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Kendall v. Olsen

Supreme Court of Utah

July 19, 2017

Sean Kendall, Appellant,
v.
Brett Olsen, Lt. Brian Purvis, Joseph Allen Everett, Tom Edmundson, George S. Pregman, and Salt Lake City Corporation, Appellees.

         On Direct Appeal Third District, Salt Lake The Honorable William Barrett No. 150900558

          Ross C. Anderson, Marshall Thompson, Salt Lake City, for appellant

          Samantha J. Slark, Salt Lake City, for appellees

          Sean D. Reyes, Att'y Gen., Philip S. Lott, Joshua D. Davidson, Asst. Att'ys Gen., Salt Lake City, for amicus curiae

          Associate Chief Justice Lee authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Durrant, Justice Durham, Justice Himonas, and Justice Pearce joined.

          OPINION

          Lee, Associate Chief Justice

         ¶1 Sean Kendall seeks a declaration that Utah Code sections 63G-7-601 and 78B-3-104 violate the Open Courts Clause of the Utah Constitution by restricting access to courts in lawsuits against police officers. The district court dismissed Kendall's claims on summary judgment, concluding that Kendall lacked standing and, alternatively, that his claims failed on their merits. We affirm without reaching the merits of Kendall's constitutional claim-or even the merits of the district court's standing analysis-because Kendall fails to carry his burden of challenging the district court's standing decision, which was an independent basis for its dismissal.

         I

         ¶2 This case arises out of an unfortunate incident in which a Salt Lake City police officer shot and killed Kendall's dog. Kendall seeks to assert a civil action against the police officer and other government officials for damages related to the death of his dog. And he claims that two statutes impermissibly restrict his access to the courts to bring his claim.

         ¶3 The two statutes in question erect high barriers to civil suits against police officers. The first, Utah Code section 63G-7-601, requires that any plaintiff seeking to sue a governmental entity "file an undertaking . . . in the amount of $300, unless otherwise ordered by the court." The second, section 78B-3-104, applies only to civil actions against police officers "acting within the scope of the officer's official duties." In such cases this statute requires that the plaintiff "post[] a bond in an amount determined by the court." Utah Code § 78B-3-104(1). And it specifies that "[t]he bond shall cover all estimated costs and attorney fees the officer may be expected to incur in defending the action, in the event the officer prevails." Id. § 78B-3-104(2).

         ¶4 Kendall filed a complaint in the district court. He sought a declaratory judgment that the bond and undertaking statutes were invalid under the Open Courts Clause. That provision guarantees a right of access to judicial process:

All courts shall be open, and every person, for an injury done to him in his person, property or reputation, shall have remedy by due course of law, which shall be administered without denial or unnecessary delay; and no person shall be barred from prosecuting or defending before any tribunal in this State, by himself or counsel, any civil cause to which he is a party.

Utah Const. art. I, § 11.

         ¶5 After discovery, the district court found that Kendall was "willing and able to post the $300" required by the undertaking statute. It also found that "Kendall [was] impecunious and as a result, he [was] not required" to comply with the bond statute. Based on these findings, the district court concluded that Kendall lacked traditional standing to challenge these statutory provisions. It ...


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