Rhinehart v. State

Decision Date16 November 2012
Docket NumberNo. 20100599–CA.,20100599–CA.
Citation721 Utah Adv. Rep. 34,290 P.3d 921
PartiesTamra RHINEHART, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. STATE of Utah, Defendant and Appellee.
CourtUtah Court of Appeals


Charles R. Ahlstrom, Ogden, for Appellant.

Mark L. Shurtleff and Ryan D. Tenney, Salt Lake City, for Appellee.

Before Judges DAVIS, McHUGH, and ROTH.


DAVIS, Judge:

¶ 1 Tamra Rhinehart appeals from the summary dismissal of her Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus and Post–Conviction Relief (the Petition). Rhinehart argues that the trial court erred by converting the State's Motion to Dismiss the Petition into a motion for summary judgment and by then granting summary judgment in favor of the State. We affirm.

I. Conversion of a Motion To Dismiss to a Motion for Summary Judgment

¶ 2 Because Rhinehart did not preserve this issue for appeal, she seeks review under the plain error standard. See generally State v. Holgate, 2000 UT 74, ¶ 11, 10 P.3d 346 ([T]he preservation rule applies to every claim, including constitutional questions, unless a defendant can demonstrate that ‘exceptional circumstances' exist or ‘plain error’ occurred.”). To demonstrate plain error, Rhinehart must show that (i) [a]n error exists; (ii) the error should have been obvious to the trial court; and (iii) the error is harmful, i.e., absent the error, there is a reasonable likelihood of a more favorable outcome for the appellant, or phrased differently, our confidence in the verdict is undermined.” State v. Dunn, 850 P.2d 1201, 1208–09 (Utah 1993). All three prongs of the plain error analysis must be met. See id. at 1209.

¶ 3 Here, the trial court properly converted the State's motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment because both the motion and Rhinehart's response to the motion were accompanied by “matters outside the pleading ... [that were] not excluded by the court, ... and all parties [were] given reasonable opportunity to present all material made pertinent to such a motion by Rule 56.” 1Utah R. Civ. P. 12(b); see also Oakwood Vill. LLC v. Albertsons, Inc., 2004 UT 101, ¶ 14, 104 P.3d 1226 ([T]he submission of documents outside the pleadings by itself is not a basis for conversion to summary judgment; to effect a rule 12(b) conversion, the court must have relied on those documents for its decision.”). “Matters outside the pleading include any written or oral evidence ... which ... substantiat[es] ... and does not merely reiterate what is said in the pleadings.” Oakwood Vill., 2004 UT 101, ¶ 12, 104 P.3d 1226 (alteration and omissions in original) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). While the documents attached to the State's motion may not have triggered the conversion to summary judgment, the documents attached to Rhinehart's response substantiate, rather than merely reiterate, her claims.2See generally id. Rhinehart's response to the State's motion to dismiss included an addendum that consisted of a copy of a newspaper front page that featured a photograph of Rhinehart appearing upset while her trial counsel had her hand on Rhinehart's shoulder in a manner that Rhinehart asserts was “intimidating”; the signature pages from Rhinehart's plea affidavit and postconviction petition intended to substantiate Rhinehart's assertion that the differences in the signatures illustrate the coercion she experienced when entering her plea; a news article titled “Utah bucking U.S. death penalty trend” that suggests that the appeals process for death-row inmates is so extensive in Utah that the death penalty has essentially become a legal fiction in the state; and an unidentified document that contains what appear to be testimonials from individuals who experienced negative side effects while taking Lexapro, an anti-depressant medication that Rhinehart was taking at the time of the plea hearing. These documents do more than reiterate Rhinehart's arguments in the Petition, and the trial court clearly relied on these documents in rendering its decision. The trial court stated as much in its opening paragraph, and it specifically referenced the newspaper photograph in its analysis. Thus, the trial court appropriately converted the State's motion to one for summary judgment. See generally Walter v. Stewart, 2003 UT App 86, ¶ 15 n. 1, 67 P.3d 1042 (determining that the trial court correctly converted the defendant's motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment where both parties “submitted affidavits that were not excluded by the trial court); Strand v. Associated Students of the Univ. of Utah, 561 P.2d 191, 193 (Utah 1977) (“The [trial court's] order [granting the motion to dismiss] recited it was based on the pleadings, the affidavits on file, and arguments of counsel. Therefore, the order granting the motion to dismiss was, in fact, a summary judgment.”).

¶ 4 Likewise, we conclude that Rhinehart was given sufficient notice of the conversion. As the State asserted, “Rhinehart had reasonable notice that conversion would occur when she filed a memorandum affirmatively asking the court to consider matters outside the pleadings,” and she was “given express notice of conversion at the hearing when the court agreed with the State that conversion was required.” Compare Swenson v. Erickson, 2000 UT 16, ¶ 9, 998 P.2d 807 (“Because from the outset the parties have submitted extraneous materials ..., neither party was prejudiced or unfairly surprised by the trial court's implicit conversion of [the defendant's] 12(b)(6) motion into a motion for summary judgment.”), with Bekins Bar V Ranch v. Utah Farm Prod. Credit Ass'n, 587 P.2d 151, 152 (Utah 1978) (determining that the trial court improperly converted the defendant's motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment where the issue of converting the motion was not mentioned during the hearing on the motion or any other time prior to the trial court's order granting summary judgment), and Tuttle v. Olds, 2007 UT App 10, ¶ 10, 155 P.3d 893 (reversing the trial court for “fail[ing] to properly convert Defendants' rule 12(b)(6) motion into one for summary judgment where [n]either party knew until the end of the hearing that the trial court would grant what it termed a motion for judgment on the pleadings). Because the conversion of the State's motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment was appropriate and Rhinehart was given sufficient notice of the conversion, the trial court did not err in converting the motion. Thus, Rhinehart's plain error argument fails. See generally Dunn, 850 P.2d at 1208–09.

II. Propriety of Summary Judgment

¶ 5 We review a trial court's grant of “summary judgment for correctness, giving no deference to the trial court's decision.” Bahr v. Imus, 2011 UT 19, ¶ 15, 250 P.3d 56. “Summary judgment is appropriate only where ‘there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and ... the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.’ Id. (omission in original) (quoting Utah R. Civ. P. 56(c)). “On appeal from a summary judgment, we view the evidence presented to the trial court in the light most favorable to the losing party.” Floyd v. Western Surgical Assocs., Inc., 773 P.2d 401, 403 (Utah Ct.App.1989) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

¶ 6 In the Petition, Rhinehart asserted several ineffective assistance of counsel claims against her trial counsel and one such claim against her appellate counsel. “With respect to any ineffectiveness claim, a defendant must first demonstrate that counsel's performance was deficient, in that it fell below an objective standard of reasonable professional judgment. Second, the defendant must show that counsel's deficient performance was prejudicial—i.e., that it affected the outcome of the case.” State v. Litherland, 2000 UT 76, ¶ 19, 12 P.3d 92 (citations omitted). To prove the first prong of this analysis, a defendant must “rebut the strong presumption that ‘under the circumstances, the challenged action might be considered sound trial strategy.’ Id. (additional citation and internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 689, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984)). The prejudice inquiry in this plea setting should “closely resemble the inquiry engaged in by courts reviewing ineffective-assistance challenges to convictions obtained through a trial.... [T]hese predictions of the outcome at a possible trial, where necessary, should be made objectively, without regard for the idiosyncrasies of the particular decision maker.” Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59–60, 106 S.Ct. 366, 88 L.Ed.2d 203 (1985) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted); accord Parsons v. Barnes, 871 P.2d 516, 525 (Utah 1994); cf. Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356, 130 S.Ct. 1473, 1485, 176 L.Ed.2d 284 (2010) ([T]o obtain relief on [a claim that trial counsel was deficient for misadvising his client about the deportation consequences of pleading guilty], a petitioner must convince the court that a decision to reject the plea bargain would have been rational under the circumstances.”); United States v. Clingman, 288 F.3d 1183, 1186 (10th Cir.2002) ([D]efendant's mere allegation that he would have insisted on trial but for his trial counsel's errors, although necessary, is ultimately insufficient to entitle him to relief. Rather, we look to the factual circumstances surrounding the plea to determine whether [defendant] would have proceeded to trial. Specifically, while defendant is not required to prove a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's mistakes, he would have prevailed at trial, the assessment of whether he would have changed his plea depends in large part on a prediction of whether the outcome of the district court proceedings would have been different if his counsel had not committed the alleged errors.” (second alteration in original) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)); Evans v. Meyer, 742 F.2d 371, 375 (7th Cir.1984) (“It is...

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