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Windsor Mobile Estates, LLC v. Sweazey

Court of Appeals of Utah

March 28, 2019

Windsor Mobile Estates, LLC; Henry Berry; and Affordable Concepts, LLC, Appellees,
v.
Donnie Sweazey, Appellant.

          Third District Court, West Jordan Department The Honorable Bruce C. Lubeck No. 140400967

          Brian W. Steffensen, Attorney for Appellant

          L. Miles Lebaron and Tyler J. Jensen, Attorneys for Appellee Windsor Mobile Estates, LLC

          Mark A. Woodbury, Attorney for Appellees Henry Berry and Affordable Concepts, LLC

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

          ORME, JUDGE.

         ¶1 Donnie Sweazey appeals the dismissal of his claims for failure to prosecute. We affirm.

         ¶2 On January 27, 2014, Windsor Mobile Estates, LLC, filed a complaint for unlawful detainer against Scott Wilson for failure to pay rent on a lot in its mobile home park. At the time, Wilson did not reside in the mobile home on the lot in question. Rather, Michelle Southard and Michael Oyler owned and resided in the mobile home. Wilson never filed an answer to Windsor's complaint, and the district court entered an order of restitution on February 7, 2014, ordering any occupants off the premises.

         ¶3 On February 21, 2014, Appellant Donnie Sweazey sought to intervene as a defendant, claiming to be the rightful owner of the mobile home, and he was granted leave to do so. The court then ordered a stay of execution until ownership of the mobile home could be determined and directed that the mobile home remain on the lot until further notice.

         ¶4 On April 30, 2014, Sweazey filed what he titled a third-party complaint, alleging that he had purchased the home from Southard and Oyler for $9, 000 on February 10, 2014, by putting down all of $20 as a deposit, with $8, 980 of the purchase price still owing. In his third-party complaint, Sweazey named as third-party defendants Appellee Henry Berry and his company, Affordable Concepts, LLC (collectively, Berry). He also asserted claims against Windsor, Oyler, and Southard. Answering the third-party complaint, Berry claimed he purchased the home from Oyler after Oyler represented to him that he had discussed selling the home to Sweazey but that no deal had been finalized.

         ¶5 Early on in the case, in April 2014, the district court stated that an evidentiary hearing was required to determine ownership of the mobile home. However, none of the parties requested an evidentiary hearing on the matter. Sweazey claims to have asked for a hearing and points to various filings, but there is no record of him filing a request to submit any relevant motion for decision, as required by rule 7(g) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. Without such a request the court will ordinarily not take action on its own initiative. Seven months later, in December 2014, the court reiterated the need for an evidentiary hearing, but again no party properly moved the court to hold one-or so the court concluded, noting also that "[w]hatever claim is made that something was filed is eviscerated by the fact that even if a motion was filed, no Request to Submit was ever filed concerning that motion."

         ¶6 In his third-party complaint, Sweazey sought damages for an alleged breach of contract by Southard and Oyler, interference with contractual relations and defamation by Berry, and conspiracy and conversion by Berry and Windsor. Sweazey's attempt to bring claims against Berry and Windsor by using a third-party complaint was not proper, even though Sweazey saw the need to bring additional parties into the action. This mistake-the misuse of a third-party action-is a common one, and we take this opportunity to remind practitioners of the quite limited proper usage of third-party complaints.

         ¶7 Under rule 14(a) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, a third-party complaint is used by a defendant to "bring in [a] third party" "who is or may be liable to him for all or part of the plaintiff's claim against him." Utah R. Civ. P. 14(a). Thus, "[a] third-party claim may be asserted under Rule 14(a)[ ] only when the third party's liability is in some way dependent on the outcome of the main claim or when the third party is secondarily liable to the defending party." 6 Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1446, at 413-15 (3d ed. 2018). "The secondary or derivative liability notion is central," and thus a third-party complaint is the proper means for asserting claims against parties not named in the original complaint on such rationales as "indemnity, subrogation, [or] contribution." Id. at 415-21. "The crucial characteristic of a Rule 14 claim is that [the] defendant is attempting to transfer to the third-party defendant the liability asserted against defendant by the original plaintiff." Id. at 431-32.

         ¶8 Sweazey was attempting no such thing. He was asserting ownership of the mobile home. As against Oyler, Southard, and Berry, he did not claim that any liability imposed on him by Windsor should be passed on to them. Instead, he asserted independent claims against them-claims that were not dependent on any liability he might have to Windsor. And of ...


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