Olsen v. J.A. Freeman Co.

Decision Date07 May 1990
Docket NumberI-V,No. 17471,D,I-,17471
Citation117 Idaho 706,791 P.2d 1285
Parties, 58 USLW 2672, Prod.Liab.Rep. (CCH) P 12,485 David OLSEN, Plaintiff-Appellant, Cross-Respondent, v. J.A. FREEMAN COMPANY, Corporate Does, and Individual Does, Defendants-Respondents, Cross-Appellants.
CourtIdaho Supreme Court

E. Lee Schlender, Chartered, Hailey, for plaintiff-appellant, cross-respondent.

Benoit, Alexander, Sinclair, Harwood & High, Twin Falls, for defendants-respondents, cross-appellants. John A. Doerr, argued.

BOYLE, Justice.

David Olsen (hereafter "Olsen") appeals from the district court's order granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Summary judgment was granted on the basis that Olsen's cause of action was foreclosed by the Idaho products liability statute of repose, I.C. § [6-1403], 6-1303, 1 which creates a rebuttable presumption that a product's "useful safe life" has expired in those claims that involve harm or injury occurring more than ten years after time of delivery. Under the statute, failure to rebut the presumption with clear and convincing evidence bars a claim.

Olsen was injured on June 30, 1986, while operating a hay baler owned by his employer, Loren Strode. According to Olsen's account of the incident, the baler's pickup roller became jammed and required repair. While attempting those repairs an unseen object, thought to be the spring-loaded tine on the baler's pickup roller, struck Olsen in the face causing retinal hemorrhaging and blindness in one eye.

Olsen brought suit against the baler's manufacturer, J.A. Freeman Co., and Loren Strode. The complaint against Freeman alleged failure to warn, failure to properly instruct, and defective and dangerous design. The complaint against Strode alleged negligent entrustment, intentional endangerment, negligent supervision and failure to properly warn and instruct. Defendants' answers denied liability and alleged misuse and misconduct on the part of Olsen, and Freeman asserted that Olsen's claim was barred by the provisions of the Idaho products liability statute of repose. I.C. § 6-1403(1)(a).

Defendant Freeman filed a motion for summary judgment offering affidavit and deposition evidence that the hay baler was manufactured by J.A. Freeman Co., sold to a Twin Falls dealer and delivered to the first purchaser in 1968. Olsen's injury occurred on June 30, 1986, approximately eighteen years after the hay baler was delivered to its first purchaser and placed into service. Based upon the evidence submitted by defendant, a rebuttable presumption arose based on I.C. § 6-1403 that the hay baler's useful safe life had expired prior to the time of Olsen's injury. This statutory presumption was unrebutted by Olsen. Accordingly, the district court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment on the basis of the statute of repose in I.C. § 6-1403.

On appeal, Olsen contends that 1) the Idaho product liability statute of repose denies plaintiff equal protection and due process; 2) the statute of repose is unconstitutional in that it violates the "open court" provision of art. 1, § 18 of the Idaho Constitution; and 3) material issues of fact exist precluding granting of summary judgment in favor of defendants.

I. Standard For Attacking Constitutionality of Statute

We first turn to the claim that I.C. § 6-1403 denies Olsen equal protection of the law. Olsen cites art. 1 § 2 of the Idaho Constitution and the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution and asserts that the statutory classification of all product liability plaintiffs with causes of action involving products in the stream of commerce more than ten years offends his constitutional guarantee to equal protection.

The party asserting the unconstitutionality of a statute bears the burden of showing its invalidity and must overcome a strong presumption of validity. Leliefeld v. Johnson, 104 Idaho 357, 659 P.2d 111 (1983); Cummings v. J.R. Simplot Co., 95 Idaho 465, 511 P.2d 282 (1973); Idaho Tel. Co. v. Baird, 91 Idaho 425, 423 P.2d 337 (1967), ovrl'd on other grounds by Simmons v. Idaho State Tax Comm'n, 111 Idaho 343, 723 P.2d 887 (1986). It is generally presumed that legislative acts are constitutional, that the state legislature has acted within its constitutional powers, and any doubt concerning interpretation of a statute is to be resolved in favor of that which will render the statute constitutional. State v. Rawson, 100 Idaho 308, 597 P.2d 31 (1979); see also Bingham Memorial Hosp. v. Idaho Dep't of Health & Welfare, 112 Idaho 1094, 739 P.2d 393 (1987); Moon v. State Bd. of Land Commrs., 111 Idaho 389, 724 P.2d 125 (1986); Idaho State AFL-CIO v. Leroy, 110 Idaho 691, 718 P.2d 1129 (1986); Hecla Mining Co. v. Idaho State Tax Comm., 108 Idaho 147, 697 P.2d 1161 (1985); State v. Newman, 108 Idaho 5, 696 P.2d 856 (1985); State ex rel. Kidwell v. United States Mktg., Inc., 102 Idaho 451, 631 P.2d 622 (1981); 25 A.L.R.4th 381 (1981); School Dist. No. 25 v. State Tax Comm., 101 Idaho 283, 612 P.2d 126 (1980); Lindstrom v. District Bd. of Health, Panhandle Dist. No. 1, 109 Idaho 956, 712 P.2d 657 (Ct.App.1985); Flores v. State, 109 Idaho 182, 706 P.2d 71 (Ct.App.1985); State v. Reed, 107 Idaho 162, 686 P.2d 842 (Ct.App.1984).

Those challenging the legislative judgment and attacking the constitutionality of a statute must convince the courts that the legislative facts on which the classification is apparently based could not reasonably be conceived to be true by the governmental decision maker. Minnesota v. Clover Leaf Creamery Co., 449 U.S. 456, 464, 101 S.Ct. 715, 724, 66 L.Ed.2d 659 (1981), reh. den. (1981).

At issue is the constitutionality of the Idaho products liability statute of repose. We are required to pass upon and determine all questions of law presented upon appeal and necessary to the final determination of the case. I.C. § 1-205. It is well established that when a case can be decided upon a ground other than a constitutional ground, the Court will not address the constitutional issue unless it is necessary for a determination of the case. Poesy v. Bunney, 98 Idaho 258, 561 P.2d 400 (1977); Swensen v. Buildings, Inc., 93 Idaho 466, 463 P.2d 932 (1970). This case should not be resolved solely on the summary judgment issues because we are squarely presented with the constitutional issue which must be resolved for a proper and full determination of the issues presented.

This Court has recognized three standards of review to be employed in an equal protection analysis. Jones v. State Bd. of Medicine, 97 Idaho 859, 555 P.2d 399 (1976), cert. denied, 431 U.S. 914, 97 S.Ct. 2173, 53 L.Ed.2d 223 (1977); Leliefeld v. Johnson, 104 Idaho 357, 659 P.2d 111 (1983). Where the classification is based on a suspect classification or involves a fundamental right we have employed the "strict scrutiny" test. Where "the discriminatory character of a challenged statutory classification is apparent on its face and where there is also a patent indication of a lack of relationship between the classification and the declared purpose of the statute," the "means-focus" test is applicable. In other cases the "rational basis" test is employed. Johnson v. Sunshine Mining Co., 106 Idaho 866, 870, 684 P.2d 268, 271 (1984).

The three standards of equal protection analysis recognized in Idaho, strict scrutiny, means-focus, and rational basis have been the subject of extensive analysis by this Court and the Idaho Court of Appeals in both criminal and civil cases. In criminal law the three standards have been analyzed and applied to a wide variety of cases ranging from a municipal control over establishments that sell alcoholic beverages and allow dancing, State v. Bowman, 104 Idaho 39, 655 P.2d 933 (1982), regulations controlling the enactment of drug paraphernalia legislation, State v. Newman, 108 Idaho 5, 696 P.2d 856 (1985), and to murder and capital cases, State v. Fetterly, 115 Idaho 231, 766 P.2d 701 (1988); State v. Beam, 115 Idaho 208, 766 P.2d 678 (1988).

In civil cases the three standards have been adopted and applied to a variety of cases ranging from recreational use of land, Johnson v. Sunshine Mining Co., 106 Idaho 866, 684 P.2d 268 (1984), residency requirements for appointment to a local planning and zoning board, Langmeyer v. State, 104 Idaho 53, 656 P.2d 114 (1982), a commission's rate-setting powers, General Tel. Co. v. I.P.U.C., 109 Idaho 942, 712 P.2d 643 (1986), and to the constitutionality of a limitation on damage recovery under the Idaho Tort Claims Act. Packard v. Joint School Dist. No. 171, 104 Idaho 604, 661 P.2d 770 (Ct.App.1983). 2

It is well established that the three standards of equal protection analysis, i.e., strict scrutiny, means-focus, and rational basis, have been adopted, applied and repeatedly affirmed by the appellate courts of this state. It is likewise well settled that the "rational basis" test, or the "restrained-view" standard as it is often described, is applicable where classification statutes deal with economic matters or matters of social welfare such as the Idaho products liability statute of repose in the present appeal. See, e.g., State v. Bowman, 104 Idaho 39, 655 P.2d 933 (1982); Leliefeld v. Johnson, 104 Idaho 357, 659 P.2d 111 (1983); Jones v. State Bd. of Medicine, 97 Idaho 859, 555 P.2d 399 (1976), cert. denied, 431 U.S. 914, 97 S.Ct. 2173, 53 L.Ed.2d 223 (1977). 3 Under the "rational basis" test, equal protection is offended only if classifications are based solely on reasons totally unrelated to the pursuit of state's goals and only if no grounds can be advanced to justify those goals. City of Lewiston v. Knieriem, 107 Idaho 80, 685 P.2d 821 (1984). In Leliefeld v. Johnson, 104 Idaho 357, 659 P.2d 111 (1983), this Court held that the appropriate test to review a statute which impacts social or economic areas is the rational basis test which requires only that the statute "advances legitimate legislative goals in a rational...

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