Butterfield v. Sevier Valley Hosp.

Decision Date16 December 2010
Docket NumberNo. 20090122–CA.,20090122–CA.
PartiesClint BUTTERFIELD and Heidi Butterfield, individually and on behalf of their minor child, Kylie Butterfield, Plaintiffs and Appellants,v.SEVIER VALLEY HOSPITAL; and IHC Health Services, Inc., Defendants and Appellees.
CourtUtah Court of Appeals


Allen K. Young, Provo, for Appellants.Joann E. Bott, Steven C. Bednar, and David C. Castleberry, Salt Lake City, for Appellees.Before Judges ORME, THORNE, and VOROS.


VOROS, Judge:

¶ 1 Clint and Heidi Butterfield, individually and on behalf of their daughter Kylie Butterfield (collectively, Plaintiffs), appeal from a jury verdict in favor of Sevier Valley Hospital (the Hospital) and IHC Health Services, Inc. (collectively, Defendants). Plaintiffs appeal the trial court's denial of their motion to change venue. We affirm.


¶ 2 Heidi Butterfield gave birth to Kylie Butterfield in July 2000 at the Hospital. Upon delivery, Kylie was not breathing on her own and her pulse was low. The doctors and nurses present attempted to revive her. She was eventually flown to Primary Children's Medical Center. She suffered significant, permanent impairment. In November 2002, Plaintiffs sued Defendants in Sevier County. They alleged that Kylie's condition was caused by negligent resuscitation efforts at the Hospital. Defendants countered that Kylie's condition was the result of a stroke or some other cause.

¶ 3 In October 2006, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Change of Venue. The motion was based on the ground that a fair and impartial jury could not be impaneled in Sevier County due to the county's small population and the Hospital's prominence in the community. The Hospital is the only one in the county and is one of fourteen major employers there. The Hospital is owned and operated by IHC Health Services, Inc. of Salt Lake City. The trial court recognized Plaintiffs' concern about impaneling an impartial jury but, expressing confidence that an impartial jury could be impaneled, denied the motion.

¶ 4 In March 2008, weeks before trial, a pool of 100 potential jurors was drawn. Each potential juror was given a questionnaire eliciting information, such as whether the potential juror knew or had a relationship with any witness or party. Based on these questionnaires, the trial court asked Plaintiffs and Defendants to “identify those potential jurors which [they] ... fe[lt] like [they'd] like to exclude,” adding, “I'll take a closer look at those.” Plaintiffs identified numerous potential jurors, including four who eventually decided the case. The trial court took the matter under advisement. The court excused forty of the jurors for cause based on the parties' suggestions and its own review of the questionnaires and reserved the balance of jury selection for trial.

¶ 5 The case was tried in April 2008. Days before trial, Plaintiffs filed a renewed Motion for Change of Venue. Defendants did not file a written response to this motion, and the trial court never ruled on it.1

¶ 6 On the first day of trial, fifty-five potential jurors appeared for voir dire. The trial court conducted voir dire by asking the potential jurors general questions regarding their ability to be impartial and any relationships they might have had with parties or witnesses. Counsel questioned individual jurors and challenged jurors for cause. The trial court ruled on those challenges. This process was repeated until the panel was winnowed to nineteen potential jurors. The parties then each exercised four peremptory challenges to reduce the panel to the eight jurors and three alternates who sat.

¶ 7 Plaintiffs challenged for cause four of the final nineteen potential jurors: Jurors 5, 12, 13, and 15. The trial court denied Plaintiffs' challenges to Jurors 5, 12, and 15, but Plaintiffs removed them with peremptory strikes. Plaintiffs challenged Juror 13 for cause and requested individual voir dire to discuss Juror 13's relationship with a defense witness. Apparently satisfied with Juror 13's description of the relationship, Plaintiffs withdrew their challenge to her. Accordingly, by the conclusion of jury selection, none of the eight jurors who actually heard the case were challenged for cause by Plaintiffs at trial.

¶ 8 Following a two-week trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendants. Plaintiffs filed a motion for new trial alleging various grounds of error, including the trial court's failure to grant a change of venue. The trial court denied that motion and Plaintiffs now appeal.


¶ 9 Plaintiffs contend that the trial court erred by denying their Motion for Change of Venue, which asserted that an impartial jury could not be impaneled in Sevier County. We will not overturn a trial court's ruling on a change-of-venue motion unless the court clearly abused its discretion. See City of Grantsville v. Redevelopment Agency of Tooele, 2010 UT 38, ¶ 53, 233 P.3d 461. A trial court abuses its discretion when its “decision [is] beyond the limits of reasonability,” State v. Arguelles, 2003 UT 1, ¶ 101, 63 P.3d 731 (internal quotation marks omitted), such that “no reasonable [person] would take the view adopted by the trial court.” Id. (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted).


¶ 10 Plaintiffs contend that an impartial jury could not be impaneled in Sevier County for the reason that [v]irtually all of the potential jurors have a personal stake in the outcome, because most will need to use Sevier Valley Hospital” for medical care, as it is the only hospital in the county. In addition, Plaintiffs argue that, due to the Hospital's “very prominent presence in a county of less than 20,000 people,” two-thirds of the jury pool and “over half the jurors that decided the case had some personal connection to the facility or its trial witnesses.”

I. When a Party Challenges Venue on Appeal After Trial, the Determinative Question is Whether the Case Was Tried to an Impartial Jury.

¶ 11 At the outset, the parties disagree on what law controls. Plaintiffs argue that our analysis should be guided by a trio of criminal change-of-venue cases, State v. James, 767 P.2d 549 (Utah 1989), State v. Widdison, 2001 UT 60, 28 P.3d 1278, and State v. Stubbs, 2005 UT 65, 123 P.3d 407. In particular, they urge us to look to the four-part test set forth in James. See James, 767 P.2d at 552. That test was devised in the context of a pre-trial venue challenge heard on interlocutory appeal. See id. at 550. It thus examines the characteristics of the community from which the jury will be drawn rather than focusing on the jurors actually selected. See id. at 551. Defendants assail this approach both because it derives from a criminal case and because, they argue, once the jury has been impaneled, the dispositive question is whether the case was “ultimately tried by a fair and impartial jury,” Widdison, 2001 UT 60, ¶ 38, 28 P.3d 1278.

¶ 12 We agree with Defendants and hold that where an appellant raises a change-of-venue challenge after the completion of a civil trial, the determinative question is whether the case was tried by a fair and impartial jury. If so, the purpose of the change-of-venue procedure was achieved and, in any event, the appellant can demonstrate no prejudice.

¶ 13 By statute, civil cases are to be “tried in the county in which: (a) the cause of action arises; or (b) any defendant resides at the commencement of the action.” Utah Code Ann. § 78B–3–307(1) (2008). However, the trial court may change the place of trial for the purpose of achieving “an impartial trial”:

The court may, on motion, change the place of trial ... when there is reason to believe that an impartial trial cannot be had in the county, city, or precinct designated in the complaint.

Id. § 78B–3–309(2). A similar rule applies in criminal cases. The court may change the place of trial to achieve a “fair and impartial trial”:

If the prosecution or a defendant in a criminal action believes that a fair and impartial trial cannot be had in the jurisdiction where the action is pending, either may, by motion, supported by an affidavit setting forth facts, ask to have the trial of the case transferred to another jurisdiction.

Utah R.Crim. P. 29(d)(1). These provisions make clear that the purpose of a change of venue is to achieve a fair and impartial trial. In this context, lack of fairness and impartiality at trial is a function of “a tainted jury.” See Lafferty v. State, 2007 UT 73, ¶ 42, 175 P.3d 530.

¶ 14 In a criminal case, if a change-of-venue motion is filed before a jury is impaneled, the trial court must undertake a prospective analysis evaluating “demographic, geographic, and cultural evidence unrelated to the identity and potential for bias of an actual jury venire.” Stubbs, 2005 UT 65, ¶ 14, 123 P.3d 407. Specifically, the court is to consider (1) the standing of the victim and the accused in the community; (2) the size of the community; (3) the nature and gravity of the offense; and (4) the nature and extent of publicity.” James, 767 P.2d at 552. On interlocutory appeal, the appellate court will examine the same factors. See, e.g., Stubbs, 2005 UT 65, ¶ 13, 123 P.3d 407 (We have expressly limited our review under the James test to interlocutory appeals....”). The purpose of the James factors is to predict whether a fair and impartial jury can be selected in a community that has been exposed to publicity about a criminal case.

¶ 15 In contrast, after trial, no prediction is necessary. [T]he appellate record is not limited to descriptive data about the characteristics of the community in which the trial is to take place and from whose citizens the jury will be culled.” Id. ¶ 14. After trial, the reviewing court can examine “the juror's actual voir dire answers.” Lafferty, 2007 UT 73, ¶ 42, 175 P.3d 530. At that stage, the determinative question is no longer whether “a fair and impartial trial...

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  • Wilson v. Ihc Hosps., Inc., 20090354.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Utah
    • 20 Julio 2012
    ...to the [trial] court that he or she had no objection to the [proceedings].” Butterfield v. Sevier Valley Hosp., 2010 UT App 357, ¶ 23, 246 P.3d 120 (second and third alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted). But a party does not invite error when it responds to an error co......
  • Lee v. Williams, 20160198-CA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Utah
    • 29 Marzo 2018
    ...of his or her voir dire responses reveal "evidence of bias or partiality." Butterfield v. Sevier Valley Hosp. , 2010 UT App 357, ¶ 21, 246 P.3d 120 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see also West v. Holley , 2004 UT 97, ¶ 14, 103 P.3d 708 (stating that "[v]oir dire responses ......
  • State v. MacNeill, 20140875–CA
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    • Court of Appeals of Utah
    • 18 Agosto 2016
    ...question is whether the impaneled jurors were in fact impartial.” Butterfield v. Sevier Valley Hosp ., 2010 UT App 357, ¶ 20, 246 P.3d 120. “Thus, defendant has the burden of demonstrating the existence of actual prejudice on his appeal.” State v. Bishop , 753 P.2d 439, 459 (Utah 1988), ove......
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    • Court of Appeals of Utah
    • 25 Enero 2018
    ...of his or her voir dire responses reveal "evidence of bias or partiality." Butterfield v. Sevier Valley Hosp., 2010 UT App 357, ¶ 21, 246 P.3d 120 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see also West v. Holley, 2004 UT 97, ¶ 14, 103 P.3d 708 (stating that "[v]oir dire responses re......
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