Jones v. R.L.K. Enterprises

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Jones v. R.L.K. Enterprises, Case No. 20000158-CA, Filed June 1, 2001 IN THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS


Robert L. Jones
and Doreen D. Jones,
Plaintiffs and Appellants,


R.L.K. Enterprises, Robert Rydalch,
and Richard K. Bertoch, et al.,
Defendants and Appellees.

(Not For Official Publication)

Case No. 20000158-CA

June 1, 2001 2001 UT App 172 -----

Third District, Salt Lake Department
The Honorable Timothy R. Hanson

N. George Daines and Christopher L. Daines, Logan, for Appellants
Mark A. Larsen, Salt Lake City, and Mitchell R. Barker, Boise, Idaho, for Appellees


Before Judges Bench, Billings, and Davis.

DAVIS, Judge:

The Joneses challenge the trial court's ruling that (1) the statute of limitations precludes their claims for relief for breach of contract against Defendants, and (2) there was a novation of the written contract between the parties.(1) The Joneses claim the trial court committed legal error because it initially failed to interpret the September agreement in accordance with their theory of the case. However, whether an agreement is a novation is a matter of intent and therefore requires a factual determination. See First Am. Commerce Co. v. Wash. Mut. Sav. Bank, 743 P.2d 1193, 1195 (Utah 1987); see alsoMacKay v. Hardy, 896 P.2d 626, 629 (Utah 1995) (holding factual determinations are reviewed under a clearly erroneous standard).

The trial court's findings and conclusions relative to the novation issue apply to all parties.(2) Because the existence of a novation is a factual issue, "'the appealing party "must marshal the evidence in support of the verdict and then demonstrate that the evidence is insufficient when viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict."'" Dejavue, Inc. v. United States Energy Corp., 1999 UT App 355,¶7, 993 P.2d 222, cert. denied, 4 P.3d 1289 (Utah 2000) (citations omitted); see also State v. Pierce, 722 P.2d 780, 782 (Utah 1986) ("The existence of contradictory evidence does not warrant disturbing the . . . verdict.").

Here, the Joneses failed to marshal the evidence. Instead, in their briefs, they repeat their factual arguments made to the trial court and do not show how the trial court's findings are clearly erroneous. Further, they failed to take the trial court's factual findings and show why, based upon those findings, the court's legal rulings were incorrect.

Although the Joneses failed to marshal the evidence, whether a novation has occurred is a factual issue and this court "will not reverse the findings of fact of a trial court sitting without a jury unless they are '"against the clear weight of the evidence."'" MacKay, 896 P.2d at 629 (citations omitted). Based on our review of the record, the trial court's findings are not against the clear weight of the evidence. Instead, the record is replete with evidence which supports both parties' positions, and the trial court performed its function by listening first-hand to testimony, reviewing evidence, and making factual determinations. The trial court found that RLK and Bertoch's delivery of the Park City Aerie lots in July 1984 was payment in full satisfaction of the obligation to the Joneses. The quit claim deed for the lots by RLK and Bertoch cleared title to the lots which had already been accepted by the Joneses. In the Joneses' 1990 tax returns, they reported that they received final payment on the sale of their farms to Bertoch. Thus, we will not disturb the factual findings of the trial court as to the novation issue.

The trial court's factual findings are not against the weight of the evidence. Thus, its determination that a novation occurred was not in error. Our affirmance of the court's determination of a novation is dispositive of the Joneses' claims against both RLK and Bertoch.(3) Therefore, because the obligation to Joneses was satisfied, we need not reach the statute of limitations issue, the damages issue, or the sub-issues raised thereunder.

We affirm.

James Z. Davis, Judge -----


Russell W. Bench, Judge

Judith M. Billings, Judge

1. Because we conclude the novation issue is dispositive, we need not reach the statute of limitations issue.

2. The trial court entered two sets of findings of fact and conclusions of law; one set involved the Joneses' claims against RLK and Rydalch, and the other set involved the Joneses' claims against Bertoch. The court ruled in favor of RLK and Rydalch based upon the running of the statute of limitations, and the court ruled in favor of Bertoch based on a finding of novation, and in the alternative, on the running of the statute of limitations. Notwithstanding these findings, the Joneses agree that, as a practical matter, the trial court's ruling on the novation issue relieved all Defendants of any further obligations to them. In addition, in every relevant finding, the trial court included both Robert and Doreen Jones.

3. The Joneses concede in their brief that, if considered a valid novation, either the September agreement or the July 1984 transaction would have the practical effect of removing Defendants from any further obligation.