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Christensen v. Juab School District

Supreme Court of Utah

August 11, 2017

Hadley Christensen, Appellee,
v.
Juab School District, Appellant.

         On Direct Appeal

         Fourth District, Nephi The Honorable Jennifer A. Brown No. 150600003

          Dallas B. Young, Provo, for appellee

          Kasey L. Wright, Pleasant Grove, for appellant

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

          OPINION

          Durham, Justice

         INTRODUCTION

         ¶1 Hadley Christensen claims reimbursement pursuant to Utah Code section 52-6-201, from his former employer, Juab School District, for attorney fees and costs incurred in a successful defense against charges of aggravated sexual abuse of a child. The two issues before us are (1) whether the right to reimbursement attaches based on the allegations within the information, or under a more fact-specific inquiry, and (2) where reimbursement is appropriate, whether it applies to all costs incurred in defending against the information. The district court found no genuine dispute of material fact and granted partial summary judgment to Christensen. The court explained that Juab School District's arguments reflect a position expressly rejected by this court in Acor v. Salt Lake City School District, 2011 UT 8, ¶ 20, 247 P.3d 404. We agree and affirm the district court's grant of partial summary judgment. The district court awarded judgment pursuant to a stipulation entered by the parties. Therefore, the second issue is moot and we decline to address it. See Poulton v. Cox, 2016 UT 9, ¶ 5, 368 P.3d 844.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 In December 2012, Hadley D. Christensen, then a fifth-grade teacher for Juab School District, allowed a former student to attend a sleepover with his daughter at his residence. The sleepover was not sanctioned by Juab School District and occurred during Christmas break. The student's presence at the sleepover was not related to Christensen's status as a teacher, but rather because of her friendship with Christensen's daughter. Christensen was subsequently accused of sexually assaulting the student during the sleepover.

         ¶3 On January 2, 2013, the Utah County Attorney's Office filed a criminal information against Christensen. The information included one count of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, pursuant to Utah Code section 76-5-404.1(4). The charge was based on three aggravating elements: (1) "the accused caused bodily injury or severe psychological injury, " (2) "the offense was committed by a person who occupied a position of special trust in relation to the victim, " and (3) "the accused caused . . . penetration, however slight." Id. 76-5-404.1(4)(b), (h), (j). The criminal information relied on Christensen's former teacher-student relationship with the victim as the basis for the "position of special trust" enhancement.

         ¶4 During criminal trial proceedings, Christensen moved for a directed verdict as to the aggravating elements of "position of special trust" and causing "bodily injury or severe psychological injury." The district court granted the directed verdict, citing both the State's failure to present evidence that Christensen had used his position of special trust to exercise influence over the victim and lack of evidence of any injury. The court allowed the charge of aggravated sexual assault of a child based on the third aggravating factor to go to the jury, which found Christensen not guilty.

         ¶5 In January 2015, Christensen filed suit in district court pursuant to Utah Code section 52-6-201(1) (the Reimbursement Statute) in district court for reasonable attorney fees and costs that Juab School District refused to pay. The Reimbursement Statute provides that public employees "shall" be reimbursed for "reasonable attorney fees and court costs necessarily incurred in the [successful] defense of [an] indictment" that is "in connection with or arising out of" their employment if it is inter alia "under color of the . . . employee's authority." Id. The district court granted Christensen's motion for summary judgment and ordered reasonable attorney fees and costs and ultimately entered judgment in an amount based on a prior stipulation by the parties. The defendant, Juab School District, appeals this decision on grounds of incorrect application of the Reimbursement Statute. This court has jurisdiction over this appeal under Utah Code section 78A-3-102(3)(j).

         STANDARD ...


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