The Appellate Group

Taylorsville City v. Mitchell

Taylorsville City v. Mitchell, 2020 UT 26 (Lee, A.C.J.)

Constitutional Law

The appellant was convicted of three class B misdemeanors in justice court. He appealed his convictions by invoking his statutory right to “a hearing de novo in the district court.” In the district court, appellant was acquitted of one misdemeanor and reconvicted of two. Appellant twice moved for a new trial, but the district court denied those motions. By statute, appellant had exhausted his right to appeal. He appealed anyway to the Utah Court of Appeals. That court dismissed his appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The Utah Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether Utah Code § 78A-7-118(8) is unconstitutional as applied to appellant and whether the court of appeals erred in dismissing appellant’s case under that section. The Utah Supreme Court affirmed, holding:

  • Section 78A-7-118(8) is constitutional as applied to appellant. The constitutional right of appeal “in all cases” has always been understood as invoking a right to a de novo trial in district court as the final form of review of a justice court judgment. The 1984 amendment did not alter the viability of that appellate remedy. A district court exercises appellate jurisdiction in an appeal from a justice court decision. 
  • City ofMonticello v. Christensen, 788 P.2d 513 (Utah 1990), was decided three decades ago, is firmly established precedent, and remains so. Christensen’s analysis is in line with the supreme court’s reasoning in the present case.
  • Section 78A-7-118(8) does not run afoul of the Uniform Operation of Laws provision of the Utah Constitution. Appellant has not argued that similar defendants are being treated disparately within the two classes the statutory scheme creates, so there is no basis to conclude the law is being applied in a way that grants privileges or exemptions to some people and not to others. The statutory scheme also withstands reasonable basis scrutiny. The scheme gives counties and municipalities the discretion to opt out of the justice court system. This flexibility allows counties and municipalities to choose the appellate court structure best suited to their needs.
  • The post-conviction remedies act preserves appellant’s federal right to effective assistance of counsel.
  • Appellant largely failed to advance his position in the court of appeals. But appellee likewise did not object on preservation grounds and briefed the merits of all of appellant’s arguments. The Utah Supreme Court, therefore, retains considerable discretion in considering the merits of appellant’s arguments. Fairness to the lower court is a consideration in invoking the preservation rule. But a decision on the merits would bring clarity and closure to important issues fully briefed by the parties. Because the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court and its decision, therefore, did not violate the lower court’s interests in the matter, it decided to reach the merits of the case.
  • In future cases, asking the Utah Court of Appeals to overrule a decision of the Utah Supreme Court is considered a “best practice” as it creates a record of the arguments for consideration on certiorari, even though the lower court cannot overrule a decision of the higher court. 

Read the full court opinion