Cox v. Stolworthy

Decision Date27 April 1972
Docket NumberNo. 10906,10906
Citation496 P.2d 682,94 Idaho 683
PartiesClinton COX and Roger D. Cox, Plaintiffs-Respondents, v. Lloyd STOLWORTHY, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtIdaho Supreme Court

Arthur L. Smith of Albaugh, Bloem, Smith & Pike, Idaho Falls, for defendant-appellant.

Willis B. Benjamin, of St. Clair, St. Clair, Hiller & Benjamin, Idaho Falls, for plaintiffs-respondents.

McFADDEN, Justice.

Plaintiffs-respondents Clinton Cox and Roger D. Cox, father and son, instituted this action against defendant-appellant Lloyd Stolworthy, seeking compensatory and punitive damages for trespass upon premises held by the Coxes under a lease from the State of Idaho. In their complaint the plaintiffs alleged wilful and malicious trespass by the defendant in bulldozing about half a mile of road through the premises and in destruction of a fence; they also alleged wilful and malicious trespass by the defendant or his agents in running sheep over the plaintiffs' property. By his answer defendant admitted the trespass incidents, except for destruction of the fence, but denied any malicious conduct. The factual issues framed by the pleadings were submitted to a jury on special interrogatories. The jury found for the plaintiffs, assessing compensatory damages of $1,500 for forage destroyed by the sheep trespassing, $100 for forage destroyed by bulldozing the road, $75 for costs of repairing a fence damaged by the bulldozing, plus $5,000 as punitive damages solely for the bulldozing incident. After judgment was entered in conformity with the special verdict, defendant moved to amend the judgment notwithstanding the special findings by the jury. This motion was denied by the court.

The defendant appealed from the judgment base on the special findings by the jury and from the order denying his motion to amend. The defendant's contentions are directed to the award of the punitive damages. He assigns as error the giving of an instruction by the district court on punitive damages and submitting interrogatories on punitive damages to the jury. He asserts that the record fails to show such conduct by the defendant as would entitle the jury to consider any issue of punitive damages. The defendant also assigns as error the refusal of the court to either amend the judgment by striking the punitive damages, or in the alternative, failure of the court to reduce the punitive damages.

This appeal presents two principal issues:

1. Whether the record is sufficient to establish such a deliberate, malicious or reckless course of conduct by the defendant as to justify the court in submitting the issue of punitive damages to the jury; and

2. Whether the record is sufficient to sustain the award of punitive damages.

The punitive damages allowed by the jury were for either the destruction of the fence by the bulldozer or for the destruction of forage by the bulldozing of the roadway, or both. Subsequent to the filing of this action and before trial the State Land Department granted a right-of-way to the defendant for the construction of this road. The state lease to the plaintiffs provided that the Board of Land Commissioners reserved the right to grant easements and rights-of-way across the premises as it deemed necessary in the public interest, with the grantee of the easement obligated to pay to the lessee the reasonable value of growing and immature crops within the boundaries of the right-of-way or easement. Thus, the defendant subsequently obtained the right to do what he did- - construct a roadway over the premises in question.

The record discloses that the defendant had had some disagreements with the plaintiffs. Defendant, some years before, constructed a road across a portion of the state premises now leased to the plaintiffs. In May, 1969, the defendant directed his employee to bulldoze a continuation of the then existing road northerly to connect it with another road outside plaintiffs' premises. The employee did construct approximately a half mile of road across this property without consent of the plaintiffs or the State. Although the defendant knew that authorization from the State was required before the opening of this road, he never obtained it. As a defense the defendant claimed he had obtained oral permission from the state land agent. The testimony of the land agent was to the contrary and the jury obviously rejected the defendant's version.

During the construction of this road a portion of a fence betweent he properties of the parties was destroyed. although obviously aware the fence was down, neither the defendant nor his employee attempted to repair it nor notify the plaintiffs of the damage.

This record reflects such a conscious disregard by the defendant of the known property rights of the plaintiff as to bring this case within the ambit of the cases previously decided by this Court which justify submitting to the jury for resolution the issue of whether punitive damages should be awarded. Unfried v. Libert, 20 Idaho 708, 119 P. 885 (1911); Boise Dodge, Inc., v. Clark, 92 Idaho 902, 453 P.2d 551 (1969); Lewiston Pistol Club, Inc., v. Imthurn, 94 Idaho 264, 486 P.2d 275 (1971). See also Fisher v. Carlin, 219 Or. 159, 346 P.2d 641 (1959). Under the facts before the district court, there was no error in submitting to the jury the instruction on punitive damages. 1

A more difficult problem is presented by this appeal in the attack by the defendant on the amount of the punitive damages which were awarded. To comprehend fully the nature of this problem, it is essential to review the decisions of this Court wherein awards of punitive or exemplary damages have been considered.

The first case where this Court considered punitive or exemplary damages was Unfried v. Libert, 20 Idaho 708, 119 P. 885 (1911), an action for conversion of livestock, wherein this Court accepted the general rule that

'exemplary or plenary damages may be allowed where the injury complained of is attended by acts of the wrongdoer which show willful malice, fraud, or gross negligence * * * or facts from which the same may be inferred.' 20 Idaho at 729, 119 P. at 891.

The rule stated in Unfried v. Libert, supra, was followed by this Court in Gunnell v. Largilliere Co., 46 Idaho 551, 269 P. 412 (1928), reversing an award for punitive damages because the record failed to establish facts showing the acts of the defendant were 'wanton, malicious or gross and outrageous.'

Three other cases have turned on the question whether the record established the necessary conduct to warrant an exemplary damage award. In each case the exemplary damage award was disapproved. Verheyen v. Dewey, 27 Idaho 1, 146 P. 1116 (1915), concerned alleged joint tresspassers to real property. The Court ruled that 'there was no legal evidence whatever of any malice, insult or deliberate oppression' and that for a co-defendant to be liable for malicious acts of the other he must be implicated in such malice. In Zollinger v. Big Lost River Irrig. Dist., 83 Idaho 411, 364 P.2d 176 (1961), a case somewhat similar to Verheyen v. Dewey, this Court held the record failed to show wilful malice, fraud or gross negligence and struck the award of punitive damages. Likewise, in Morrison v. Quality Produce, Inc., 92 Idaho 448, 444 P.2d 409 (1968), a $16,000 punitive damage award in a replevin action was reversed and vacated, this Court holding the evidence did 'not show, expressly or impliedly, that (appellant) acted maliciously, fraudulently or with gross negligence. At most it can be said only that the parties were antipathetic.' The Court further ruled that the jury may have been prejudicially influenced by being allowed to pass on the issue of punitive damages and therefore a new trial was ordered as to the amount owed as compensatory damages.

Summerfield v. Pringle, 65 Idaho 300, 144 P.2d 214 (1943); Williams v. Bone, 74 Idaho 185, 259 P.2d 810 (1953); Driesbach v. Lynch, 74 Idaho 225, 259 P.2d 1039 (1953); and White v. Doney, 82 Idaho 217, 351 P.2d 380 (1960), represent the cases where punitive damages had been allowed in the trial court, and on appeal the award of punitive damages had been reduced by this Court.

In Summerfield v. Pringle, supra, an action for alienation of affections, the jury awarded $35,000 compensatory and $15,000 exemplary damages with judgment entered thereon. The award was reduced by the Court to $20,000 compensatory and $1,000 exemplary damages. This Court held that where passion and prejudice influence the size of the verdict a court could reduce it, but where passion and prejudice contributed to the return of any verdict a new trial should be granted. 2 One of the two dissenting justices strongly criticized that part of the majority opinion which held that exemplary damages could be measured by the wealth of a defendant. 3

Williams v. Bone, supra, was an action in conversion of a neon sign, wherein the plaintiff sought compensatory damages for loss to his taxicab business and punitive damages. Judgment was entered on the jury verdict for $200 as the value of the sign taken, $500 for loss to the business and $750 punitive damages. This Court struck the damages for loss of business as not proved, let stand the $200 for the sign, and reduced the punitive damages to $500. Therein this Court stated to the effect that punitive damages were not favored in the law, and that exemplary damages must bear some relation to the injury complained of 'and the cause thereof.'

Driesbach v. Lynch, supra, was an action for trespass to realty (littoral rights and dock facilities). Judgment was entered below for plaintiff for $3,750 compensatory and $10,000 exemplary damages. On appeal this Court stated that the punitive damages were so excessive 'when compared with the actual damages as to indicate that the amount thereof was fixed under the influence of passion and prejudice.' The Court affirmed the judgment for the full amount of compensatory damages but only $2,500...

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  • Sanchez v. Galey
    • United States
    • Idaho Supreme Court
    • April 17, 1989 Cheney v. Palos Verdes, 104 Idaho 897, 665 P.2d 661 (1983), and struck down the notorious companion cases of Cox v. Stolworthy, 94 Idaho 683, 496 P.2d 682 (1972), and Jolley v. Puregro, Co., 94 Idaho 702, 496 P.2d 939 (1972), here the ill-starred Checketts case was overruled insofar as i......
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