Webster v. Sill, 18415

Decision Date13 December 1983
Docket NumberNo. 18415,18415
Citation675 P.2d 1170
PartiesJohn WEBSTER, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Diana SILL and Mike Davis, Defendants and Respondents.
CourtUtah Supreme Court

J. Douglas Kinateder, Salt Lake City, for plaintiff and appellant.

Allen M. Swan, Salt Lake City, for defendants and respondents.

STEWART, Justice:

The plaintiff, John Webster, appeals a summary judgment granted the defendants. The plaintiff entered into an agreement with his landlord, the defendant, Diana Sill, whereby he would be allowed a $25 monthly rent reduction for watering and mowing the lawn around the apartment. Sill offered the use of a manual push mower, but because it was in need of repair, the plaintiff obtained a power mower from his father and used that mower three or four times without mishap prior to the accident giving rise to this action.

On July 17, 1980, the plaintiff again mowed the lawn. When he came to an inclined section, one which he had previously mowed by going horizontally along the face of the slope, he began to mow the slope in a vertical fashion. On his second time down the slope, he slipped, caught his foot under the mower casing, and was injured when the mower blade severed his big toe.

One week later the plaintiff learned that Sill or her agent had watered the lawn on the day of the accident. Subsequently, he filed this suit alleging that Sill, by watering the lawn, had created a dangerous and slippery condition on the lawn which caused his accident. The trial court granted summary judgment against the plaintiff.

A major purpose of summary judgment is to allow the parties to pierce the pleadings to determine whether there is a genuine issue of fact. To raise a genuine issue of fact, an affidavit must do more than reflect the affiant's opinions and conclusions. Walker v. Rocky Mountain Recreation, 29 Utah 2d 274, 508 P.2d 538 (1973). The affidavit must "set forth specific facts" showing there is a genuine issue for trial. Utah R.Civ.P. 56(e). The mere assertion that an issue of fact exists without a proper evidentiary foundation to support that assertion is insufficient to preclude the granting of a summary judgment motion. Leininger v. Stearns Roger Mfg., 17 Utah 2d 37, 404 P.2d 33 (1965); Foster v. Steed, 19 Utah 2d 435, 432 P.2d 60 (1967).

Under Rule 56(c) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment shall be rendered if the record demonstrates that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Doubts or uncertainties concerning issues of fact properly presented, or the nature of inferences to be drawn from the facts, are to be construed in a light favorable to the party opposing the summary judgment. Bowen v. Riverton City, Utah, 656 P.2d 434 (1982); Durham v. Margetts, Utah, 571 P.2d 1332 (1977). In negligence cases, summary judgment is appropriate in only the most clear instances. FMA Acceptance Co. v. Leatherby Insurance Co., Utah, 594 P.2d 1332 (1979).

On deposition, the plaintiff testified that when he started to mow, he was unaware that the grass was wet or damp. When asked what caused the injury he responded: "I couldn't understand how I slipped." He first concluded that the grass was wet and slippery only after he had spoken to Mike Sill and Mike Davis seven or eight days after the accident. They told the plaintiff that the grass had been watered the day of the accident. On the basis of the plaintiff's deposition testimony, Sill moved for summary judgment on the ground that the plaintiff's own admission established that there was no genuine issue of fact as to whether a dangerous condition existed which caused the accident.

After the deposition, the plaintiff filed an affidavit that impliedly, if not directly, contradicted a critical part of his deposition. Plaintiff argues on appeal that his affidavit created an issue of fact as to the element of causation. The affidavit states:

That on or about the 17th day of July, 1980, MIKE DAVIS or some other person acting as the agent of DIANA SILL intruded upon the responsibility and duty of the plaintiff and without his knowledge sprinkled a part of the lawn so that the lawn became wet and slippery and said persons negligently left the lawn in a slippery, wet, unsafe condition for mowing, which negligence resulted, on the 17th day of July, 1980, in the injury to the plaintiff in that the plaintiff slipped on the wet, slippery grass ....

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a trial court may consider, together with the affidavits filed, "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file." Utah R.Civ.P. 56(c). A single sworn statement is sufficient to create an issue of fact. Barnes Co. v. Sohio Natural Resources Co., Utah, 627 P.2d 56, 59 (1981). Clearly, it is not for a court to weigh the evidence or assess credibility. Id.

As a matter of general evidence law, a deposition is generally a more reliable means of ascertaining the truth than an affidavit, since a deponent is subject to cross-examination and an affiant is not. 6 J. Moore, W. Taggart & J. Wicker, Moore's Federal Practice § 56.11 at 56-277 (1983). That does not mean, however, that in summary judgment proceedings, a deposition should be accorded greater weight than an affidavit. The purpose of summary judgment is not to weigh the evidence. But when a party takes a clear position in a deposition, that is not modified on cross-examination he may not thereafter raise an issue of fact by his own affidavit which contradicts his deposition, unless he can provide an explanation of the discrepancy. Smith v. Ashley, 29 Ill.App.3d 932, 332 N.E.2d 32 (1975); Gaboury v. Ireland Road Grace Brethren, Inc., Ind., 446 N.E.2d 1310 (1983); Mays v. Ciba-Geigy Corp., 233 Kan. 38, 661 P.2d 348 (1983); Radobenko v. Automated Equipment Corp., 520 F.2d 540 (9th Cir.1975); Perma Research & Development Co. v. Singer Co., 410 F.2d 572 (2d Cir.1969). A contrary rule would undermine the utility of summary judgment as a means for screening out sham issues of fact. Gaboury v. Ireland Road Grace Brethren, Inc., supra; Mays v. Ciba-Geigy Corp., supra.

The rule that a moving party may not rely upon his own affidavit which contradicts his deposition must be administered with care. It is common knowledge that witnesses sometimes misstate themselves, may not properly understand the question propounded, or give equivocal answers. The rule that a party may not rely on a subsequent affidavit that contradicts his deposition to create an issue of fact on a motion for summary judgment does not apply when there is some substantial likelihood that the deposition testimony was in error for reasons that appear in the deposition or the party-deponent is able to state in his affidavit an adequate explanation for the contradictory answer in his deposition. See Borus v. Yellow Cab Co., 52 Ill.App.3d 194, 9 Ill.Dec. 843, 367 N.E.2d 277 (1977).

In the instant case, the plaintiff testified in his deposition directly on the issue of causation. 1 His answer was clear and unequivocal that he did not notice that the grass was wet or slippery at the time of the accident. According to plaintiff's affidavit, the idea that he slipped because the grass was wet first occurred to him when he was told by the defendant, Mike Davis, several days later after the accident that the lawn had been watered the day of the accident. Furthermore, the affidavit failed to indicate the time of day the lawn was watered or...

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  • Bresee v. Barton
    • United States
    • Utah Court of Appeals
    • November 3, 2016
    ...opinions and conclusions is insufficient to create an issue of fact." (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)); Webster v. Sill , 675 P.2d 1170, 1172 (Utah 1983) (explaining that "[t]he mere assertion that an issue of fact exists without a proper evidentiary foundation to support th......
  • Williams v. Melby
    • United States
    • Utah Supreme Court
    • March 29, 1985
    ...unsubstantiated conclusions and which fails to state evidentiary facts is insufficient to create an issue of fact. Webster v. Sill, Utah, 675 P.2d 1170 (1983); Walker v. Rocky Mountain Recreation Corp., 29 Utah 2d 274, 508 P.2d 538 (1973). Here, however, a perusal of architect Stanley Crawl......
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    • Utah Court of Appeals
    • December 19, 2013
    ...Mgmt., Inc., 2008 UT 73, ¶ 19, 196 P.3d 588, but they must also avoid weighing the credibility of conflicting evidence, Webster v. Sill, 675 P.2d 1170, 1172 (Utah 1983). In this regard, the Utah Supreme Court has instructed that “ ‘it only takes one sworn statement under oath to dispute the......
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    • March 12, 2020
    ...use are its limitations." The Utah Supreme Court similarly emphasized that the rule must be administered with care. Webster v. Sill , 675 P.2d 1170, 1173 (Utah 1983).A number of state courts have stated that the rule applies only where the affidavit "directly contradicts" or "clearly confli......
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1 books & journal articles
  • How to ......
    • United States
    • Utah State Bar Utah Bar Journal No. 7-6, July 1994
    • Invalid date
    ...S.A.K. v. de Savary, 843 F.2d 618 (1st Cir. 1988) (excluding affidavit conflicting with prior videotaped deposition). [30]Websterv. Sill, 675 P.2d 1170,1172 (Utah 1983). [31]Rule 30(f). The current version of URCP 30(f) still requires the officer to file the transcript with the court. Howev......

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