Snyder v. Murray City Corp.

Decision Date11 April 2003
Docket NumberNo. 20010203.,20010203.
Citation73 P.3d 325,2003 UT 13
PartiesTom SNYDER, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. MURRAY CITY CORPORATION and H. Craig Hall, Defendants and Appellees.
CourtUtah Supreme Court

Brian M. Barnard, James L. Harris, Salt Lake City, for plaintiff.

Richard A. Van Wagoner, Allan L. Larson, Andrew M. Morse, Salt Lake City, for defendants.

RUSSON, Justice.

¶ 1 This case involves a constitutional challenge by Tom Snyder ("Snyder") to Murray City Corporation's ("Murray City") refusal to allow Snyder to offer a prayer during the opening ceremony of Murray City's municipal council meeting. Snyder appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Murray City. We reverse.

BACKGROUND

¶ 2 Murray City has an established policy and practice of opening its city council meetings with a prayer.

¶ 3 On March 23, 1994, Snyder made a written request for information from Murray City regarding the guidelines or restrictions for giving the opening prayer. Having received no response, on May 9, 1994, Snyder once again inquired about giving the opening prayer.

¶ 4 On June 1, 1994, H. Craig Hall ("Hall"), the city attorney for Murray City, responded to Snyder that "[t]he Municipal Council has not established formal policies regarding the nature and/or content of this reverence portion of their agenda. However, the Council has established the policy that all council meetings will start with prayer." Hall further explained that "[t]he purpose of the `prayer' is to allow individuals that opportunity to express thoughts, leave blessings, etc. It is not a time to express political views, attack city policies or practices or mock city practices or policies."

¶ 5 By letter, on June 9, 1994, Snyder requested that he be allowed to offer the opening prayer at the next available opportunity and enclosed a copy of his proposed prayer.1 ¶ 6 On June 30, 1994, Hall informed Snyder that "[t]he text of [his] proposed prayer [was] unacceptable" because it did not comport with "the guidelines set forth in [Hall's] letter dated June 1, 1994." Hall further stated that "[u]ntil your proposed prayer satisfies these guidelines, an invitation to participate in our opening ceremonies will not be forthcoming."

¶ 7 Not long after Murray City rejected his request to offer his prayer, Snyder filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Utah. In that lawsuit, Snyder asserted that Murray City had violated his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and his rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. In addition, Snyder asserted that Murray City's actions were contrary to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Snyder also brought state constitutional claims for denial of due process in violation of article I, section 7 of the Utah Constitution, and denial of free exercise of religion and impermissible establishment of religion pursuant to article I, section 4 of the Utah Constitution.

¶ 8 On September 13, 1995, the federal district court granted Murray City's motion for summary judgment. See Snyder v. Murray City Corp., 902 F.Supp. 1444 (D.Utah 1995)

. Snyder appealed the federal district court's decision to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. On September 10, 1997, the Tenth Circuit dismissed Snyder's federal law claims but reinstated and dismissed without prejudice his state law claims.2

See Snyder v. Murray City Corp., 124 F.3d 1349 (10th Cir. 1997).

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 9 On August 3, 1999, after the litigation in federal court, Snyder filed the instant lawsuit in Utah district court. In this action, Snyder asserts all of the state constitutional claims dismissed from his prior federal lawsuit and an additional free speech claim pursuant to article I, section 15 of the Utah Constitution.

¶ 10 Both parties moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted Murray City summary judgment, concluding that Snyder's prayer was not afforded protection under Society of Separationists v. Whitehead, 870 P.2d 916 (Utah 1993), the free exercise clause, or the establishment clause of the Utah Constitution. In addition, the trial court dismissed Snyder's free speech claim as barred by the statute of limitations. Snyder timely appealed.

¶ 11 On appeal, Snyder argues that the trial court erred as a matter of law in dismissing his free speech claim as barred by a five-year statute of limitations. In addition, Snyder contends that the trial court misapplied Society of Separationists in denying his free exercise and establishment clause claims. Finally, Snyder maintains that the trial court erred by failing to properly address his due process claim. The trial court gave only passing attention to the due process claim, having already determined that Snyder's religion clause claims were without merit.

¶ 12 Murray City responds on appeal that all of Snyder's claims, except his state free speech claim, in this lawsuit are barred by principles of res judicata and collateral estoppel in connection with the previously litigated federal lawsuit. Murray City argues that Snyder's free exercise claim was properly denied because the city had no affirmative duty to provide Snyder with a forum in which to exercise his religion and because Snyder did not have a deeply held religious belief in the practice he sought to exercise.

¶ 13 As to Snyder's free speech claim, Murray City contends that Snyder's claim was barred by the statute of limitations and that Snyder waived any argument that the speech violation was ongoing. In addition, Murray City argues that the opening ceremony of the city council meeting is a nonpublic forum which can be properly limited by reasonable, viewpoint-neutral restrictions allowing only legislative prayers.

¶ 14 With regard to Snyder's establishment clause claim, Murray City maintains on appeal that its practice of opening city council meetings with a prayer is consistent with the establishment clause of the Utah Constitution and Society of Separationists because the opportunity to deliver the prayer is provided on a religiously neutral basis and thus provides only an indirect benefit to religion.

¶ 15 Finally, Murray City disputes Snyder's due process claim, arguing, among other things, that Snyder was not entitled to due process and that even if he were he was afforded adequate protections.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶ 16 "A trial court may properly grant summary judgment when `there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and ... the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'" WebBank v. Am. Gen. Annuity Serv. Corp., 2002 UT 88, ¶ 10, 54 P.3d 1139 (quoting Utah R. Civ. P. 56(c)); see also Holmes Dev., LLC v. Cook, 2002 UT 38, ¶ 21, 48 P.3d 895

; Ault v. Holden, 2002 UT 33, ¶ 15, 44 P.3d 781; State ex rel. Div. of Forestry, Fire & State Lands v. Tooele County, 2002 UT 8, ¶ 8, 44 P.3d 680. "The propriety of a trial court's grant of summary judgment is a question of law." WebBank, 2002 UT 88 at ¶ 10, 54 P.3d 1139 (citing Holmes Dev., 2002 UT 38 at ¶ 21, 48 P.3d 895). "In deciding whether summary judgment was appropriate, we need review only whether the trial court erred in applying the relevant law and whether a material fact was in dispute." Id. "`We thus review the trial court's legal conclusions for correctness, according them no deference.'" Id.

¶ 17 "Additionally, because interpreting the Utah Constitution presents a question of law, we review the trial court's determination for correctness and give no deference to its legal conclusions." Grand County v. Emery County, 2002 UT 57, ¶ 6, 52 P.3d 1148; see also State v. Casey, 2002 UT 29, ¶ 19, 44 P.3d 756

; Cache County v. Prop. Div. of State Tax Comm'n, 922 P.2d 758, 766 (Utah 1996).

ANALYSIS
I. UTAH ESTABLISHMENT CLAUSE CLAIM

¶ 18 On appeal, Snyder argues that this case is controlled by Society of Separationists v. Whitehead, 870 P.2d 916 (Utah 1993), and that the trial court erred as a matter of law in applying this court's precedent in that case to the matter at issue in this case. We agree. Society of Separationists is controlling authority in the instant case, and the trial court erred in its application and interpretation of that decision here.

¶ 19 In Society of Separationists, this court reviewed the constitutionality of Salt Lake City's practice of opening its city council meetings with prayer and upheld that practice as constitutional. In doing so, we concluded that article I, section 4 of the Utah Constitution3 does not impose an absolute ban on government expenditure of public funds or use of public property in support of religion or religious institutions. Id. at 937. Instead, a "neutrality" requirement was read into the "no public money or property" language of article I, section 4, and this court concluded:

The middle ground we [adopt] rests on the concept of governmental neutrality [that] underl[ies] our constitution's religion and conscience clauses, which in this instance means neutrality in the use of public money or property. When the state is neutral, any benefit flowing to religious worship, exercise, or instruction can fairly be characterized as indirect because the benefit flows to all those who are beneficiaries of the use of government money or property, which may include, but is not limited to, those engaged in religious worship, exercise, or instruction.

Id.

¶ 20 Having read the neutrality requirement into article I, section 4, this court then went on to set forth the analytical elements of neutrality that must be present in order for a benefit to be found constitutionally indirect and therefore permissible.

[U]se of public money or property that benefits religious worship, exercise, or instruction or any ecclesiastical establishment qualifies as an indirect benefit and survives constitutional scrutiny
...

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