of trust were ambiguous, it considered parol evidence to interpret them. Ultimately, the district court found the Note and Deed of Trust conveyed the Hayden Lake property to Jennifer and Mark “free and clear” upon the sale of the Woodinville property. Annie’s and Tony’s estates timely appealed. Finding that the district court erred in finding a latent ambiguity in the Note and Deed of Trust, and that the district court's interpretation of the Note and Deed of Trust was not supported by substantial and competent evidence, the Idaho Supreme Court vacated judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Porcello v. Estates of Porcello" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved the enforceability of a premarital agreement between Julie Neustadt and Mark Colafranceschi. Before the two were married, they entered into a premarital agreement that required Neustadt to obtain a two-million-dollar life insurance policy naming Colafranceschi as the beneficiary. The agreement required Neustadt to keep the policy in force after termination of the marriage. During the divorce proceedings, Neustadt challenged the enforceability of this provision, arguing that the insurance clause was void as against public policy to the extent it applied after divorce. The magistrate court agreed that the contractual provision was void as against public policy. However, on appeal, the district court reversed, concluding the insurance clause did not violate any public policy in Idaho. Neustadt appealrf, arguing that the district court erred in finding the insurance clause valid and enforceable because, following the parties’ divorce, Colafranceschi had no insurable interest in Neustadt’s life. Colafranceschi also filed a cross-appeal, arguing: (1) the magistrate court erred in denying certain discovery requests; (2) the lower court erred by failing to address his objection to Neustadt’s motion in limine; and (3) the lower courts’ erred in their findings that Colafranceschi failed to prove he was fraudulently induced to sign the premarital agreement to get him to return to the couple’s marital home. The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court decision in its entirety: (1) the Insurance Clause was not void as against public policy; (2) any error regarding discovery was forfeited; (3) there was no evidence that the magistrate court coerced Colafranceschi into withdrawing his extreme cruelty claim; and (4) substantial and competent evidence supported the magistrate court’s conclusions that Colafranceschi was not fraudulently induced regarding equity in the Osprey home. View "Neustadt v. Colafranceschi" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Appellant Chris Drakos loaned Respondent Garrett Sandow $200,000.00. A promissory note executed by Sandow on November 30, 2010, secured the loan. In 2018, after receiving no payments, Drakos filed a complaint seeking to collect on the Note. Sandow moved for summary judgment arguing that the statute of limitations barred the action. Drakos filed a cross-motion for summary judgment, arguing that the statute of limitations did not apply based on the Note’s clear language. The district court granted summary judgment to Sandow. Drakos moved the district court to reconsider, which the district court denied. Drakos timely appealed, arguing the district court erred in granting summary judgment for Sandow and in denying his motion for reconsideration. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Drakos v. Sandow" on Justia Law

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Appellants-patients Nathaniel Valencia and Emily Williams were self-pay patients who received emergency medical services at Saint Alphonsus Medical Center—Nampa, Inc. (“Saint Alphonsus”) in 2015. During their respective visits, Patients agreed to pay for “all charges incurred” for services rendered to them. Patients were billed in accordance with Saint Alphonsus’ “chargemaster” rates. Patients sought declaratory relief requesting the district court to rule Saint Alphonsus was only entitled to bill and seek collection of the reasonable value of the treatment provided to self-pay patients. Saint Alphonsus moved the district court to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The district court treated the motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment pursuant to I.R.C.P. 12(d). Ultimately, the district court granted summary judgment for Saint Alphonsus, and Patients timely appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Williams v. St. Alphonsus Medical Center" on Justia Law