The Appellate Group

SUWA v. Kane County

SUWA v. Kane County, 2021 UT 7 (Durrant, C.J.)

Civil Procedure

Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance brought a claim against the Kane and Garfield County Commissions under Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act, claiming that its rights had been violated when the Commission met privately with the United States Secretary of the Interior to discuss the federal government’s potential reduction of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The district court dismissed SUWA’s complaint for lack of standing and because it believed the Act did not apply to the meetings in question. The Utah Supreme Court reversed, holding:

  • SUWA had standing to bring a claim against the Commission under the Act. The district court mistakenly equated the issue of standing with the merits of SUWA’s claim when it ruled that SUWA lacked standing under rule 12(b)(1) because it had not been denied a right under the Act.
  • The district court erred when it dismissed SUWA’s complaint under rule 12(b)(6) and held that the meetings fell within an exception to the Act because they dealt solely with “administrative or operational matters.” The court based its dismissal of SUWA’s claims on certain erroneous factual assumptions.
  • Practice point: Although the supreme court accepts the plaintiff’s description of the facts alleged in the complaint to be true, the court does not need to accept legal conclusions in contradiction of the pleaded facts.
  • Practice point: As noted in San Juan County, the court adopts a relaxed pleading standard for claims arising under Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act.
  • The court declines to interpret the specific language of the Act without the benefit of argument on the developed factual record.
  • The court reverses the district court’s attorney fees award.

Read the full court opinion