Knighton v Bowers

Annotate this Case
Knighton v Bowers

IN THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

----ooOoo----

Kerry L. Knighton,

Plaintiff and Appellant,

v.

Vickey A. Bowers,

Defendant and Appellee.

MEMORANDUM DECISION
(Not For Official Publication)
 

Case No. 20030170-CA
 

F I L E D
(April 15, 2004)
 

2004 UT App 110

 

-----

Third District, Salt Lake Department

The Honorable Timothy R. Hanson

Attorneys: Dennis K. Poole and John L. Adams, Salt Lake City, for Appellant

-----

Before Judges Bench, Davis, and Orme.

DAVIS, Judge:

Kerry L. Knighton appeals a trial court judgment awarding him damages for Vickey A. Bowers's breach of the parties' agreement (the agreement) to transfer certain real property (the property). We affirm.

First, Knighton argues that the trial court erred by denying him specific performance of the agreement because real property, by its nature, is unique and, therefore, he is entitled to the remedy of specific performance. We review a trial court's decision to grant or deny specific performance under an abuse of discretion standard. See Morris v. Sykes, 624 P.2d 681, 684 (Utah 1981). "Specific performance is an equitable remedy, and accordingly, the trial court is granted wide discretion in applying and formulating it." LHIW, Inc. v. DeLorean, 753 P.2d 961, 963 (Utah 1988).

Specific performance is available when the contract involves property which is unique or possesses special value; real estate is assumed to possess that necessary quality. Thus, specific performance is the presumed remedy for the breach of an agreement to transfer real property. . . . However, the availability of the remedy of specific performance of an agreement to sell land is not a matter of right, but depends upon an evaluation of . . . equitable considerations.

71 Am. Jur. 2d Specific Performance § 133 (2001) (footnotes omitted).

In essence, Knighton argues that he is entitled to the remedy of specific performance as a matter of right, based solely upon the fact that the subject matter of the agreement was real property. Knighton is correct in asserting that real property is assumed to be unique for purposes of specific performance and that specific performance is the presumed remedy for the breach of an agreement to sell real property. See id. However, the nonbreaching party is not entitled to specific performance as a matter of absolute right. See id. Rather, the trial court, after evaluating equitable considerations, see id., is "granted wide discretion" in determining whether the nonbreaching party is entitled to that remedy. DeLorean, 753 P.2d at 963. Accordingly, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying Knighton the remedy of specific performance solely because the subject matter of the agreement was real property.

Second, Knighton argues that the trial court erred by ruling that he did not have clean hands in seeking the equitable remedy of specific performance. See id. (stating that "a party seeking equity must do so with clean hands"). The record reveals that although the trial court used the phrase "clean hands" in a portion of its ruling from the bench, the trial court used the phrase as a reference to Knighton's delay in bringing suit against Bowers, not as a literal reference to the clean hands doctrine. See id. It is noteworthy that the phrase "clean hands" was not used in the trial court's written ruling. The record shows that Knighton brought his suit against Bowers in November 2000, and Knighton does not challenge the trial court's determination that Bowers breached the agreement in December 1996. Knighton's delay of nearly four years in bringing suit against Bowers was an appropriate consideration for the trial court in its determination as to whether Knighton was entitled to specific performance. See 71 Am. Jur. 2d Specific Performance § 115 (2001) ("[S]pecific performance may . . . be refused on the separate and distinct ground of laches or default by the plaintiff in bringing an action to enforce the contract; in an action to specifically enforce a contract, the one seeking enforcement must act promptly." (footnote omitted)). Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by using this delay as a factor in its decision to deny Knighton specific performance of the agreement, even though its reference to "clean hands" was somewhat wide of the mark.

Third, Knighton argues that the trial court erred by determining that Bowers did not have clear title to the property at the time of trial. However, contrary to this argument, the trial court did not conclusively make such a determination. In its written ruling, the trial court stated that Bowers "may not have clear title to the property." This does not amount to a conclusive determination that Bowers did not have clear title to the property at the time of trial. Nevertheless, even if we were to assume that this was a conclusive determination and accept Knighton's assertion that it is clearly erroneous, he does not provide us with any legal authority or analysis to support his conclusory assertion that absent this error, he would have been entitled to specific performance of the agreement. Therefore, we decline to address this argument further. See Utah R. App. P. 24(a)(9); State v. Thomas, 961 P.2d 299, 305 (Utah 1998) (stating that rule 24(a)(9) requires an argument to contain "reasoned analysis based on [legal] authority").

Finally, Knighton argues that the trial court erred by denying him damages for lost rents. "In fixing damages, the trial court is vested with broad discretion, and the award will not be set aside unless it is manifestly unjust or indicates that the trial court neglected pertinent elements, or was unduly influenced by prejudice or other extraneous circumstances." Mabey v. Kay Peterson Constr. Co., 682 P.2d 287, 291 (Utah 1984). In its written ruling, the trial court stated that Knighton was not "entitled to an award of lost rents . . . which occurred after the breach was declared in December 1996." The trial court's determination that evidence of damages during the relevant period was inadequate is supported by the record, is not "manifestly unjust," and is within the trial court's "broad discretion." Id. Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying Knighton damages for lost rents.

Affirmed.

______________________________

James Z. Davis, Judge

-----

WE CONCUR:

______________________________

Russell W. Bench,

Associate Presiding Judge

______________________________

Gregory K. Orme, Judge

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.