Zachary Bryner, Nenita R. Ezar, Michelle Gallagher, and Christopher Furr, Appellants,
Cardon Outreach, LLC, IHC Health Services, Inc., St. Mark's Hospital, University of Utah Health Care, and State of Utah, Appellees.
District, Salt Lake The Honorable Barry G. Lawrence No.
B. Sykes, Alyson Carter McAllister, Daniel Oswald, Salt Lake
City, for appellants
Gregory John Wilder, Provo, for appellant Nenita R. Ezar,
Sean D. Reyes, Att'y Gen., Peggy Stone, Asst. Sol. Gen.,
Salt Lake City, for appellees University of Utah Health Care
and State of Utah, Derek J. Williams, P. Matthew Cox,
Nathaniel J. Mitchell, Salt Lake City, for appellee Cardon
C. Bradshaw, Steven C. Bednar, Salt Lake City, for appellee
IHC Health Services, Inc.
G. Deiss, Billie Jean Siddoway, Salt Lake City, Sean
Gallagher, Denver, CO, for appellee St. Mark's Hospital
Justice Himonas authored the opinion of the Court, in which
Chief Justice Durrant, Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice
Pearce, and Justice Petersen joined.
The question before us is not a particularly thorny one: what
is the correct interpretation of Utah's Hospital Lien
Statute? See Utah Code § 38-7-1. Recognizing
that this question is purely one of law, the parties sensibly
agreed to stay discovery and filed cross-motions for summary
judgment at the outset of the case.
The plaintiffs argued that the Hospital Lien Statute
"requires a hospital to pay its proportional share of an
injured person's attorney fees and costs when a hospital
lien is paid due to the efforts of the injured person or his
or her attorney." The defendants countered that the statute
contains no such language, and that the statute operates
instead "to establish a priority system as to
entitlement to settlement funds to allow hospitals to get
The district court concluded that the hospitals'
interpretation was correct, as it was "the only
reasonable [interpretation] that ma[de] sense given
the context of the statute read as a whole." More
specifically, the district court granted summary judgment to
the hospitals, finding that "even giving [the]
[patients] the benefit of the doubt concerning . . . [their]
tortured (albeit possible) interpretation of Subsection
(1)(a), . . . [o]nly [the hospitals'] interpretation
reconciles the [Hospital Lien] [S]tatute as a
whole." The patients appealed. We are in full
agreement with the district court's conclusions and
therefore affirm the grant of summary judgment.
Because the parties have stipulated that the focal issue in
this case is the interpretation of the Hospital Lien Statute,
the facts in this matter are not at issue. This proposed
class action involves persons injured in car accidents who
filed personal injury claims against the third parties at
fault. All had hospital liens placed on any potential
recovery from those claims, and all reached settlement
agreements, paying their attorney fees by way of a contingent
fee on the recovery. In each case, the patient used the
settlement proceeds to pay attorney fees and associated costs
and then the entirety of the asserted hospital lien,
retaining the remaining balance, if any.
The patients contend that the hospitals failed to pay their
"fair share" of the attorney fees (including court
costs and other necessary expenses) the patients incurred in
generating the settlement proceeds. And they further contend
that, under the Hospital Lien Statute, the hospitals should
be required to reimburse them for the proportion of those
attorney fees that the hospitals should have been required to
pay in order to equitably share the costs of obtaining the
settlement proceeds. The district court disagreed with the
patients' interpretation of the statute and granted
summary judgment to the hospitals. We agree with the district
court that the reading of the plain language of the statute
as a whole yields the hospitals' interpretation and find
that the language is not ambiguous. But even if the language
were ambiguous, the substantive terms canon would negate the
patients' interpretation. We also conclude that the
common fund doctrine offers the patients no relief.
We have jurisdiction under Utah Code section 78A-3-102(3)(j).
"A district court's interpretation of a statute is a
question of law, which we . . . review for correctness."
Harvey v. Cedar Hills City, 2010 UT 12, ¶ 10,
227 P.3d 256. "We review a district court's grant of
summary judgment for correctness. We affirm a grant of
summary judgment when the record shows 'there is no
genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving
party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of
law.'" Id. (footnote omitted) (quoting Utah
R. Civ. P. 56(c)).
The Hospital Lien Statute authorizes hospitals that treat
persons injured in accidents to file liens on the personal
injury claims arising out of those accidents. See
Utah Code § 38-7-1. The parties disagree about the
effect of the Hospital Lien Statute in allocating the
attorney fees and costs of the personal injury litigation. In
particular, the ...