Nelson v. Whitesides

Citation647 P.2d 1246,103 Idaho 374
Decision Date02 July 1982
Docket NumberNo. 14216,14216
PartiesVictor B. NELSON, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Mark WHITESIDES, Defendant-Appellant, and Brett A. Whitesides, Defendant.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho

Russell Kvanvig, Twin Falls, for defendant-appellant.

Robert E. Rayborn, Twin Falls, for plaintiff-respondent.

BISTLINE, Justice.

The instant civil action, numbered 32420 in District Court, Twin Falls County, Fifth Judicial District, was commenced as a personal injury action arising out of a one-car accident in which Nelson, the sole passenger, was injured allegedly by the causal negligence of Brett Whitesides, the driver. Brett's father, Mark Whitesides, was named as a co-defendant on the basis of I.C. § 49-313. 1 This action has not been tried or otherwise disposed of.

During the course of the proceedings below, Nelson moved for partial summary judgment against Mark and obtained a ruling that Mark was liable as a signator under I.C. § 49-313(b), because proof of financial responsibility had not been deposited as required by I.C. § 49-313(c). Thereafter, within the confines of the original action, Mark countered with a pleading denominated a "Petition for Declaratory Judgment," by which he sought a determination of the extent of his liability under I.C. § 49-313. The district court ruled that Mark, as signator, would be jointly and severally liable for the total judgment, including any punitive damages, awarded to the plaintiff at the trial of this action. As noted, Brett's liability at the time of the trial court's order remained unadjudicated, and no damages of any kind or amount had been awarded to Nelson. Nonetheless, Mark appeals to this Court, requesting that we hold the trial court to be in error.

A threshold issue in this case is the appealability of this interlocutory order entered midstream in this tort action. Although this issue was not raised by Nelson, "this Court may, on its own motion, dismiss an appeal from an unappealable intermediate order or decision." Oneida v. Oneida, 95 Idaho 105, 107, 503 P.2d 305, 307 (1972). 2

As noted by the appellant in his Notice of Appeal, the applicable rule is I.A.R. 11(a)(1):

"Appealable judgments and orders.-An appeal as a matter of right may be taken to the Supreme Court from the following judgments and orders:

"(a) Civil Actions. From the following judgments and orders of a district court in a civil action:

"(1) Final judgments and decrees including decisions by the district court dismissing, affirming, or reversing or remanding an appeal."

At oral argument we questioned the appealability of the trial court's order under I.A.R. 11(a)(1).

The final judgment or decree to which I.A.R. 11(a)(1) refers "means a 'final determination of the rights of the parties.' " Viani v. Aetna Insurance Co., 95 Idaho 22, 25, 501 P.2d 706, 709 (1972). Appellants argue that the trial court order is appealable as a final judgment by virtue of the I.C. §§ 10-1201 and 10-1207, which provide:

"10-1201. Declaratory judgments authorized-Form and effect.-Courts of record within their respective jurisdictions shall have power to declare rights, status, and other legal relations, whether or not further relief is or could be claimed. No action or proceeding shall be open to objection on the ground that a declaratory judgment or decree is prayed for. The declaration may be either affirmative or negative in form and effect, and such declarations shall have the force and effect of a final judgment or decree."

"10-1207. Review of orders, judgments and decrees.-All orders, judgments and decrees under this Act may be appealed from or reviewed as other orders, judgments and decrees."

The appellants' argument presupposes that the order of the district court was a declaratory order or judgment despite the fact that it was not so entitled. That presumption, however, is erroneous.

The circumstances under which a declaratory judgment can be properly granted are limited by I.C. § 10-1202. It provides in part that "(a)ny person ... whose rights, status or other legal relations are affected by a statute, municipal ordinance, contract or franchise, may have determined any question of construction or validity arising under the instrument, statute, ordinance, contract or franchise and obtain a declaration of rights, status or other legal relations thereunder." In Ennis v. Casey, 72 Idaho 181, 238 P.2d 435 (1951), this Court interpreted the declaratory judgment statute and stated:

"(A) declaratory judgment should be refused where the questions presented should be the subject of judicial investigation in a regular action. Heller v. Shapiro, 208 Wis. 310, 242 N.W. 174, 87 A.L.R. 1201; Oldham County ex rel. Woolridge v. Arvin, 244 Ky. 551, 51 S.W.2d 657.

"In the case before us, plaintiff could have had determined in a regular suit the questions sought to be decided under the declaratory judgment statute. An action for a declaratory judgment may be maintained only for the purpose of determining and declaring fixed legal rights where it will accomplish some useful purpose. It cannot be invoked merely to try issues and determine questions which are uncertain and hypothetical. 1 C.J.S., Actions, § 18, p. 1023; Ladner v. Siegel, 294 Pa. 368, 144 A. 274." Id. at 185-86, 238 P.2d at 438.

We immediately gather from the passage in Ennis that had Mark Whitesides attempted an independent action against Nelson seeking to establish the limits of his statutory liability, the trial court would have properly dismissed and relegated his inquiry to the regular suit already pending in which the very same questions might come up assuming, the underlying liability of Brett Whitesides, and assuming also a damage award over and above Brett's coverage. Here, however, there is the existing suit which does, and did, present the opportunity to determine the legal questions...

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6 cases
  • Walker v. Shoshone County, 16233
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • April 7, 1987
    ...defense is not before the Court. Only final judgments are appealable as a matter of right. I.A.R. 11(a)(1). Nelson v. Whitesides, 103 Idaho 374, 647 P.2d 1246 (1982). A summary judgment ruling which ends the suit, adjudicates the subject matter of the controversy, and represents a final det......
  • Country Ins. Co. v. Agricultural Development, Inc., 15296
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • November 30, 1984
    ...p. 1023; Ladner v. Siegel, 294 Pa. 368, 144 A. 274 [1928]. Ennis, supra, 72 Idaho at 184-86, 238 P.2d at 437-38. In Nelson v. Whitesides, 103 Idaho 374, 647 P.2d 1246 (1982), relying on Ennis, where a petition for a declaratory decree was sought within the confines of an existing action, we......
  • K. Hefner, Inc. v. Caremark, Inc., 21906
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • June 19, 1996 would, at first blush, appear that there is no final order within the meaning of I.A.R. 11(a)(1). See, e.g., Nelson v. Whitesides, 103 Idaho 374, 647 P.2d 1246 (1982) (final judgment or decree to which Rule 11(a)(1) refers is one which finally determines the rights of the parties). Since......
  • Wefco, Inc. v. Monsanto Co., 16025
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Idaho
    • May 9, 1986
    ...decree. The final judgment referred to in Rule 11(a)(1) means a "final determination of the rights of the parties." Nelson v. Whitesides, 103 Idaho 374, 376, 647 P.2d 1246, 1248 (1982). See M & H Rentals, Inc. v. Sales, 108 Idaho 567, 700 P.2d 970 (Ct.App.1985). At a hearing on May 13, 1985......
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