District, Salt Lake The Honorable Richard D. McKelvie No.
Strindberg, Salt Lake City, for appellant.
Mark Gavre, Adam E. Weinacker, Salt Lake City, for appellee.
Justice Durrant authored the opinion of the Court, in which
Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice Himonas, Justice Pearce,
and Judge DiReda joined.
her retirement, Justice Durham did not participate herein;
District Court Judge Michael D. DiReda sat.
Justice Petersen became a member of the Court on November 17,
2017, after oral argument in this matter and accordingly did
DURRANT CHIEF JUSTICE.
1 In this case, the district court ruled that Jodi Howick, a
municipal employee, had forfeited her merit protection status
through contract, waiver, and estoppel. Ms. Howick argues on
appeal, along with other claims, that our precedent allowing
a contract in conflict with a statute to survive, provided it
does not violate public policy, does not extend to contracts
involving government employees. This is an important and
difficult question, but it is one we cannot reach here. We
affirm without reaching the merits of Ms. Howick's claims
because she fails to carry her burden of challenging all of
the district court's rulings-each of which was an
independent basis for summary judgment.
2 Jodi Howick was employed by Salt Lake City as an attorney.
For the first six years that she worked for the City, she
enjoyed merit employee status. In 1998, she accepted a
promotion that came with a significant raise, but the City
required Ms. Howick to sign a disclaimer stating that "I
understand that, if I am appointed by the Salt Lake City
Attorney to the 'Appointed Senior City Attorney'
position, my employment will be at-will and will be for no
fixed length of time." Ms. Howick accepted the position
at the beginning of July 1998, but she did not sign the
disclaimer until later that month.
3 When Ms. Howick's employment was terminated in 2007,
she attempted to appeal the termination to the City's
employee review board, arguing that she was entitled to merit
status protections, but was told the board lacked
jurisdiction over at-will employees. She then initiated this
declaratory action in the district court to determine whether
she was a merit or an at-will employee.
4 The district court concluded that she was a merit employee.
The City appealed the district court's ruling to the Utah
Court of Appeals, which agreed that she was a merit employee,
but held that her merit status was subject to forfeiture
through contract, waiver, or estoppel. The court of
appeals remanded the case to the district court for factual
findings as to whether Ms. Howick had, in fact, forfeited her
merit status. On remand, the district court concluded on
summary judgment that "contractually, [she] was an
at-will employee at the time of her termination, " that
she was "equitably estopped from claiming she was a
merit employee at the time of her termination, " and
that she "undoubtedly knew of her rights [as a merit
employee] and chose to waive them." Ms. Howick filed a
5 Ms. Howick contends that the district court incorrectly
held that she was contractually an at-will employee. But she
fails to address the court's ruling that, at the time the
City terminated her employment, she was equitably estopped
from claiming merit employment. "An appellate court
reviews a trial court's 'legal conclusions and
ultimate grant or denial of summary judgment' for
correctness and views 'the facts and all reasonable
inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party.'" But we "will not reverse a