Hiltsley v. Ryder, 19145

CourtSupreme Court of Utah
Citation738 P.2d 1024
Docket NumberNo. 19145,19145
PartiesRuth S. HILTSLEY, personally, and Ruth S. Hiltsley, Administratrix of the Estate of Milton J. Hiltsley, aka M.J. Hiltsley, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Hallalene M. RYDER, Defendant and Appellant.
Decision Date10 June 1987

Delyle H. Condie, Salt Lake City, for defendant and appellant.

Dwight L. King, Salt Lake City, for plaintiff and respondent.

HALL, Chief Justice:

This case arises out of a controversy over the disposition of various bank deposits made by plaintiff's deceased husband. Defendant seeks reversal of a district court judgment awarding plaintiff $4,924.66 and awarding over $43,623.43 to a nonparty.

Plaintiff Ruth S. Hiltsley is the surviving wife of Milton J. Hiltsley (decedent). Decedent died on August 26, 1981, and on October 7, 1981, plaintiff was appointed the personal representative of decedent's estate. Thereafter, she initiated this action in her representative capacity and on her own behalf, alleging alienation of affections and diversion of assets based upon fraud and undue influence. Specifically, she claimed an interest in the proceeds of a money market account, a passbook account used to purchase a condominium, and funds held in the form of two money market certificates. These assets had been held by defendant and decedent as joint tenants with right of survivorship and claimed by defendant upon decedent's death.

Decedent's private journal, which was introduced without objection at trial, disclosed that on September 10, 1979, decedent's bedridden sister, Etta Wood, moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, from Albuquerque, New Mexico. According to the journal, decedent brought Etta's belongings to Salt Lake City on October 20 or 21, 1979, and Etta died on January 20, 1980. The journal also contained a notation to the effect that on October 5, 1979, decedent obtained in excess of $30,000 from Etta's New Mexico bank account. As indicated below, this latter notation is the cornerstone of the trial court's judgment.

The court found that plaintiff failed to produce significant evidence of the alienation of her husband's affections and that the evidence was insufficient to prove her allegations of fraud or willful or malicious conduct by defendant. The trial court, however, determined, "Decedent must be considered as having received the $30,000 from Etta Wood in trust for her and this money was not his money to invest as he did and did not become his upon her death to give away or use for his own purposes."

The trial court then proceeded to trace the source of the disputed assets to determine who had claim to such assets and what had happened to the $30,000. Thereafter it rendered judgment in favor of plaintiff and Etta Wood in the amounts indicated above.

Defendants contends that the trial court erred by declaring a constructive trust in favor of Etta Wood's estate on the proceeds of the $30,000 received by decedent from Etta Wood's New Mexico bank account. Utah Rule of Civil Procedure 54(c)(1) provides in pertinent part:

[E]very final judgment shall grant the relief to which the party in whose favor it is rendered is entitled, even if the party has not demanded such relief in his pleadings. It may be given for or against one or more of several claimants; and it may, when the justice of the case requires it, determine the ultimate rights of the parties on each side as between or among themselves. 1

This rule is consistent with the general principle that a trial court may not render judgment in favor of a nonparty. Courts can generally make a legally binding adjudication only between the parties actually joined in the action. 2 The record fails to indicate that the estate of Etta Wood was a party to this lawsuit below. In accordance with the above principles, we hold that the trial court erred by rendering judgment in favor of the estate of Etta Wood.

While the record indicates that neither party raised any objection to the non-joinder of Etta Wood's estate, it is well settled that appellate courts may raise the issue sua sponte. 3 Utah Rule of Civil Procedure 19 provides in pertinent part:

(a) Persons to be joined if feasible. A person who is subject to service of process and whose joinder will not deprive the court of jurisdiction over the subject matter of action shall be joined as a party in the action if (1) in his absence complete relief cannot be accorded among those already parties, or (2) he claims an interest relating to the subject of the action and is so situated that the disposition of the action in his absence may (i) as a practical matter impair or impede his ability to protect that interest or (ii) leave any of the persons already parties subject to a substantial risk of incurring double, multiple, or otherwise inconsistent obligations by reason of his claimed interest. If he has not been so joined, the court shall order that he be made a party. If he should join as a plaintiff but refuses to do so, he may be made a defendant, or, in a proper case, an involuntary plaintiff.... 4

Because the trial court should have required that Etta Wood's estate be joined before deciding the case as it did, we reverse the case and remand for joinder of Etta Wood's estate. 5 No costs awarded.

STEWART, Associate C.J., and HOWE and DURHAM, JJ., concur.

ZIMMERMAN, Justice (concurring):

I concur with the majority's remand to join the estate of Etta Wood. However, I do not believe it goes far enough in providing the trial court guidance on remand. It is true that the estate of Etta Wood was not represented below. However, at oral argument, there was some indication that Mrs. Hiltsley had been appointed as a representative of the Etta Wood estate or that she had attempted to join the estate of Etta Wood in the instant lawsuit. Thus, there is no question in my mind that after this appeal is disposed of, the question of a constructive trust will rear its head in a new action by supposedly "new" parties on essentially the same facts. In fact, this is almost invited by the majority's disposition of this case, since the remand leaves the door open for an entirely new trial on the issue of whether a constructive trust exists, once a proper representative of the Etta Wood estate becomes involved. Therefore, I would not decide this appeal on the narrowest possible ground, as does the majority.

Under Rule 30(a) of the Rules of the Utah Supreme Court, "if a new trial is granted, the court will pass upon and determine all questions of law involved in the case presented upon the appeal and necessary to the final determination of the case." This language is identical to former Rule 76(a) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure; and all case law under Rule 76(a) is equally applicable to the interpretation of the new Rule 30(a). This language has been interpreted to apply to a remand for additional proceedings, in addition to outright retrial. Salt Lake County v. Salt Lake City, 570 P.2d 119 (Utah 1977). The Court has previously held under old Rule 76(a) that "when a new trial or further proceeding is ordered, it is our duty to pass upon questions of law which may be pertinent and helpful in arriving at a final determination of the case." Lopes v. Lopes, 30 Utah 2d 393, 395, 518 P.2d 687, 688 (1974). Accord LeGrand Johnson Corp. v. Petersen, 18 Utah 2d 260, 420 P.2d 615 (1966); Anderson v. Utah County Board of County Commissioners, 589 P.2d 1214 (Utah 1979). We should extend this principle to resolve issues which are squarely before us on appeal when we can reasonably anticipate the reemergence of those issues in other proceedings hereafter. Cf. Price-Orem Investment Co. v. Rollins, Brown & Gunnell, Inc., 713 P.2d 55, 58 (Utah 1986). This is such a case. The substantive question of whether a constructive trust exists is clearly raised by the decision of the trial court and has been argued and briefed by the parties on appeal. I would decide it.

The law of constructive trusts is summarized in section 160 of the Restatement of Restitution. 1 The remedy is an equitable one where, in the absence of any express or implied...

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