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Cheek v. Iron County

Court of Appeals of Utah

June 14, 2018

Haylee Cheek, Appellant,
Iron County, Iron County Attorney, and Cedar City, Appellees.

          Fifth District Court, Cedar City Department The Honorable Marvin D. Bagley No. 150500081

          Tyler B. Ayres and Daniel Baczynski, Attorneys for Appellant

          Jesse C. Trentadue and Noah M. Hoagland, Attorneys for Appellees Iron County and Iron County Attorney

          Robert C. Keller and Timothy J. Bywater, Attorneys for Appellee Cedar City

          Judge Gregory K. Orme authored this Opinion, in which Judges David N. Mortensen and Jill M. Pohlman concurred.

          ORME, Judge

         ¶1 After her civil rights claims were dismissed in federal court, Haylee Cheek filed a complaint in state district court alleging that she had been treated with unnecessary rigor, in contravention of the Utah Constitution. As she had in her federal suit, she named as defendants Iron County; the Iron County Attorney, Scott Garrett; and Cedar City (collectively, the Defendants). Upon a motion from each of the Defendants, the state district court dismissed Cheek's claims without reaching any conclusions regarding their substantive merit. Cheek appeals. We affirm in part and reverse in part.


         The Federal Suit

         ¶2 On May 28, 2010, Cheek filed a complaint in Utah's federal district court alleging that, during her arrest and subsequent detention, the Defendants had violated her civil rights.[2] The complaint contained seven causes of action arising under section 1983 of the United States Code and three arising under the "unnecessary rigor" provision of the Utah Constitution.[3] In support of her state-law claims, Cheek alleged that the named defendants had violated her constitutional rights by setting excessive bail, by compelling her to provide blood and urine samples pursuant to an illegal warrant, and by failing to protect her from a sexual assault during her incarceration.

         ¶3 In the initial complaint, Cheek listed Garrett as a defendant in both his official and individual capacities. But Cheek later amended the complaint to include Garrett only in his official capacity. Garrett then filed a motion to dismiss. The federal court granted the motion on November 18, 2014, reasoning that the complaint stated that the individual defendants were sued only in their official capacity. The court explained:

An official-capacity suit is another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent. What's more, a person sued in his official capacity has no stake, as an individual, in the outcome of [the] litigation. Accordingly, the claims against all individual defendants . . . are dismissed.

         The court specified in its order that Garrett's dismissal was "with prejudice."

         ¶4 Following Garrett's dismissal, Cedar City and Iron County moved, respectively, for summary judgment and judgment on the pleadings. Rather than opposing these motions, Cheek conceded that her "claims under federal law may be procedurally, legally and/or factually insufficient" and agreed that they should be dismissed with prejudice. In light of this concession, the federal court dismissed Cheek's suit, noting that she had the option to refile her state-law claims in a state court of general jurisdiction.

         The State Suit

         ¶5 In May 2015, Cheek commenced this action in Utah's Fifth District Court against the Defendants and several Cedar City and Iron County departments and employees. In her complaint, she reasserted two of her three unnecessary rigor claims, this time narrowing the scope of her suit to the allegations that the Defendants had illegally compelled her to provide a urine sample and that they had failed to prevent her sexual assault. After filing her complaint, Cheek attempted to effect service on the Defendants, with, as it turns out, only mixed success.

         ¶6 In October 2015, the Defendants filed motions to dismiss. Cedar City argued that Cheek's claims against it should be dismissed on jurisdictional grounds because she had failed to file a notice of claim prior to commencing her action, in accordance with the Governmental Immunity Act of Utah. Garrett, for his part, argued that Cheek's claims against him were barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Finally, Iron County argued that the state district court had not effectively exerted jurisdiction over the county because Cheek did not serve the summons and complaint on the County Clerk, as required by rule 4 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. Instead, she had served the County Recorder.[4]

         ¶7 The state district court granted Cedar City's motion in November 2015, and it granted Garrett's and Iron County's motions several months later in a bifurcated order. In its first "partial" order, entered in July 2016, the court dismissed all Iron County departments, as they are not separate legal entities and cannot be sued. The court also dismissed all employees named in the suit, with the exception of Garrett, explaining that Cheek had voluntarily relinquished her claims against them during the hearing on Iron County's motion. The court then entered its second order in August 2016, wherein it dismissed Cheek's claims against Garrett with prejudice and her claims against Iron County without prejudice. On appeal, Cheek concedes that all of her claims were time-barred ...

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