Beagley v. Spurling

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Beagley v. Spurling IN THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

----ooOoo---- Jared D. Beagley,

Plaintiff and Appellee,

v.

Darlene M. Spurling,

Defendant and Appellant. )
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) MEMORANDUM DECISION
(Not For Official Publication)

Case No. 981515-CA

F I L E D
(December 17, 1998)

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Third District, Murray Department
The Honorable Michael K. Burton

Attorneys:
Jared D. Beagley, South Jordan, Appellant Pro Se
Darlene M. Spurling, Sandy, Appellee Pro Se

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Before Judges Billings, Jackson, and Orme.

PER CURIAM:

Appellant Jared D. Beagley appeals from a dismissal of his complaint seeking damages for alleged unjust enrichment. This case is before the court on a sua sponte motion for summary disposition. Beagley did not file a response.

Beagley did not appeal from the small claims judgment and obtain a trial de novo. Instead, four months after entry of the amended judgment, he filed a complaint in district court seeking damages for unjust enrichment. Spurling moved to dismiss the district court action. The district court dismissed the case on the basis of res judicata. Claim preclusion, a branch of res judicata, bars "relitigation of a claim that previously has been litigated between the same parties." Smith v. Smith, 793 P.2d 407, 409 (Utah Ct. App. 1990).

Beagley first asserted his "unjust enrichment" claim in a motion to set aside the default judgment filed in the small claims court. A copy of the motion was attached to his memorandum opposing dismissal of the district court action. In the motion to set aside the small claims judgment, Beagley did not contest his liability for damages to Spurling's vehicle, but claimed that allowing Spurling to collect the amount of damages awarded to her in the default judgment would result in unjust enrichment. The docket from the small claims court case was also attached to Beagley's memorandum and reflects that the small claims court heard his motion to set aside the judgment on January 14, 1998 with both parties present at the hearing. The small claims court entered an amended judgment on that date, which specifically denied the motion to set aside the judgment and reduced the damages award by $1,000, apparently to correct a clerical error. Because the unjust enrichment claim was adjudicated in the small claims court, the district court correctly concluded that the independent action asserting the same claim was barred by res judicata. In addition, Beagley could have asserted the claim in a trial de novo available to him as an appeal of the final judgment of the small claims court, but he elected not to do so.

Beagley also claimed in the district court that he was entitled to relief from the small claims judgment upon the filing of his "independent action" on grounds enumerated in Utah R. Civ. P. 60(b). The time for bringing a motion under Rule 60(b)(1) and (3) expired three months after entry of the small claims judgment. Beagley made a claim under Rule 60(b) for the first time in his memorandum opposing dismissal, which was filed in this case five months after entry of the judgment. The complaint in the district court action was filed four months after entry of the judgment. Rule 60(b) authorizes a motion to set aside a judgment on one of the enumerated grounds, but states that it "does not limit the power of a court to entertain an independent action to set aside a judgment for fraud upon the court." Utah R. Civ. P. 60(b). The rule does not authorize an independent action asserting the grounds enumerated in the rule, and "several grounds for setting aside a judgment by motion . . . would not be an adequate ground for an independent attack on a judgment." Pepper v. Zions First National Bank, 801 P.2d 144, 150 (Utah 1990). Specifically, Beagley's claim that the judgment should be set aside based on "excusable neglect" would not support an independent action. See id. at 151. The substance of his remaining claim, that Spurling's damage claim constituted a fraud upon the court, is not distinguishable from the unjust enrichment claim adjudicated in the small claims court and is barred by res judicata for the reasons set forth above.

We affirm the judgment dismissing the complaint.

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Judith M. Billings, Judge

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Norman H. Jackson, Judge

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Gregory K. Orme, Judge