In the last seven days, the Utah Supreme Court adopted the restatement rule for entities holding persons in custody, but, held claim for injuries inflicted by inmate in work release program barred by governmental immunity; held attorney’s ethical obligation to report wrongdoing to supervisors is not a basis for a wrongful termination claim; and reiterates the state need only prove probable cause at preliminary hearings.

Scott v Utah County

Scott sued County for injuries sustained when she was attacked by an inmate improperly allowed to participate in a work release program. The district court granted summary judgment to county ruling there was no duty and the claim was barred by the government immunity act. The Court affirmed. It held that while the finding of no duty was correct under existing law, the Court held that the rule requiring a showing of known danger to an individual or a group should be replaced with the second restatement of torts standard of the custodian of the inmate knowing or should know that bodily harm is likely if eh inmate is not controlled. It reasoned that the concerns in earlier cases that recognizing a duty would lead to strict liability and bankrupting rehabilitation projects was unfounded given the need for plaintiffs to prove breach, causation and damages; that 30 jurisdictions follow the restatement approach; and more recent Utah negligence precedent demonstrates that the fact specific approach taken in the earlier cases on this issue was not correct as duty analysis is driven by relationship analysis not factual analysis. The Court held the County owed Scott a duty as the work release program was an affirmative act; the county was the custodian of the escapee; failure to adequately screen foreseeably led to injury; custodians of dangerous persons are best situated to bear loss in the event of injury and the 30 jurisdictions adopting the duty run programs like the work release program here. However, because the program is essential to running prisons, it is a governmental act and county is thus immune as suit would have been barred even before immunity was extended in 1987.

Pang v International Document Services

Pang sued International alleging wrongful termination. The district court dismissed for failure to state a claim without holding a hearing. The Court affirmed. It held that Pang was entitled to a hearing as his argument in favor of wrongful discharge was not utterly meritless. The error was harmless as Pang did not identify any argument was unable to make in his papers filed with the district court. The Court noted Pang remains free to file a new complaint. It held the wrongful termination claim was properly dismissed as Pang did not allege he was directed to commit an illegal act and Rule of Professional conduct 1.13 is not a public policy of overriding magnitude as it governs the private relationship of attorney and client instead of matters of broad public importance and other ethics rules set out a strong policy of allowing clients to fire attorneys and deterring crime.

State v Schmidt

Schmidt was charged with multiple counts arising from alleged sex with a minor over a four year period. The magistrate ruled the alleged victim was not credible and dismissed all counts. The Court reversed. It held that at the preliminary hearing stage, the state is only required to present evidence supporting a finding of probable cause not evidence sufficient to convict. The Court clarified that statements in two cases which appeared to set the evidentiary bar higher were not correct. It held that the magistrate exceeded her discretion here by refusing to bind Schmidt over because the alleged victim’s testimony, I believed, would support conviction for sex abuse, rape and sodomy as charged; inconsistencies in victim’s description of a letter from Schmidt were not so incredible as to justify completely disregarding her testimony as a whole; victim’s earlier denials were plausibly the result of reluctance of minor victims to admit abuse and thus the magistrate should not have disregarded the victim’s testimony; and some incredible allegations by victim were not a basis to dismiss as other witnesses provided some corroboration and thus the case should have been bound over.