Jonsson v. Bromley

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Jonsson v. Bromley, Case No. 990970-CA, Filed May 10, 2001 IN THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS


Keith Jonsson,
Plaintiff and Appellee,


Reed Bromley; Bromley Farms, a Utah corporation;
and Utah Valley Egg & Poultry, Inc., a Utah corporation,
Defendants and Appellants.

(Not For Official Publication)

Case No. 990970-CA

May 10, 2001
   2001 UT App 149 -----

Fourth District, Provo Department
The Honorable Gary D. Stott

J. Thomas Beckett and Ellen Kitzmiller, Salt Lake City, for Appellants
Mark C. McLachlan, Salt Lake City, for Appellee


Before Judges Jackson, Davis, and Orme.

DAVIS, Judge:

Defendants claim that the trial court erred by (1) arithmetically miscalculating Plaintiff's damages, and (2) by awarding prejudgment interest on Plaintiff's damages.

The trial court correctly found that the appropriate measure of damages for aggrieved buyers is: "(1) the amount [Plaintiff] paid Defendants for goods he did not receive, (2) the difference between the market and contract prices for the goods, and (3) incidental damages [Plaintiff] has incurred as a result of his performance under the breached contract." See Utah Code Ann. §§ 70A-2-711, -713, -715 (1999).(1) Although the trial court accurately stated this formula, it calculated the second prong--the difference between the market and contract prices for the goods--incorrectly. The court found that the market price of the generator was $30,000, the market price of the switching unit was $8,000, and the contract price was $5,900. However, the court attributed the amount of the second prong as $38,000--the total market price--and failed to subtract the contract price of $5,900. Thus, the correct figure for the second prong is $32,100 (the difference between $38,000 and $5,900) and $40,500 for the total amount of damages.

Defendant next argues that the trial court erred by granting prejudgment interest on Plaintiff's damages. "[A] court may only award prejudgment interest if damages are calculable within a mathematical certainty." Lefavi v. Bertoch, 2000 UT App 5,¶24, 994 P.2d 817. Damages must be determined through a "procedure allowing the court or the jury to fix the amount by following 'fixed rules of evidence and known standards of value . . . rather than be[ing] guided by their best judgment in assessing the amount' or evaluating elements lacking fixed standards by which to measure their value." Andreason v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 848 P.2d 171, 177 (Utah Ct. App. 1993) (citations omitted) (alteration in original). "In Utah, courts have allowed prejudgment interest in contract actions when the fact finder works with set numbers and percentages."(2) Lefavi, 2000 UT App 5 at ¶25. However, prejudgment interest is inappropriate "'where "damages are incomplete and are peculiarly within the province of the jury to assess at the time of trial . . . ."'" Andreason, 848 P.2d at 177 (citations omitted).

The fact finder in this case, the trial court, determined the damages based upon its "'best judgment in assessing the amount.'" Id. (citations omitted). Experts testified for each party and suggested that a similar used generator would sell for between $24,000 and $35,000, and the switching unit would sell for between $6,000 and $8,000. Based upon that testimony, the court determined the market value of the two items, picking yet a third value for the generator. This finding was not based upon fixed numbers that could merely be plugged into a formula, but instead upon the court's judgment. Because damages in this case were not "calculable within a mathematical certainty," an award of prejudgment interest was inappropriate. Lefavi, 2000 UT App 5 at ¶24; see also Cornia v. Wilcox, 898 P.2d 1379, 1387 (Utah 1995) (finding prejudgment interest not appropriate where expert testimony differed on price of cattle). Thus, prejudgment interest is not appropriate in this case.

Thus, we reverse and remand for entry of an amended order awarding judgment to Plaintiff in the sum of $40,500, together with post-judgment interest on that amount from October 13, 1999 until paid.

James Z. Davis, Judge -----


Norman H. Jackson,
Associate Presiding Judge

Gregory K. Orme, Judge

1. Utah Code Ann. §§ 70A-2-711, -713, -715 (1999) adopted the Uniform Commercial Code.

2. "Conversely, courts have generally not allowed prejudgment interest in cases such as personal injury, wrongful death, false imprisonment, and defamation, because the amount of damages is uncertain and must be ascertained by the fact finder." Lefavi, 2000 UT App 5 at ¶25.