District Court, Provo Department The Honorable Fred D. Howard
Pfrommer, Ronald D. Wilkinson, Nathan S. Shill, and Marianne
P. Card, Attorneys for Appellant
D. West, J. Brian Jones, and Gary D. Millward, Attorneys for
Gregory K. Orme authored this Opinion, in which Judge Michele
M. Christiansen Forster concurred. Judge Jill M. Pohlman
concurred in the result.
Kevin Faucheaux appeals the dismissal of his suit against
Provo City. The district court dismissed the suit for lack of
subject matter jurisdiction on the basis that Faucheaux, who
seemingly brought this action as personal representative of
the estate of Helen M. Faucheaux, did not have legal
authority to bring a wrongful death suit. We reverse.
In 2009, Faucheaux called 911 after finding his wife, Helen
Faucheaux, "unable to even complete a full
sentence," "stumbling around the house," and
"stumbl[ing] into the bathroom" where he
"heard snorting noises." Faucheaux informed the 911
operator that Helen had a history of drug abuse and that he
was concerned that she "had overdosed." Provo City
police officers were dispatched, arrived at the Faucheaux
home, and concluded that Helen was intoxicated and needed to
"sleep it off." They also advised Faucheaux to
"leave her alone" since she was upset with him.
Faucheaux insisted that his wife needed to be evaluated by a
medical professional because she had previously attempted
suicide and was possibly overdosing. Despite his pleas, the
officers told him "to have a good night" and left.
He did not have a good night. Approximately two hours later,
Faucheaux went to check on his wife and found her dead.
Faucheaux brought a wrongful death suit against Provo City,
claiming its officers "negligently failed to
protect" Helen when they responded to "his request
for a welfare check" because, in answering that request,
they "undertook a specific action to protect"
Helen. Provo City, then discerning no problem with standing
or subject matter jurisdiction, simply answered the complaint
and later filed a motion for summary judgment on the grounds
that "its police officers had no legal duty to take
[Helen] into custody against her will and deliver her for
involuntary commitment" and that "[t]he
discretionary acts of [Provo City's] police officers also
provide [Provo City] with governmental immunity."
Granting summary judgment to Provo City, the district court
ruled that the city owed no duty of care to Helen and that,
even if it did, it was immune from suit. Faucheaux appealed.
On appeal from the initial summary judgment against
Faucheaux, we determined that the district court erred in
concluding that "the public-duty doctrine shields Provo
from liability." Faucheaux v. Provo City, 2015
UT App 3, ¶ 37, 343 P.3d 288. And we concluded
"that the Governmental Immunity Act does not immunize
Provo from [responsibility for] the officers' actions and
omissions." Id. We then remanded the case for
further proceedings, id., expecting the case would
proceed to the discovery phase and then on to settlement or
But on remand, Provo City instead latched on to a new
procedural bar to Faucheaux's suit and moved to dismiss
the case because "the Estate of Helen M. Faucheaux had
no capacity to sue for wrongful death, and no real party in
interest may be substituted." Faucheaux filed a response
to the city's motion, arguing that Provo City forfeited
the right to file a motion to dismiss when it filed its
answer and that he brought his claim against Provo City as a
personal representative of the heirs of Helen's estate,
with the caption of his complaint identifying the estate as
the party bringing the suit being merely a technical error.
The district court dismissed the case, concluding it lacked
subject matter jurisdiction because the estate did not have
legal authority to bring a wrongful death suit under Utah
Code section 78B-3-106(1) (Lexis Nexis 2012). Faucheaux again
"Because the propriety of a motion to dismiss is a
question of law, we review for correctness, giving no
deference to the decision of the trial court."
Krouse v. Bower, 2001 UT 28, ¶ 2, 20 P.3d 895.
And "the question of whether subject matter jurisdiction
exists is one of law," which we likewise review without
deference to the trial court. Van Der Stappen v. Van Der
Stappen, 815 P.2d 1335, 1337 (Utah Ct. App. 1991).
Faucheaux argues that the district court's rationale for
dismissing his complaint on remand "conflated a standing
issue with the issue of real party in interest, and wrongly
concluded that it lacks jurisdiction to determine . . . the
real party in interest in this case." He argues that
"real party in interest" is not a question of
subject matter jurisdiction that can be raised at any time,
but rather one of legal capacity to sue, and for that reason,
Provo City waived its objection when it failed to raise it in
a timely way.
Rule 17 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure requires that
"[e]very action shall be prosecuted in the name of the
real party in interest." Utah R. Civ. P. 17(a).
"The real party in interest is the person entitled under
the substantive law to enforce the right sued upon and who
generally, but not necessarily, benefits from the
action's final outcome." Orlob v. Wasatch Med.
Mgmt., 2005 UT App 430, ¶ 17, 124 P.3d 269
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted). As we
recognized in Haro v. Haro, 887 P.2d 878 (Utah Ct.
App. 1994), the real party in interest for a wrongful death
suit is the decedent's heirs because Utah's wrongful
death statute intends "to provide compensation to those
who were dependent upon the decedent as a sole or
supplemental means of economic and emotional support."
Id. at 879 (citation and internal quotation marks
omitted). Utah's wrongful death statute therefore permits
only the heirs of the decedent, the personal representative
of the decedent for the benefit of the decedent's heirs,
or the heirs' guardian to bring a wrongful death suit.
See Utah Code Ann. § 78B-3-106(1) (LexisNexis
2012). A wrongful death action on behalf of a decedent's
estate, per se, has no legal basis under the statute. See
Haro, 887 P.2d at 879.
Accordingly, the district court in the present case concluded
that the estate-and by implication, Kevin Faucheaux as
personal representative on behalf of the estate-lacked
standing and that the court was therefore unable to exercise
subject matter jurisdiction over the suit. But "subject
matter jurisdiction concerns a court's broad authority to
hear the sort of case before it."Iota LLC v.
Davco Mgmt. Co., 2016 UT App 231, ¶ 44, 391 P.3d
239. It also encompasses issues of justiciability, such as
whether a party has standing. In re adoption of
B.B., 2017 UT 59, ¶ 121, 417 P.3d 1. See also
Alpine Homes, Inc. v. City of West Jordan, 2017 UT 45,
¶ 2 ("Standing is a question of subject matter
jurisdiction that raises fundamental questions regarding a
court's basic authority over the dispute.")
(brackets, citation, and internal quotation marks omitted).
Had Faucheaux lacked standing in this sense, the court would
have been correct in dismissing the suit for lack of subject