Anderson v. Larry H. Miller Commc'ns Corp., 20130997–CA.

CourtCourt of Appeals of Utah
Writing for the CourtPEARCE, Judge
Citation351 P.3d 832,2015 UT App 134
PartiesSteven ANDERSON, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. LARRY H. MILLER COMMUNICATIONS CORPORATION and Dean Paynter, Defendants and Appellees.
Docket NumberNo. 20130997–CA.,20130997–CA.
Decision Date29 May 2015

351 P.3d 832
2015 UT App 134

Steven ANDERSON, Plaintiff and Appellant
LARRY H. MILLER COMMUNICATIONS CORPORATION and Dean Paynter, Defendants and Appellees.

No. 20130997–CA.

Court of Appeals of Utah.

May 29, 2015.

351 P.3d 835

April L. Hollingsworth, Salt Lake City, for Appellant.

Janet Hugie Smith, Scott A. Hagen, and Kimberly A. Child, Salt Lake City, for Appellees.

Judge JOHN A. PEARCE authored this Opinion, in which Judges GREGORY K. ORME and JAMES Z. DAVIS concurred.


PEARCE, Judge:

¶ 1 Steven Anderson appeals from a jury verdict and judgment in favor of Larry H. Miller Communications Corporation (LHMCC) and Dean Paynter on Anderson's claims of fraud and promissory estoppel. We affirm.


¶ 2 In 2007, Anderson left his teaching job of twenty-eight years to host KJZZ Café, a morning television program. KJZZ Café aired on the KJZZ television station, which LHMCC owns. Although Anderson and LHMCC never executed a written contract, Anderson took the KJZZ Café job believing that he was guaranteed an $80,000 annual salary for three years regardless of whether KJZZ Café was successful. This belief resulted from Anderson's interactions with Paynter, who was LHMCC's Director of News and Program Development.

¶ 3 KJZZ Café was not successful. In November 2008, LHMCC cancelled the show and terminated Anderson's employment. Anderson sued LHMCC and Paynter for the remainder of the three years' salary to which he believed he was entitled, alleging breach of contract, promissory estoppel, fraud, and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The district court granted summary judgment to LHMCC and Paynter on all of Anderson's claims. The district court concluded that no contract existed to support the breach of contract and covenant of good faith and fair dealing claims. The district court further concluded that the promissory estoppel and fraud claims could not survive, because Anderson had signed an acknowledgement that he was an at-will employee and because LHMCC had never represented that Anderson would have a salary guarantee.

¶ 4 Anderson appealed from the district court's ruling, and this court affirmed in part and reversed in part. See Anderson v. Larry H. Miller Commc'ns Corp., 2012 UT App 196, 284 P.3d 674.1 We affirmed the district court on the contract-related claims, concluding that the only contract between the parties was one of at-will employment and that the covenant of good faith and fair dealing could not “inject a term of years into the contract when the parties expressly agreed to an at-will relationship terminable at any time.” Id. ¶¶ 12–18. However, we reversed the district court on the promissory estoppel and fraud claims, holding that there was a material question of fact as to Anderson's reasonable reliance on Paynter's alleged statements and as to whether Paynter made those statements on LHMCC's behalf. See id. ¶¶ 19–24.

¶ 5 After remand to the district court, the matter proceeded to a trial. About two weeks before trial, Anderson filed a motion seeking leave to amend his complaint to add a claim for intentional interference with economic relations. Several days before trial, he filed a motion to have his promissory estoppel claim tried to a jury instead of to the court. The district court denied both motions.

¶ 6 Trial commenced as scheduled, with a jury empanelled to consider Anderson's fraud claim. The district court heard the promissory estoppel claim as an equitable claim. The district court interrupted Anderson's counsel's opening statement several times, once upon objection by opposing counsel and at least twice on its own initiative.

351 P.3d 836

The first interruption came after Anderson's counsel referred to fraud as a “moral” and “religious” tenet, described fraud as “bamboozl[ing] someone,” and declared that it was her “great honor and privilege to ... be able to represent people like Steve Anderson, whose biggest problem was [that] he trusted someone who was untrustworthy.” The district court interrupted, stating, “Counsel, I think you're going a little beyond opening statement and argu—making an argument to the jury and I don't think that's appropriate.” Anderson's counsel inquired if she could “talk about the role of the jury,” and the district court responded, “[Y]ou can talk to the jury on your argument in closing, but you're not to make your closing argument at the beginning of the case.” The district court also informed counsel that it had “already told [the jurors] what their role is.”2

¶ 7 The next interruption occurred after Anderson's counsel began describing her “susp[icion] that the defense is going to tell you that Mr. Anderson wasn't really harmed by what happened here and therefore, you shouldn't award him anything.” After Anderson's counsel stated that “the defendants are not absolved of liability because of Mr. Anderson's resourcefulness” and “the fact that [Anderson] was able to claw his way back from a situation that [LHMCC and Paynter] put him in has nothing to do with their liability,” defense counsel objected that Anderson's counsel was making argument. The district court sustained the defense objection without comment and without permitting Anderson's counsel to respond to the objection.

¶ 8 Anderson's counsel immediately changed topics and began talking about Larry H. Miller,3 the founder and namesake of LHMCC:

[T]his case is not about Larry H. Miller as a man. He was a very sick man when all this went down and he died shortly thereafter. And from everything that my client and I know about the man, this is how I do not believe he would do things and....

At this point, the district court interrupted Anderson's counsel and stated, “Counsel, I'm going to stop you here. I told you not to make arguments, we've already instructed this jury that they are not to consider passion, prejudice or sympathy when making a decision and for you to argue that is improper, clearly improper, you know it.” Anderson's counsel then concluded her opening statement with a statement that, at the end of trial, she would be asking the jury to find in favor of Anderson.

¶ 9 After an opening statement from LHMCC and Paynter, the parties presented evidence, primarily through Anderson's and Paynter's testimony. During Anderson's counsel's questioning, the district court sustained multiple objections from defense counsel, often without allowing Anderson's counsel an opportunity to respond. The district court also disallowed some of Anderson's counsel's questions without awaiting an objection from LHMCC and Paynter.

¶ 10 On the morning of the second day of trial, Anderson's counsel cited the court's evidentiary rulings in renewing Anderson's motion for a jury trial on the promissory estoppel claim. The district court heard the renewed motion outside the presence of the jury. Anderson's counsel stated that one basis for the renewed motion was that the court had “exhibited some hostility towards [Anderson's] case.” The district court responded,

I will tell you right now, I don't have hostility towards your case, I have hostility, if you will call it that, when I make a ruling, yet you continue to argue with me. And you made—clearly, you made inappropriate arguments to the jury, that's why I stopped you. You are not to make a closing argument for an opening statement, you are not to appeal to the passion or prejudice of a jury, which you did, and I told you you couldn't, we have an instruction that says you can't do that and you did
351 P.3d 837
it anyway. And when I make a ruling you argue with me every time, you're always arguing with me. I don't have hostility towards the case, but your attitude and your conduct is what's causing the problem here.

Anderson's counsel replied by expressing her concern that she had not been allowed to respond to objections. The district court assured her that it would allow her such an opportunity going forward. The parties presented the remainder of their evidence without incident.

¶ 11 When it came time to instruct the jury on the fraud claim, the parties disputed the proper measure of damages. Anderson argued that he was entitled to expectation damages, which he defines in his appellate brief as “the salary he was promised for the two remaining years for which he was not paid by LHMCC, minus the additional salary he earned by going back [to teaching] full-time, which offset the salary loss from LHMCC.” LHMCC and Paynter argued that Anderson should be limited to reliance damages, or the difference between what he actually made from all employment over the relevant three-year period and what he would have made had he remained at his teaching job. The court instructed the jury that Anderson's fraud damages, “if any, are the difference between the compensation he made before he accepted the KJZZ job and the compensation that he made at all jobs after he accepted the KJZZ job, including the compensation he made at the KJZZ job.”

¶ 12 The jury found that Anderson had not proven his fraud claim. Specifically, the jury answered “No” on the special verdict form to questions asking, “Do you find by clear and convincing evidence that [the defendants] committed fraud on...

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8 cases
  • Bresee v. Barton, 20140565–CA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Utah
    • 3 Noviembre 2016
    ...amend may be predicated on only one or two of the particular factors." Anderson v. Larry H. Miller Commc'ns Corp. , 2015 UT App 134, ¶ 44, 351 P.3d 832 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Moreover, "the dimensions of liberality [in granting a motion to amend a complaint] are ge......
  • Bresee v. Barton, 20140565-CA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Utah
    • 3 Noviembre 2016
    ...amend may be predicated on only one or two of the particular factors." Anderson v. Larry H. Miller Commc'ns Corp., 2015 UT App 134, ¶ 44, 351 P.3d 832 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Moreover, "the dimensions of liberality [in granting a motion to amend a complaint] are gen......
  • Martin v. Kristensen
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Utah
    • 26 Julio 2019
    ...a trial court "has broad discretion to admit or exclude evidence." Anderson v. Larry H. Miller Commc'ns Corp. , 2015 UT App 134, ¶ 30, 351 P.3d 832 (cleaned up). And as noted above, an appellant "must shoulder the burden of demonstrating both error by the district court and prejudice, i.e.,......
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    ...rulings will result in reversal only if the error is harmful." Anderson v. Larry H. Miller Commc’ns Corp. , 2015 UT App 134, ¶ 17, 351 P.3d 832. ¶13 Third, Tenant contends that the district court erred in awarding attorney fees to Landlord, attacking its determinations that Landlord was the......
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