Justia Idaho Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Idaho Supreme Court - Civil
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Petitioner Sherri Ybarra, the Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction, petitioned the Idaho Supreme Court for a declaratory judgment, writ of mandamus, or writ of prohibition to remedy various alleged constitutional violations by the Idaho Legislature and the Idaho State Board of Education related to the funding and supervision of eighteen employees currently working in the Idaho Department of Education. During the 2020 legislative session, the Idaho Legislature passed two appropriation bills - Senate Bills 1409 and 1410 - which transferred supervision of eighteen full-time job positions within the Department’s Technology Group to the Board along with approximately $2.7 million in funding for those positions. The Superintendent argues that “by splitting eighteen employees away from three other workers and eliminating all funding for the office space, rent, and the maintenance and upgrading of the Department’s computers, this line item appropriation decentralizes and damages operations.” She also claimed these bills were the Legislature’s attempt to “strip the Superintendent of her authority through the budget process,” in retaliation for her failure to support a 2019 revised school funding formula. To effectuate such relief, the Superintendent invoked the Supreme Court's original jurisdiction, seeking a declaratory judgment that the Appropriation Bills were unconstitutional. The Superintendent sought a writ of mandamus and/or prohibition that would allow SB 1409's funding appropriation to the Board remain intact, but would restore the Superintendent's full management authority over the Technology Group. The Supreme Court found the Appropriations Bills constitutional, thereby declining to address requests for writs of mandamus and/or prohibition. View "Ybarra v. Legislature of the State of Idaho" on Justia Law

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Travelers Insurance Co. appealed a district court decision to affirm a final order of the Idaho Department of Insurance in favor of Ultimate Logistics, LLC (“Ultimate”). The Department of Insurance’s final order upheld a hearing officer’s determination that two mechanics working for Ultimate were improperly included in a premium-rate calculation made by Travelers. In its petition for review, Travelers argued the Department of Insurance acted outside the scope of its statutory authority in determining that the mechanics could not be included in the premium-rate calculation. The district court rejected this argument. Finding no reversible error in the district court's order, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Travelers Insurance v. Ultimate Logistics, LLC" on Justia Law

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Max Pease failed to stop his vehicle before rear-ending Brent Weddle’s vehicle. The force of the collision caused Weddle’s vehicle to cross over into oncoming traffic and collide with a pickup truck owned by Mabel Robin Blackeagle. Dana McCandless was the driver of the pickup truck and Blackeagle was a passenger. A jury found Pease and Weddle negligent and awarded damages as a result. Dissatisfied with the amount of the verdict, McCandless and Blackeagle moved for a new trial on the comparative negligence and damages, and argued there were errors at trial to warrant a new one. The district court granted their motion in part and ordered a new trial unless Pease agreed to an additur of $4,000. Pease accepted the additur. McCandless and Blackeagle appealed the district court’s order on their motion for a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s order. View "McCandless v. Pease" on Justia Law

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In a divorce action between Lexi and Robert Ellis, the magistrate court granted Ms. Ellis’ motion for appointment of a receiver, subject to the express condition that the costs of the receiver would be paid from community funds. The district court affirmed a series of decisions made by the magistrate court relating to Bruce Denney’s efforts to collect payment for services he performed as a receiver and forensic accountant in the Ellis divorce. After the divorce was final, Denney’s accounting firm, Poston, Denney & Killpack, PLLC (“PDK”) moved to intervene to recover payment from Robert Ellis, which the magistrate court granted. Later, the magistrate court granted PDK’s motion for summary judgment and ordered Mr. Ellis to pay one-half of Mr. Denney’s fees. The magistrate court declined to rule on the reasonableness of the fees at that time, determining further proceedings would be necessary. PDK filed a motion for a determination of the reasonableness of fees. After a hearing the magistrate court granted PDK’s motion and held Mr. Denney’s fees were reasonable. The magistrate court also awarded attorney fees to PDK in bringing the action to recover attorney fees. Mr. Ellis appealed to the district court, which upheld the magistrate court’s decision and also awarded attorney fees to PDK on appeal. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Ellis v. Ellis" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Noell Industries, Inc. sold its interest in a limited liability company for a net gain of $120 million. Noell Industries reported the income to Idaho, but paid all of the resulting tax on the gain to the Commonwealth of Virginia, its commercial domicile. Following an audit, the Idaho Tax Commission concluded the net gain was “business income” pursuant to Idaho Code section 63-3027(a)(1) and, thus, apportionable to Idaho. Noell Industries sought judicial review before the Ada County District Court pursuant to Idaho Code section 63-3049(a). The district court ruled that the Commission erred when it: (1) determined that Noell Industries paid insufficient taxes in 2010; and (2) assessed additional tax and interest against it. The Commission appealed. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Noell Industries v. Idaho Tax Commission" on Justia Law

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"Although seemingly a simple question of statutory interpretation, at its essence this case concerns a profound family tragedy that has left three young girls caught in the middle of a legal battle between four people who love them." The Nelsons were the grandparents of three girls, ages thirteen, eleven, and eight. The Nelsons’ daughter, Stephanie Evans, and their son-in-law, Brian Evans, are the girls’ parents. The Nelsons petitioned a magistrate court seeking to establish visitation rights, but the court dismissed the petition, ruling: (1) the Nelsons lacked standing to file a petition under Idaho’s grandparent visitation statute); and (2) even if the Nelsons had standing, it would still grant summary judgment in favor of the girls’ parents because the Nelsons would be unable to overcome the presumption that fit parents make decisions in their children’s best interests. On intermediate appeal, the district court affirmed the magistrate court’s rulings. The Idaho Supreme Court determined the visitation statute, Code section 32-719, did not restrict when a grandparent could petition for visitation rights. Further, the district court erred in affirming the magistrate court's grant of summary judgment to the Evanses because the Supreme Court found genuine issues of material fact as to whether the Evanses’ decision to terminate all contact between the Nelsons and their children was in their children’s best interests. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded to the magistrate court for an evidentiary hearing on the merits of the Nelsons' petition. View "Nelson v. Evans" on Justia Law

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After Christine Nelson quit her job at Franklin Building Supply in Pocatello, Idaho, due to what she described as a hostile and demeaning work environment, she filed for unemployment benefits with the Department of Labor. The Department denied Nelson’s request for benefits, concluding that she quit her job without good cause because “reasonable alternatives were not exhausted prior to quitting.” Nelson mailed her protest via the U.S. Postal Service (“USPS”) from Pocatello, Idaho. Her letter arrived at the Department’s offices in Boise on March 7, one day past the deadline. Because the postmark did not indicate the date of mailing, Nelson’s protest was dismissed by the Department for being untimely. After a hearing, an appeals examiner concluded that although there was a USPS postmark stamped on the envelope, the red ink “blend[ed] with the red stamps,” obscuring the date. Thus, while the distribution center could be discerned from the postmark, “the remainder of the postmark [was] illegible.” Because the envelope lacked a date on the postmark, the appeals examiner concluded that the envelope should be treated as if it had no postmark at all, thereby making the date of filing the date received, which was March 7, 2019 - one day too late. Nelson timely appealed the decision of the appeals examiner to the Industrial Commission, arguing that the letter was mailed by March 1 and that she had no control over its late arrival or the absence of a legible postmark. The Commission concurred with the appeal's examiner. The Department of Labor nor the Industrial Commission considered Nelson's reason for appealing in the first place: that she lacked good cause to leave her employment. Focusing instead on the timeliness of her appeal, the Idaho Supreme Court determined the Department and Commission were mistaken in holding Nelson's filing was too late: "since once a letter is deposited for mailing it is entirely within the control of the USPS, the obscured date on the postmark stamp could only have been a result of USPS error. Thus, by the application of reason and common sense, the delivery of this letter on March 7—even with an illegible date on the postmark—conclusively proves that Nelson must have deposited her appeals letter into USPS custody on or before the March 6 filing deadline." The decision in this matter was reversed and remanded for consideration of the merits of Nelson's case. View "Nelson v. IDOL and Franklin Group" on Justia Law

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Joanie Smith was employed by the Glenns Ferry Highway District (the District) when she witnessed the District’s office manager overpaying herself on several occasions. Smith reported the overpayments to the District’s superintendent. Sometime after Smith reported these overpayments, the District terminated Smith’s employment. Smith filed suit, alleging adverse employment action in the form of discharge. At trial, the trial court ruled it would use the jury in an advisory capacity concerning any front pay damages. The jury returned a special verdict for Smith, awarding her both back pay and front pay. Following the jury’s verdict, the trial court rejected the jury’s verdict awarding front pay, and entered a reduced award. The trial court reasoned that: (1) the jury’s verdict with respect to front pay was advisory because front pay was an equitable remedy when awarded in lieu of reinstatement; (2) Smith had not properly pleaded “failure to promote” as an adverse action in addition to discharge; and (3) the jury had incorrectly used an erroneous full-time employment status in calculating front pay. The trial court also reduced Smith’s requested attorney fees to an amount less than she had contracted to pay. Smith unsuccessfully moved for post-judgment relief. Smith appealed, and the District cross-appealed, arguing that the issue of back pay also sounded in equity, and that the trial court should have reduced the jury award of back pay. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court determined the trial court erred: (1) when it ruled that there was no right to a jury trial on the issue of front pay; (2) by refusing to include the adverse action of “failure to hire” in the jury instructions and special verdict form; (3) by failing to instruct the jury on the “risk of uncertainty” to be borne by the District in its determination of damages; and (4) by denying Smith post-judgment interest. The Court determined the "failure to hire" instruction and "risk of uncertainty" errors were not prejudicial, and the jury award of front pay should have been reinstated. Smith’s request for entry of judgment nunc pro tunc was declined; however, on remand the trial court was asked to determine whether judgment nunc pro tunc should be entered as of the date of the jury’s verdict. Furthermore, the trial court abused its discretion in reducing the award of attorney fees from the amount Smith requested. The matter was remanded for further proceeedings. View "Smith v. Glenns Ferry Hwy Dist" on Justia Law

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Sharon Walsh retained Swapp Law, PLLC, d/b/a Craig Swapp & Associates ("CS&A") after she was involved in two car accidents in 2013. In the negligence action stemming from the first accident, Walsh followed firm employee Stephen Redd’s advice and settled the case. Walsh then changed representation and, with her new counsel, settled the second case. On March 2, 2017, Walsh filed this action alleging, among other things, that CS&A was negligent in advising her to settle the first case while the second case was still pending and by failing to advise her of an underlying subrogation responsibility in the first case. CS&A moved for summary judgment. It argued that Walsh’s claim was time-barred under Idaho Code section 5-219(4)’s two-year statute of limitations because her malpractice claim began to accrue when she released the first claim. The district court agreed and granted the motion. Walsh timely appeals. Based on its review of the record, the Idaho Supreme Court determined the district court did not err in awarding summary judgment to CS&A. The district court properly determined that Walsh’s claim was time barred under Idaho Code section 5-219 because her cause of action accrued when she signed the release of claims for the First Collision case more than two years prior to her filing the action at hand. Further, the district court properly determined that the fraudulent-concealment provision of Idaho Code section 5-219(4) did not apply because Walsh was put on inquiry of CS&A’s alleged malpractice in June 2015, more than one year prior to filing this action. The district court’s decision granting CS&A’s motion for summary judgment and its final judgment were thus affirmed. View "Walsh v. Swapp Law" on Justia Law

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Investor Recovery Fund, LLC was the assignee of six claims held by individual investors who lost their investments in the Hopkins Northwest Fund, LLC (the fund). Randall Hopkins and Brian Murphy were the principals of the fund, and together they owned and managed Hopkins Financial Services, Inc. (Hopkins Financial). The individual investors formed Investor Recovery for the purposes of asserting a collective claim against Hopkins Financial and the fund’s principals individually (collectively, Hopkins Associates). The fund declared a moratorium on redemptions in 2008, preventing investors from taking their money out of the fund. The individual investors lost their investments when the fund declared bankruptcy six years later. Investor Recovery sued Hopkins Associates, asserting claims of fraud by nondisclosure. The district court granted the principals’ motion for a directed verdict after seven days of trial, concluding that Investor Recovery did not prove that the individual investors’ losses were causally connected to the principals’ alleged nondisclosures. The Idaho Supreme Court addressed the applicable standard of review when considering a directed verdict in a fraud by nondisclosure case. Finding the district court used the wrong standard in entering directed verdict in favor of Hopkins Associates, the Supreme Court reversed the district court’s directed verdict, vacated the judgment, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Investor Recovery Fund v. Hopkins" on Justia Law