Monarrez v. Utah Dep't of Transp.

Citation335 P.3d 913,2014 UT App 219
Decision Date11 September 2014
Docket NumberNo. 20130378–CA.,20130378–CA.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Utah
PartiesJesus MONARREZ, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. UTAH DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, Defendant and Appellee.

335 P.3d 913
2014 UT App 219

Jesus MONARREZ, Plaintiff and Appellant
v.
UTAH DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, Defendant and Appellee.

No. 20130378–CA.

Court of Appeals of Utah.

Sept. 11, 2014.


335 P.3d 914

Matthew G. Koyle and F. Kim Walpole, Ogden, for Appellant.

Sean D. Reyes and Stanford E. Purser, for Appellee.

Judge STEPHEN L. ROTH authored this Opinion, in which Senior Judge RUSSELL W. BENCH concurred.1 Judge J. FREDERIC VOROS JR. dissented, with opinion.

Opinion

ROTH, Judge:

¶ 1 Jesus Monarrez appeals from the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT). Monarrez contests the district court's interpretation of a provision in the Governmental Immunity Act of Utah governing the time for filing a complaint after a governmental entity denies a notice of claim (the Limitations Provision). Alternatively, he contends that if we conclude that the district court properly interpreted the Limitations Provision, we should either apply the interpretation only prospectively or conclude that UDOT was estopped from asserting the statute as a basis for summary judgment. Monarrez also argues that the district court erred in dismissing his claims against several John Doe defendants because UDOT failed to establish that they were government employees. We affirm the district court's summary judgment ruling.

BACKGROUND

¶ 2 This case arises under the Governmental Immunity Act of Utah (the GIAU). As a prerequisite to filing suit against a governmental entity, the GIAU requires an injured party to file a notice of claim with the entity within one year after the claim arises. Utah Code Ann. § 63G–7–402 (LexisNexis 2011)2 (explaining that “[a] claim against a governmental entity, or against an employee ... is barred unless notice of claim is filed ... within one year after the claim arises”). The governmental entity has sixty days to approve or deny the claim, after which the claim is deemed denied. Id. § 63G–7–403(1)(b) (“A claim is considered to be denied if, at the end of the 60–day period [following the filing of the notice of claim], the governmental entity or its insurance carrier has failed to approve or deny the claim.”). The claimant then has one year after the denial of the claim to file litigation in the district court. Id. § 63G–7–403(2)(b).

335 P.3d 915

¶ 3 On August 24, 2010, Monarrez was injured in a motorcycle crash that happened when he was forced to come to a sudden stop on a slick area of roadway within a UDOT construction zone. One year later, on August 23, 2011, Monarrez filed a timely notice of claim, alleging that UDOT failed to post warning signs or otherwise take measures to slow down traffic in the construction zone. UDOT did not respond to Monarrez's notice of claim within sixty days of receiving it, and it asserts that the claim was therefore automatically deemed denied on October 24, 2011. However, three-and-a-half weeks later, on November 15, 2011, UDOT sent Monarrez a letter that purported to affirmatively deny his claim (the November 15 denial letter). That letter informed Monarrez that after “an investigation of your claim,” UDOT's insurance carrier had “concluded that our client is not liable” and therefore, UDOT must “respectively deny your claim.” The letter also informed Monarrez that the issuance of the letter “does not constitute a waiver of any of the provisions or requirements of the Governmental Immunity Act, Utah Code Ann. 63G–7–401 et seq.

¶ 4 On November 9, 2012, more than one year after the deemed-denied date but less than one year after the November 15 denial letter, Monarrez filed a complaint in the Third District Court against UDOT and several John Does, who were alleged to be “construction companies and/or their employees.” UDOT moved for summary judgment on the basis that Monarrez's claims were barred by subsection (2) of the GIAU's Limitations Provision, which requires claims against a governmental entity to be filed “within one year after the denial of the claim or within one year after the denial period.” Id. § 63G–7–403(2)(b). Because the claim was deemed denied on October 24, 2011, UDOT contended that the November 9, 2012 complaint was untimely. The district court agreed and granted UDOT's motion, resulting in the dismissal of Monarrez's claims against all parties with prejudice. Monarrez now appeals.

ISSUE AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶ 5 Monarrez contends that summary judgment was improperly granted in favor of UDOT and the Doe defendants. Summary judgment is appropriate when “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Utah R. Civ. P. 56(c). “An appellate court reviews a trial court's legal conclusions and ultimate grant or denial of summary judgment for correctness and views the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Orvis v. Johnson, 2008 UT 2, ¶ 6, 177 P.3d 600 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

ANALYSIS

¶ 6 Monarrez asserts three alternative bases for reversing the district court's summary judgment decision. First, he contends that the district court incorrectly interpreted subsection (2) of the Limitations Provision, which requires that a complaint be filed “within one year after the denial of the claim or within one year after the [sixty-day] denial period.” Utah Code Ann. § 63G–7–403(2)(b). Second, he contends that if we conclude that the district court's interpretation of the Limitations Provision was proper, it should apply only prospectively and not to his case. Third, he asserts that UDOT should be estopped from raising the GIAU as a defense because it sent him a written denial letter after the deemed-denied date.

¶ 7 Finally, Monarrez argues that the court erred in granting summary judgment with respect to the Doe defendants. He contends that when the facts are construed in his favor, they indisputably demonstrate that the Doe defendants were not government employees subject to the requirements of the GIAU. We address each of these arguments in turn.

I. Statutory Interpretation

¶ 8 Whether the district court correctly interpreted the Limitations Provision of the GIAU is a question of law, and we consider the statutory language de novo, according no

335 P.3d 916

deference to the district court's interpretation. See Marion Energy, Inc. v. KFJ Ranch P'ship, 2011 UT 50, ¶ 12, 267 P.3d 863. The Limitations Provision reads,

(1)(a) Within 60 days of the filing of a notice of claim, the governmental entity or its insurance carrier shall inform the claimant in writing that the claim has either been approved or denied.
(b) A claim is considered to be denied if, at the end of the 60–day period, the governmental entity or its insurance carrier has failed to approve or deny the claim.
(2)(a) If the claim is denied, a claimant may institute an action in the district court against the governmental entity or an employee of the entity.
(b) The claimant shall begin the action within one year after denial of the claim or within one year after the denial period specified in this chapter has expired, regardless of whether or not the function giving rise to the claim is characterized as governmental.

Utah Code Ann. § 63G–7–403 (LexisNexis 2011).

¶ 9 Monarrez's first argument focuses on the language in subsection (2) directing a claimant to begin an action “within one year after denial of the claim or within one year after the denial period.” Id. § 63G–7–403(2)(b). Monarrez contends that although subsection (1)(b) deems a claim denied once sixty days has passed without a response from the government, UDOT's letter denying his claim in writing after the deemed-denied date constituted an actual “denial of the claim” for purposes of determining the start of the one-year period for filing a complaint set out in subsection (2). Thus, according to Monarrez, his complaint was timely if filed within one year of either the deemed denial on October 24, 2011, or the written denial on November 15, 2011.

¶ 10 Monarrez finds support for his position in the use of the word “or” in subsection (2), which he interprets to mean that when there is both a deemed denial and a subsequent written denial, the claimant has a choice of filing within one year of either date. See id. In other words, according to Monarrez, the deemed-denied date starts the clock on the one-year period to file a complaint only if there is no written denial, but a written denial governs the time to file no matter when it is issued, whether before or after the sixty-day period. Adopting Monarrez's interpretation of subsection (2) would render his November 9, 2012 complaint timely because the complaint was filed within one year of the written denial on November 15, 2011, even though it was beyond one year from the deemed-denied date.

¶ 11 UDOT counters by pointing to case law that states that the Limitations Provision must be “interpreted as a...

To continue reading

Request your trial
3 cases
  • State v. McCullar
    • United States
    • Utah Court of Appeals
    • September 11, 2014
    ... 335 P.3d 900 2014 UT App 215 STATE of Utah, Plaintiff and Appellee v. Robert L. McCULLAR, Defendant and Appellant ... ...
  • Stephenson v. Elison
    • United States
    • Utah Court of Appeals
    • August 10, 2017
    ...of fact is created by opinions and statements submitted by a party that contradict the party's pleaded allegations. See Monarrez v. Utah Dep't of Transp., 2014 UT App 219, ¶ 45, 335 P.3d 913 (noting with approval the principle that "[i]n moving for summary judgment, a party may rely on the ......
  • Myers v. Utah Transit Auth.
    • United States
    • Utah Court of Appeals
    • December 18, 2014
    ...Immunity Act has no express provision authorizing the parties to modify the statutory deadlines by agreement. See Monarrez v. Utah Dep't of Transp., 2014 UT App 219, ¶ 26, 335 P.3d 913. Rather, “Utah courts have ‘consistently and uniformly held’ that strict compliance with the [Governmental......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT