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Eskamani v. Auto-Owners Ins.

Eskamani v. Auto-Owners Ins., 2020 UT App 137 (Appleby, J.)

Civil Procedure

After litigating claims of defamation, et al, relating to statements of dissatisfaction Eskamami publicly made against Auto-Owners, Auto-Owners dismissed its defamation claims, acknowledging it could prove no damages. As a part of those proceedings, the district court had previously denied Eskamami’s limited motion for summary judgment. A year later, Eskamami initiated a suit claiming wrongful use of civil proceedings and abuse of process against Auto-Owners. On the final day of fact discovery, Auto-Owners supplemented its prior disclosures with 715 pages of recently-discovered documents relevant to its advice-of-counsel defense. Eskamami asked the court to strike the 715-page supplement and its advise-of-counsel defense and to exclude the testimony of its attorney. The court denied the motion under rule 37 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. The court then granted Auto-Owner’s motion for summary judgment against Eskamami’s on its remaining claims, finding that the previous district court’s denial of Eskamami’s motion for summary judgment in the Defamation Suit conclusively established that Auto-Owners had probable cause to bring and maintain the entire Defamation Suit in accordance with the “interim adverse judgment rule.” Eskamami appeals. The Utah Court of appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding:

  • The district court erred in dismissing Eskamani’s wrongful use of civil proceedings claim. The court improperly determined that the interlocutory order denying her limited motion for summary judgment in the previous Defamation Suit established probable cause for all claims brought against her in that suit. The interim adverse judgment rule has not been adopted by Utah courts. And it does not bar the claim here, because there are multiple reasons a court may deny summary judgment other than merit, such as not wanting to sift through voluminous documents filed in support of or against it. 
  • The district court did not err in dismissing Eskamani’s abuse of process claim, because Eskamani did not satisfy the willful act requirement by identifying conduct corroboration Auto-Owner’s alleged improper purpose for filing the Defamation Suit. 
  • The district court did not err when it denied Eskamani’s motion to strike Auto-Owner’s advise-of-counsel defense and to exclude the testimony of its attorney. Because Eskamani had not obtained a predicate order, the court appropriately denied her motion for sanctions, reasoning that “[a]bsent the existence of [an] order and a failure to comply therewith, rule 37 does not authorize imposition of sanctions.”
  • The district court, however, erred when it denied Eskamani’s motion to exclude the 715 pages of documents produced on the final day of fact discovery, because that request was governed by rule 26(d), which does not require a party to obtain a court order before seeking the specified remedy of automatic exclusion.

Read the full court opinion

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