Pinder v. Duchesne County Sheriff, 102220 UTSC, 20181026

Docket Nº20181026
Opinion JudgeHIMONAS JUSTICE
Party NameVirginia Pinder, Estate of Robert J. Pinder, Road Runner Oil Company, and JJNP Ranches, Appellants, v. Duchesne County Sheriff, Duchesne County Attorney, and State of Utah, Appellees. Estate of Robert J. Pinder, Virginia Pinder, Road Runner Oil Company, and JJNP Ranches, Appellants, v. Duchesne County, et al.,
AttorneyTrent J. Waddoups, Salt Lake City, for appellants Joshua D. Davidson, Asst. Solic. Gen., Salt Lake City, for appellees State of Utah, Sean D. Reyes, Michael D. Wims, and Brett J. Delporto Jesse C. Trentadue, Noah M. Hoagland, and Sarah Jenkins Dewey, Salt Lake City, for appellees Duchesne County,...
Judge PanelJustice Himonas authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Durrant, Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice Pearce, and Justice Petersen joined. Justice Himonas, opinion of the Court:
Case DateOctober 22, 2020
CourtSupreme Court of Utah

2020 UT 68

Virginia Pinder, Estate of Robert J. Pinder, Road Runner Oil Company, and JJNP Ranches, Appellants,

v.

Duchesne County Sheriff, Duchesne County Attorney, and State of Utah, Appellees.

Estate of Robert J. Pinder, Virginia Pinder, Road Runner Oil Company, and JJNP Ranches, Appellants,

v.

Duchesne County, et al., [1] Appellees.

No. 20181026

Supreme Court of Utah

October 22, 2020

Heard March 11, 2020

Supplemental Briefing Completed July 20, 2020

On Direct Appeal Fourth District, Heber The Honorable Jennifer A. Brown No. 160500102, Third District, Salt Lake The Honorable L. Douglas Hogan No. 150904861

Trent J. Waddoups, Salt Lake City, for appellants

Joshua D. Davidson, Asst. Solic. Gen., Salt Lake City, for appellees State of Utah, Sean D. Reyes, Michael D. Wims, and Brett J. Delporto

Jesse C. Trentadue, Noah M. Hoagland, and Sarah Jenkins Dewey, Salt Lake City, for appellees Duchesne County, Jonathan A. Stearmer, Stephen D. Foote, David J. Boren, and Travis Mitchell

Justice Himonas authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Durrant, Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice Pearce, and Justice Petersen joined. Justice Himonas, opinion of the Court:

OPINION

HIMONAS JUSTICE

INTRODUCTION

¶1 Over twenty years ago, Duchesne County law enforcement seized property belonging to appellants Virginia Pinder, Robert Pinder, Road Runner Oil Company, and JJNP Ranches (collectively, the Pinders) as part of a murder investigation.2 Although some of the property was admitted into evidence in the murder trial of Virginia and Robert's son (John), most of the property was never used in any criminal proceedings.

¶2 Years later (and after filing two related lawsuits), the Pinders sued Duchesne County and the State of Utah, along with several county and state officials, in the Third District Court to recover the seized property and for damages. The Third District Court dismissed the case for several reasons, but mainly because it believed that the Pinders' causes of action were barred by the Governmental Immunity Act of Utah (UGIA), see Utah Code §§ 63G-7-101 to -904, and by their applicable statutes of limitations.

¶3 While the litigation in the Third District Court was ongoing, the Pinders also filed a petition to recover property in the Fourth District Court. The petition sought to recover the property that had been admitted into evidence in John Pinder's murder trial. The Fourth District Court granted the petition but rejected the Pinders' request for attorney fees.

¶4 The Pinders appealed the Third District Court's dismissal of their claims and the Fourth District Court's denial of attorney fees. We consolidated the cases for appeal. We affirm both the Third District Court's dismissal of the Pinders' causes of action and the Fourth District Court's denial of attorney fees.

BACKGROUND

¶5 In 1998, Robert and Virginia Pinder's son, John, was investigated for a double homicide. During the investigation, officers from the Duchesne County Sheriff's Office (DCSO) executed search warrants and seized property-including vehicles, guns, family photographs, and ammunition-from the Pinders' ranch in Duchesne County.

¶6 Most of the seized property was never used in criminal proceedings, including in John Pinder's criminal trial, which concluded in 2000. The seized property, however, was not returned to the Pinders until 2017. Over the years, government officials gave several reasons for not returning the property. For example, they said that: (1) they needed the seized property for John Pinder's "ongoing criminal case"; (2) the seized property belonged to John-not to Robert and Virginia; (3) prosecutors needed the seized property in case ―additional charges [were] brought against John Pinder, based upon investigations . . . on cold cases; and (4) prosecutors needed it in case John Pinder was "granted a new trial."[3] According to the Pinders, in 2010, a Duchesne County attorney even told the Pinders' attorney that they "would get the guns back over his dead body."

¶7 Starting in 2009, the Pinders brought four actions (the first in the Eighth District Court, the second in federal district court, the third in the Third District Court, and the fourth in the Fourth District Court) to recover the seized property or damages. These last two actions are the subject of this appeal, but we briefly summarize the other two here as well.

The Eighth District Action

¶8 The Pinders first sued for the return of their property in 2009 in the Eighth District Court (Eighth District Action). Their complaint named the sheriff of Duchesne County, Travis Mitchell, as the only defendant. It alleged that law enforcement officers from DCSO had unlawfully seized property from the Pinders' ranch in 1998. The Pinders demanded that Sheriff Mitchell return or pay damages for "the property listed [in the complaint] and any other personal property removed from the possession" of the Pinders. The Eighth District Court dismissed the case without prejudice in 2010, holding that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the Pinders had not complied with the UGIA by serving a notice of claim on a Duchesne County official before suing.

The Federal Action

¶9 After the Eighth District Action ended, the Pinders sent a letter to the Duchesne County Clerk-Auditor (2011 Notice of Claim) on January 1, 2011, demanding the return of the property and giving notice of their intent to bring a claim under 42 U.S.C. section 1983 in federal court. Having received no response, the Pinders sued Sheriff Mitchell six months later in the federal district court for the District of Utah (the Federal Action). The federal district court dismissed the case on ripeness grounds because the Pinders had not pursued their state law remedies. Pinder v. Mitchell, No. 2:11CV508 DAK, 2015 WL 461352, at *2 (D. Utah Feb. 3, 2015). The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals later affirmed. Pinder v. Mitchell, 658 Fed.Appx. 451, 456-57 (10th Cir. 2016).

The Third District Action

¶10 While the appeal of the Federal Action was pending, the Pinders sued again on July 16, 2015, in the Third District Court (Third District Action), which is one of the two cases before us on appeal. They did not file a new notice of claim under the UGIA before doing so. The Pinders did, however, file a notice of claim on October 28, 2016 (2016 Notice of Claim), asking for damages for the "wrongful taking, damaging, seizure, and retention of the [Pinders'] personal property."

¶11 The Pinders' amended complaint (filed May 1, 2017) named several defendants: (1) Duchesne County, former sheriffs David Boren and Travis Mitchell, county attorney Stephen Foote, deputy county attorney Jonathan Stearmer (collectively, County defendants); and (2) the State of Utah, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, and Assistant Utah Attorneys General (AAGs) Michael Wims and Brett Delporto (collectively, State defendants). It also asserted six causes of action that are relevant to this appeal: (1) inverse condemnation, 4 (2) conversion; (3) federal due process; (4) civil conspiracy; (5) negligence; and (6) a sixth cause of action, entitled "Declaratory Relief, Theft and Treble Damages" (Sixth Cause of Action), in which the Pinders sought a declaration that the defendants committed criminal acts.

¶12 The Pinders' amended complaint alleged that the defendants seized their property in November 1998 and that the defendants had "concocted many frivolous legal theories over the past 18+ years to attempt to interfere with [the Pinders'] right to possess their own property." It also alleged that the defendants had "never proffered any genuine, lawful or non-frivolous reason for continually refusing to return [the Pinders'] property or 'provide just compensation.'" It further asserted that the defendants had "insisted that the [Pinders'] property might possibly be used as 'evidence' in the future even though it [had] never been used or held as 'evidence.'"

¶13 Responding to the Pinders' allegations, the County defendants filed several motions for summary judgment. Similarly, the State defendants moved to dismiss the amended complaint under rule 12(b)(6) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. As detailed below, the Third District Court granted the defendants' motions, leading to the dismissal of all the Pinders' claims against all the defendants. Here, we summarize the County defendants' motions for summary judgment; then we go over the State defendants' motion to dismiss.

¶14 The County defendants first moved for summary judgment on the Pinders' actions for conversion, negligence, and declaratory relief. They argued that the Pinders' "claims accrued no later than September 2, 2009," the date they filed the Eighth District Action, and so were barred by both (1) the UGIA's notice-of-claim provisions and (2) the applicable statutes of limitations. The Third District Court granted this motion because, in its view, "the challenged claims likely accrued in 2000," and so the Pinders, under the UGIA, should have filed a notice of claim by 2001 but did not do so until 2016. See Utah Code § 63G-7-402 (barring a claim against a governmental entity or its employee "unless notice of claim is filed . . . within one year after the claim arises").

¶15 The County defendants then moved for summary judgment on the federal due process claim that the Pinders brought under 42 U.S.C. section 1983. The Third District Court granted this motion, holding that the Pinders' "due process rights [had] not been violated."

¶16 Finally, the County defendants moved for summary judgment on the inverse condemnation and civil conspiracy actions. Relevant here, the Third District Court granted the motion, holding that the causes of action...

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