922 P.2d 1 (Utah 1996), 940475, Carlie v. Morgan

Docket Nº:940475.
Citation:922 P.2d 1
Opinion Judge:ZIMMERMAN, Chief Justice:
Party Name:Moroni and Susan CARLIE and Deena Poulsen, on her own behalf and as guardian for Lora Poulsen, a minor, Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. John MORGAN, in his official capacity as acting director of the Salt Lake City/County Health Department, Daryl McDonald, Joe Destafino, and Jon Hansen, in his official capacity as a building official for the city of
Attorney:Bruce M. Plenk, Silvia Pena-Chacon, Eric Mittelstadt, Salt Lake City, for plaintiffs. Thomas L. Christensen, Salt Lake City, for Morgan. Dean H. Becker, Salt Lake City, for McDonald and Destafino. Dale J. Lambert, Stacy L. Hayden, Salt Lake City, for Hansen.
Case Date:June 25, 1996
Court:Supreme Court of Utah
 
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922 P.2d 1 (Utah 1996)

Moroni and Susan CARLIE and Deena Poulsen, on her own behalf

and as guardian for Lora Poulsen, a minor,

Plaintiffs and Appellants,

v.

John MORGAN, in his official capacity as acting director of

the Salt Lake City/County Health Department, Daryl McDonald,

Joe Destafino, and Jon Hansen, in his official capacity as a

building official for the city of South Salt Lake,

Defendants and Appellees.

No. 940475.

Supreme Court of Utah.

June 25, 1996

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Bruce M. Plenk, Silvia Pena-Chacon, Eric Mittelstadt, Salt Lake City, for plaintiffs.

Thomas L. Christensen, Salt Lake City, for Morgan.

Dean H. Becker, Salt Lake City, for McDonald and Destafino.

Dale J. Lambert, Stacy L. Hayden, Salt Lake City, for Hansen.

ZIMMERMAN, Chief Justice:

Moroni and Susan Carlie and Deena Poulsen, who were displaced from their apartment when the building was closed to occupancy due to health code violations, appeal from the district court's dismissal of their claims against (i) John Morgan, acting director of the Salt Lake City/County Health Department, for failing to provide relocation assistance under the Utah Relocation Assistance Act ("URAA"), Utah Code Ann. §§ 57-12-1 to -13; (ii) Daryl McDonald, the owner of the apartment building, for violating the Utah Consumer Sales Practices Act ("UCSPA"), Utah Code Ann. §§ 13-11-1 to -23; and (iii) Joe Destafino, the manager of the apartment building, for violating the UCSPA

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and breaching the implied warranty of habitability. 1 We affirm.

The material facts in this appeal are not disputed. In December of 1992, Deena Poulsen rented an apartment from Joe Destafino, who managed the apartment building for its owner, Daryl McDonald. Three months later, the Carlies rented an apartment in the same building. Shortly thereafter, James Bennett of the Salt Lake City/County Health Department ("Health Department") inspected the building and found numerous health code violations, including plumbing leaks, cockroach and rodent infestation, unsafe stairs, missing window glass, and missing smoke detectors. Consequently, on April 15, 1993, Bennett posted a "Closed to Occupancy" notice on the building and ordered plaintiffs to vacate the premises.

Two weeks later, having been unable to find affordable alternate housing, the Carlies filed a complaint in district court seeking (i) relocation assistance under the URAA from the acting director of the Health Department, John Morgan, and (ii) damages from McDonald and Destafino for violation of the UCSPA and breach of the implied warranty of habitability. Poulsen was later added as a plaintiff.

Thereafter, Morgan moved for summary judgment, arguing that the URAA does not require a governmental agency to provide relocation assistance to a displaced person unless the displacement occurs as a result of the agency's acquisition of the property from which the person was displaced. The district court agreed and dismissed plaintiffs' claim against Morgan for failing to provide relocation assistance.

Plaintiffs subsequently moved for summary judgment against McDonald and Destafino for violating the UCSPA and breaching the implied warranty of habitability. After a hearing on plaintiffs' motion, the district court ruled that (i) McDonald was liable for breach of the implied warranty of habitability; (ii) Destafino, as McDonald's agent, was not personally liable for breach of the implied warranty of habitability; and (iii) the UCSPA does not apply to landlord/tenant transactions. Accordingly, the district court entered summary judgment against McDonald on plaintiffs' claim for breach of the implied warranty of habitability and dismissed plaintiffs' other claims against McDonald and Destafino. Plaintiffs appeal.

We first state the applicable standard of review. Plaintiffs challenge only the district court's interpretation of the URAA and the UCSPA and the district court's legal conclusion that an apartment owner's agent cannot be held personally liable for breach of the implied warranty of habitability. These are legal determinations, i.e., "those which are not of fact but are essentially of rules or principles uniformly applied to persons of similar qualities and status in similar circumstances." State v. Pena, 869 P.2d 932, 935 (Utah 1994). "Accordingly, we grant no particular deference to the district court's rulings but review them for correctness." World Peace Movement of Am. v. Newspaper Agency Corp., 879 P.2d 253, 259 (Utah 1994) (citing Ward v. Richfield City, 798 P.2d 757, 759 (Utah 1990)); accord Pena, 869 P.2d at 936.

Plaintiffs first contend that the district court erred in concluding that the URAA requires a governmental agency to provide relocation assistance only when the agency acquires the property in question. "When faced with a question of statutory construction, we look first to the plain language of the statute." CIG Exploration, Inc. v. Utah State Tax Comm'n, 897 P.2d 1214, 1216 (Utah 1995) (citing State v. Larsen, 865 P.2d 1355, 1357 (Utah 1993); Schurtz v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 814 P.2d 1108, 1112

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(Utah 1991)), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 116 S.Ct. 699, 133 L.Ed.2d 656 (1996). We assume that "each term in the statute was used advisedly; thus the statutory words are read literally, unless such a reading is unreasonably confused or inoperable." Savage Indus., Inc. v. Utah State Tax Comm'n, 811 P.2d 664, 670 (Utah 1991). "Only when we find ambiguity in the statute's plain language need we seek guidance from the legislative history and relevant policy considerations." World Peace Movement, 879 P.2d at 259. Applying these principles, the district court found that the plain language of the URAA requires governmental acquisition of property before relocation assistance can be provided. We agree.

The URAA provides specific remedies to persons displaced from their place of residence or business as a result of governmental activity. See Utah Code Ann. § 57-12-4 (direct financial assistance); id. § 57-12-5 (reimbursement of moving expenses); id. § 57-12-7 (offer of replacement dwelling); id. §...

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