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Bryner v. Cardon Outreach, LLC

Supreme Court of Utah

September 24, 2018

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.

         On Direct Appeal

          Third District, Salt Lake The Honorable Barry G. Lawrence No. 150903753

          Robert 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 Outreach, LLC

          Alan C. Bradshaw, Steven C. Bednar, Salt Lake City, for appellee IHC Health Services, Inc.

          Andrew 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.


          Himonas, Justice


         ¶1 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.

         ¶2 The plaintiffs[1] 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[2] 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 paid."

         ¶3 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.


         ¶4 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.

         ¶5 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.[3] 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.

         ¶6 We have jurisdiction under Utah Code section 78A-3-102(3)(j).


         ¶7 "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)).


         ¶8 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 ยง 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 ...

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