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Tag: petition to modify

Holt v. Holt – 2024 UT App 6 – reasonable time rule

Holt v. Holt – 2024 UT App 6

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

RHONDA S. HOLT, Appellee,

v.

CHRISTOPHER JOHN HOLT, Appellant.

Opinion

No. 20220090-CA

Filed January 11, 2024

Third District Court, Salt Lake Department

The Honorable Andrew H. Stone

No. 044902588

Ben W. Lieberman, Attorney for Appellant

Matthew A. Steward and Katherine E. Pepin,

Attorneys for Appellee

JUDGE GREGORY K. ORME authored this Opinion, in which

JUDGES MICHELE M. CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER and

DAVID N. MORTENSEN concurred.

ORME, Judge:

¶1       Christopher and Rhonda Holt’s divorce was finalized in 2004 after the entry of a stipulated settlement agreement and the district court’s entry of a divorce decree. Per the divorce decree, Rhonda[1] was awarded a commercial property in which she operated a salon and Christopher was awarded an equity interest in the property redeemable “when the property is sold.” From the time the court entered the divorce decree, Rhonda operated the salon and did not sell the property or satisfy Christopher’s outstanding interest.

¶2        Years later, Christopher petitioned the district court asking that it require Rhonda to sell the property and satisfy his equity interest, first on the rationale of modifying the divorce decree and later on the rationale of enforcing it. He contended that because “Utah law implies a reasonable time under the circumstances,” the court should compel Rhonda to sell the property. The district court ultimately determined that Rhonda had no obligation to sell the property and declined to impose any deadline by which she had to do so. But under Utah law, a reasonable time for performance will be implied if a contract fails to include a specific time for performance. And on the facts of this case, we conclude that a reasonable time for Rhonda’s performance extends to the time when she ceases to operate a salon on the property.

BACKGROUND

¶3        Christopher and Rhonda were married in 1988. In 2004, Rhonda filed a complaint for divorce, and soon after, the district court granted Rhonda’s motion for default judgment. The court then entered a divorce decree based on the parties’ Stipulation and Settlement Agreement (the stipulation). The record reflects that when the stipulation was entered, each party was represented by counsel. Christopher’s counsel withdrew after the stipulation was filed, just prior to entry of the decree.

The Stipulation and the Decree

¶4        The stipulation included an integration clause indicating that it was the parties’ final agreement. Specifically, it was “a complete settlement of all rights either party may have in the other’s property” and any “valid” modification or waiver of the stipulation’s terms must be “in writing and signed by both parties before a notary public.” The stipulation provided that neither party would receive alimony. Pursuant to the stipulation, the district court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law and a divorce decree that mirrored the provisions of the stipulation.

¶5        At the heart of this matter is section 9(B) of the decree. First, it awarded Rhonda the salon property and ordered Christopher to “execute a quit claim deed” in her favor. Second, it reserved for Christopher “an equitable lien for one-half of the net equity in the property when the property is sold.” Third, it defined net equity as “the gross selling price less realtor commissions and normal closing costs.” And fourth, it reiterated that Christopher “shall only be entitled to his equity when the property is sold.” The preceding section—section 9(A)—awarded Rhonda the parties’ home “free and clear from any claim by” Christopher and instructed that Christopher was to “execute a quit-claim deed in favor of” Rhonda within ten days following entry of the decree. It is noteworthy that section 9(B), in contrast to section 9(A), did not include a specific timeframe related to Rhonda’s satisfaction of Christopher’s equity interest in the property.

The Petition to Modify the Decree

¶6        In October 2018, over fourteen years after the decree was entered, Christopher filed a petition to modify the decree, claiming “a material and unforeseeable substantial change of circumstances.” Specifically, the petition indicated that “the parties did not anticipate that fourteen years would pass” during which Christopher’s equity interest in the property would go unpaid. Christopher sought an order compelling Rhonda to either sell or refinance the property and to satisfy Christopher’s outstanding interest.

¶7        In response, Rhonda moved to dismiss the petition on the ground that Christopher had failed to support his assertion of a material and unforeseeable change in circumstances warranting the requested modification of the decree. Rhonda acknowledged that Christopher would be entitled to have his equity interest in the property cashed out, but she argued that under the plain language of the decree, he was entitled to payment only when the property was sold, which had not yet occurred. Rhonda noted that the parties’ circumstances had not materially changed since the court entered the decree in 2004—she had not sold or refinanced the property and she continued to operate her salon on the property. Quoting Land v. Land, 605 P.2d 1248 (Utah 1980), Rhonda argued that “when a decree is based upon a property settlement agreement, forged by the parties and sanctioned by the court, equity must take such agreement into consideration.” Id. at 1250–51. She noted our Supreme Court’s position that “[e]quity is not available to reinstate rights and privileges voluntarily contracted away simply because one has come to regret the bargain made.” Id. at 1251. Rhonda asserted that the decree does not impose a deadline by which she had to sell the property and “clearly withholds distribution” of Christopher’s interest in the property until it is sold. Thus, she maintained that Christopher “failed to demonstrate that there has been a substantial change in circumstances that was not [contemplated] by the parties at the time the decree was entered.”

¶8        In his opposition to the motion to dismiss, Christopher claimed that he was not represented by counsel during the divorce action and thus was not involved in drafting the decree.[2] He also claimed that he relied on representations Rhonda made both before and after entry of the decree that she would refinance or sell the property “in the very near future to pay him out.” Christopher asserted that prior to the divorce, the parties had received an $84,000 loan from his parents to purchase the property and that when his parents passed away some years later, $84,000 was taken out of his inheritance to pay the obligation. Christopher argued that under the plain language of the decree and under Rhonda’s suggested interpretation of section 9(B), he “could die and not receive any benefit from the agreement” and he could potentially lose his interest in the property if Rhonda were to pass away or transfer the property to someone else, thereby avoiding the satisfaction of Christopher’s equity interest.

¶9        Rhonda responded that the petition before the court was one to modify the decree based on a theory of material change of circumstances—not one to enforce the decree. She argued that this was really a situation of unilateral mistake on his part, and she reiterated her position that hindsight and dissatisfaction with a prior stipulation are not adequate grounds for relieving parties of their contractual obligations. Rhonda again acknowledged her obligation to pay Christopher his share of the equity when the property is sold, but she pointed out that the decree did not specify a sale deadline. She also noted that it would have been very easy to incorporate such a date into the stipulation and the decree if that had been the parties’ intention. To support this position, Rhonda pointed out that section 9(A) of the decree imposed a ten-day deadline for Christopher’s delivery of a quitclaim deed to the parties’ home, while section 9(B), which dealt with the sale of the salon property, included no provision concerning the time for performance.

¶10      Christopher requested that the court hold an evidentiary hearing concerning Rhonda’s motion to dismiss. But the district court denied this request and also denied Rhonda’s motion to dismiss. Eventually, a trial date was set. And at the ensuing bench trial,[3] at which both Christopher and Rhonda testified, the district

court granted Rhonda’s motion for a directed verdict and dismissed the petition on the ground that Christopher had failed to provide sufficient evidence to support the petition.[4]

The Motion to Enforce the Decree

¶11      In July 2021, Christopher filed a motion to enforce the decree in a renewed effort to compel Rhonda’s sale of the salon property. Christopher argued that under the principles articulated in New York Avenue LLC v. Harrison, 2016 UT App 240, 391 P.3d 268, cert. denied, 393 P.3d 283 (Utah 2017), the decree’s lack of an “expressly-stated time[] for performance” signified that the court should impose a “reasonable time under the circumstances” by which Rhonda had to sell the property and that such a time had already passed. See id. ¶ 32 (quotation simplified).

¶12      In response, Rhonda argued that the motion to enforce was simply Christopher’s attempt to get a “third bite at the apple.” Similar to her response to the petition to modify, Rhonda argued that Christopher failed to present sufficient credible evidence to support his contention that the parties’ intent was anything other than to afford Christopher his interest in the property when Rhonda sold it. She contended that because the salon on the property was her “sole source of income,” the parties deliberately omitted any specific performance deadline, providing instead— and explicitly emphasizing—that Christopher would be entitled to payment for his interest when, and only when, the property was sold. Rhonda asserted that it would therefore be inappropriate for the court to impose a reasonable time by which she had to sell the property when the decree’s plain language was straightforward and explicitly did not include one.

¶13 In October 2021, Commissioner Russell Minas heard argument on the motion. The commissioner concluded that “[b]ecause there [was] no deadline provided by the parties, Utah law implies a reasonable time under the circumstances,” see id., which he determined to be “until [Rhonda] ceases to use the Property to operate a business.” The commissioner thereafter issued his recommendation in the matter. See Utah R. Civ. P. 108(a) (“A recommendation of a court commissioner is the order of the court until modified by the court.”).

¶14 Christopher subsequently filed an objection to the recommendation pursuant to rule 108 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. See id. (“A party may file a written objection to the recommendation within 14 days after the recommendation is made in open court[.]”). Christopher acknowledged that the commissioner correctly determined that the reasonable-time rule articulated in New York Avenue applied to this case. But he challenged the commissioner’s application of the rule. He argued that the “reasonable time under the circumstances is determined by looking to the intention of the parties at the time of the formation of the contract” and that in so doing, it is clear the reasonable-time threshold had already passed because neither the stipulation nor the decree intended for Rhonda “to retain the Property and all equity so long as she operated a business.” Rhonda yielded to the commissioner’s interpretation of a reasonable time, arguing that the commissioner correctly defined a reasonable time under all the circumstances.

¶15 The district court heard argument on Christopher’s objection.[5] The court overruled Christopher’s objection from the bench and modified the commissioner’s recommendation. The court concluded that a reasonable time for performance should not be implied here because, per the language of the decree, Rhonda’s deadline to sell the property was whenever she chose to sell it and that “it would be inappropriate for the Court to impose a date by which the Property must be sold.”

¶16      Christopher appeals.

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶17 Christopher primarily argues that the district court erred in concluding that the reasonable-time rule was inapplicable here. “We interpret a divorce decree according to established rules of contract interpretation.” Mitchell v. Mitchell, 2011 UT App 41, ¶ 5, 248 P.3d 65 (quotation simplified), cert. denied, 255 P.3d 684 (Utah 2011). Accordingly, we review the district court’s interpretation of the decree for correctness. See Mintz v. Mintz, 2023 UT App 17, ¶ 14, 525 P.3d 534, cert. denied, 531 P.3d 730 (Utah 2023).

¶18 Christopher also argues that the court “exceeded the scope” of his objection when it addressed “matters not before the court.” The scope of a court’s review of a commissioner’s recommendation turns on the correct interpretation of the applicable rule of civil procedure. Cf. Zions Bancorporation, NA v. Schwab, 2023 UT App 105, ¶ 12, 537 P.3d 273 (holding that the district court’s “statutory interpretation” is reviewed “for correctness”) (quotation simplified); Bermes v. Summit County, 2023 UT App 94, ¶ 28, 536 P.3d 111 (stating that a district court’s “interpretation of a set of statues or ordinances” is reviewed “for correctness”) (quotation simplified), cert. denied, 2023 WL 9058850 (Utah 2023).

ANALYSIS

I. Reasonable Time Under the Circumstances

¶19      Christopher first challenges the district court’s conclusion that “it would be inappropriate for the Court to impose a date by which the property must be sold.” He asserts that the court’s conclusion is incorrect, that the reasonable-time rule is applicable here, that a reasonable time has long since elapsed, and that Rhonda should be compelled to sell the property and satisfy his equity interest. We determine that the district court’s conclusion was incorrect and conclude that the reasonable-time rule is applicable in this matter. We then determine what constitutes a reasonable time for Rhonda’s performance under the circumstances.

¶20 A stipulated divorce decree represents an enforceable contract between divorcing spouses, and so “we interpret the parties’ decree according to established rules of contract interpretation.” Thayer v. Thayer, 2016 UT App 146, ¶ 17, 378 P.3d 1232 (quotation simplified). Of course, “the cardinal rule in contract interpretation is to give effect to the intentions of the parties as they are expressed in the plain language of the contract itself,” and “we construe a contract to give effect to the object and purpose of the parties in making the agreement.” New York Avenue LLC v. Harrison, 2016 UT App 240, ¶ 21, 391 P.3d 268 (quotation simplified), cert. denied, 393 P.3d 283 (Utah 2017). Key to the issue before us, our principles of contract interpretation further provide “that if a contract fails to specify a time of performance the law implies that it shall be done within a reasonable time under the circumstances,” id. ¶ 32 (quotation simplified), which analysis entails a question of fact, see iDrive Logistics LLC v. IntegraCore LLC, 2018 UT App 40, ¶ 55, 424 P.3d 970, cert. denied, 425 P.3d 803 (Utah 2018).

¶21 The parties agree on the basic meaning of the terms contained in section 9(B) of the decree. They accept that under section 9(B), Rhonda was awarded ownership of the property, Christopher was required to “execute a quit claim deed” in Rhonda’s favor while reserving for himself “an equitable lien for one-half of the net equity of the property when the property is sold,” and that Christopher would “only be entitled to his equity when the property is sold.” Further, both parties acknowledge that section 9(B) does not include a date by which the property was required to be sold. Based on this understanding, Christopher argues that the district court’s conclusion was incorrect, that the reasonable-time rule does apply, and that Rhonda should be compelled to sell the property immediately, a reasonable time having long since come and gone, or else his interest “could remain trapped forever.”

¶22 Christopher asserts that under our decision in New York Avenue, the district court should be required to apply the reasonable-time rule based on the reality that section 9(B) did not include a specified time of performance. In that case, a seller contracted with a buyer for the sale of certain real estate. 2016 UT App 240¶ 3. Due to unforeseen complications, the transaction was not settled on the date intended by the contract. Id. ¶¶ 5–6. The buyer, still desiring to be bound by the terms of the contract, elected to begin making monthly settlement extension payments to the seller, as provided for in the contract, thus advancing the contract’s intended settlement date to the last day of the month associated with the buyer’s settlement extension payment. Id. ¶ 6. While the contract provided terms to extend the settlement date, it failed to specify a final date regarding the ultimate settlement of the contract or to define the maximum number of settlement extensions available to the parties. Id. ¶ 5. After numerous settlement extensions, the seller sought to terminate the contract. Id. ¶¶ 8–9. Following a summary judgment hearing, the district court determined that the contract entitled the buyer to extend the settlement deadline indefinitely, “so long as valid tender of the extension payment was made.” Id. ¶ 12 (quotation simplified).

¶23 On appeal, we held, in relevant part, that because the contract did “not limit the number of extension payments,” it did “not provide a date by which [seller] must perform its core obligation to complete the purchase of the Property.” Id. ¶ 34. Accordingly, we noted “that if a contract fails to specify a time of performance the law implies that it shall be done within a reasonable time under the circumstances.” Id. ¶ 32 (quotation simplified). And we concluded that the district court erred in granting summary judgment that countenanced an indefinite extension of the time for performance. Id. ¶¶ 29, 32.

¶24 Similar to the seller in New York Avenue, Christopher is concerned that if we conclude that the reasonable-time rule does not apply to section 9(B) of the decree, there exists a possibility that Rhonda could opt to never sell the property and thereby retain all of the equity indefinitely. In reviewing the conclusions of the court, we must evaluate the plain language of section 9(B) of the decree to determine if the district court correctly held that the reasonable-time rule did not apply.

¶25 Based on the plain language of section 9(B), it is obvious that nowhere in its four sentences is there any provision regarding a specific date by which Rhonda must sell the property. Rhonda argues on appeal that it would be improper for the court to impose a reasonable time for performance because, unlike the contract at issue in New York Avenue, section 9(B) did not intend to “create an obligation” for the sale of the property. She further contends that sale of the property is a condition precedent, and thus, she is not required to sell the property but that if she does, Christopher would then be entitled to receive his share of the equity. We are not persuaded by Rhonda’s argument. The intent of the decree was to “resolve all issues between” the parties. Therefore, while section 9(B) was not intended to be a sales agreement, it was also not intended to allow Rhonda to indefinitely prevent the satisfaction of Christopher’s interest. See Brady v. Park, 2019 UT 16, ¶ 53, 445 P.3d 395 (“When we interpret a contract we first look at the plain language of the contract to determine the parties’ meaning and intent.”) (quotation simplified). Accordingly, we agree with Christopher that a reasonable time for performance should be implied. Thus, we conclude that the district court incorrectly determined that the reasonable-time rule was inapplicable here. We next determine what the reasonable time should be, and here we part ways with Christopher and endorse the view adopted by the commissioner.

¶26      Due to the nature of these proceedings and Christopher’s decision not to request transcripts of the prior hearings, we are unable to consider the parties’ presentations before the commissioner or the district court, including not only the arguments they made but also any evidence they introduced or evidentiary proffers they made. Even so, Christopher contends that “[a] reasonable time is defined by the parties’ intentions at the time the contract is formed, not when the dispute arises,” and that because the parties did not intend for his interest to remain unsatisfied this long, a reasonable time has long since elapsed. Conversely, Rhonda contends that “[t]he language of the Decree demonstrates that the Parties intended for [her] to be able to operate her business from the Property to support herself indefinitely.”

¶27 In consideration of what constitutes a reasonable time under the circumstances, we must discern the parties’ intentions from the language of their contract—the stipulated decree—and the relevant circumstances, but in the absence of whatever evidence might have been adduced or proffered at the hearings as we have not been favored with the transcripts. We are mindful that neither party was awarded alimony in this case, meaning Rhonda’s livelihood depended on her continued ability to operate her salon business. And it is significant that not only was no time for Rhonda‘s performance specified, but it was emphasized that Christopher shall be entitled to his equity only “when the property is sold.” The conclusion is inescapable, as determined by the commissioner, that the intention of the parties, as reflected in the language they employed, was that Rhonda’s obligation to sell the property and cash out Christopher would be triggered when she ceased to operate the salon business. That occurrence would equate to the reasonable time for her performance under the unique circumstances of this case.

II. Scope of District Court Review

¶28      Christopher next challenges the district court’s expansive consideration of the commissioner’s recommendation, arguing that the court “exceeded the scope” of his objection by addressing “matters not before the court.” We disagree with Christopher’s position. A plain reading of rule 108(f) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure requires the district court to make “independent findings of fact and conclusions of law based on the evidence.” And our jurisprudence makes clear that a district court has plenary responsibility for “what is essentially its own order.” Somer v. Somer, 2020 UT App 93, ¶ 12, 467 P.3d 924 (quotation simplified). Accordingly, we conclude that the court did not exceed the scope of its authority in reviewing the commissioner’s recommendation without being confined to the contours of the objection made by Christopher.

¶29      “We interpret court rules, like statutes and administrative rules, according to their plain language.” Day v. Barnes, 2018 UT App 143, ¶ 12, 427 P.3d 1272 (quotation simplified). Rule 108 provides a procedure by which a party may object to a commissioner’s recommendation and request that the district court review the recommendation. Within this framework, subsection (a) first indicates that a commissioner’s recommendation “is the order of the court until modified by the court” and that “[a] party may file a written objection to the recommendation.” Utah R. Civ. P. 108(a) (emphasis added). Next, subsection (b) explains that any objection “must identify succinctly and with particularity the findings of fact, the conclusions of law, or the part of the recommendation to which the objection is made and state the relief sought,” and it also provides that the accompanying memorandum of support “must explain succinctly and with particularity why the findings, conclusions, or recommendation are incorrect.” Id. R. 108(b). Lastly, subsection (f) directs that “[t]he judge will make independent findings of fact and conclusions of law based on the evidence, whether by proffer, testimony or exhibit, presented to the judge, or, if there was no hearing before the judge, based on the evidence presented to the commissioner.” Id. R. 108(f) (emphasis added). Thus, the plain language of the rule “does not provide for an appeal-like review of a commissioner’s decision, but instead requires independent findings of fact and conclusions of law based on the evidence.” Day, 2018 UT App 143, ¶ 16 (quotation simplified).

¶30 In the case at hand, after the commissioner made his recommendation, Christopher filed an objection wherein he explained that while the commissioner “correctly found” that the reasonable-time rule applied to section 9(B) of the decree, he erred because the recommendation was not based on evidence that, at the time the decree was entered, the parties intended that Rhonda would “retain the Property and all equity so long as she operated a business.” After a hearing on Christopher’s objection, the court modified the recommended order based on its independent determination that it would be “inappropriate” to apply the reasonable-time rule and “to impose a date by which the Property must be sold.” Christopher now argues that the court’s decision to modify the recommendation concerning the reasonable-time rule “exceeded the scope” of his objection because, as the objecting party, he “was entitled to define the scope of his objection, and he did so narrowly.”

¶31 We reject this argument. As just explained, when faced with an objection to a commissioner’s recommendation, the responsible district court judge is expected to make “independent findings of fact and conclusions of law based on the evidence.” Utah R. Civ. P. 108(f) (emphasis added). We have previously explained that because a commissioner’s recommendation is “the order of the district court until modified by that court,” “it would make little sense that the district court would be limited in reviewing what is essentially its own order.” Day, 2018 UT App 143, ¶ 18 (quotation simplified). Therefore, while rule 108 provides that the objecting party must proceed with “particularity” concerning the basis of the objection, Utah R. Civ. P. 108(b), that same particularity does not circumscribe the authority of the reviewing court and does not limit the reviewing court’s ability to make its own findings and conclusions, see id. R. 108(f). Thus, notwithstanding Christopher’s “narrowly” defined objection, the court’s modification of the commissioner’s recommendation did not exceed the appropriate scope of review in a procedural sense, even though we conclude that the court’s substantive conclusion was incorrect.

CONCLUSION

¶32 The district court erred because the reasonable-time rule should have been applied in this case, and the reasonable time to be imputed is essentially the time as determined by the commissioner, namely when Rhonda ceases operating her salon on the property. We remand so the court can adjust its order accordingly. At the same time, we conclude that the court did not exceed the scope of its review authority under rule 108.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277


[1] Because the parties share the same last name, we refer to them by their first names, with no disrespect intended by the apparent informality.

[2] Christopher, then represented by new counsel, may have been confused about this because the decree was entered on the basis of his default. But the record in this case demonstrates that Christopher was represented by counsel right up until the time the decree was entered on the basis of his stipulated default.

[3] With no transcript of the bench trial submitted by Christopher, we rely on the minutes of the proceedings found in the record. Cf. In re A. Dean Harding Marital & Family Trust, 2023 UT App 81, ¶ 85, 536 P.3d 38 (stating that “when an appellant fails to provide an adequate record on appeal, we presume the regularity of the proceedings below”) (quotation simplified).

[4] In May 2021, Christopher appealed, requesting that this court review the dismissal of the petition to modify and “all subsidiary rulings and orders leading to final judgment,” but he moved to voluntarily dismiss this appeal shortly thereafter, which motion this court granted.

[5] As with the bench trial, Christopher did not request a transcript of this hearing and we therefore rely on the minutes of the proceedings found in the appellate record to understand what occurred during the hearing. See supra note 3. While it perhaps is not always necessary to include a transcript of hearings in the appellate record, we have previously determined that a transcript “is necessary in cases where the court issued an oral ruling at the conclusion of the hearing and where the court’s eventual written order is silent with regard to the matter being challenged.” In re A. Dean Harding Marital & Family Trust, 2023 UT App 81, ¶ 86, 536 P.3d 38“In such cases, a transcript of the hearing is necessary for us to effectively review the challenged issue” because without it “we do not know what evidence or argument the court relied on in rendering any decision.” Id. While we do have a spartan description of the hearing included in the court’s minutes, which is not without utility, we discourage parties from relying wholly on the court’s minutes when a transcript is readily available.

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Thayne v. Thayne – 2022 UT App 122 – Change of Circumstances

2022 UT App 122

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

STEPHANIE THAYNE,

Appellee,

v.

DEVIN THAYNE,

Appellant.

Opinion

No. 20200598-CA

Filed November 3, 2022

Second District Court, Ogden Department

The Honorable Ernest W. Jones

No. 204900701

Devin Thayne, Appellant Pro Se

David C. Blum, Attorney for Appellee

SENIOR JUDGE RUSSELL W. BENCH authored this Opinion, in which JUDGE GREGORY K. ORME and JUSTICE JILL M. POHLMAN concurred.[1]

BENCH, Senior Judge:

¶1        Devin Thayne appeals the district court’s order granting Stephanie Thayne’s motion to dismiss his petition to modify child and spousal support. We agree with the reasoning of the district court and affirm.

BACKGROUND

¶2        Devin and Stephanie[2] were married in June 2010 and separated in April 2019. At the time of their separation, the parties lived in California, and their divorce proceedings therefore commenced in California. As part of their divorce proceedings, a hearing was held on December 10, 2019. At the hearing, the parties came to an agreement regarding custody and visitation schedules of their three minor children, and the court entered a stipulation and order addressing those issues that same day. At this time, both parties were anticipating a relocation to Utah, and the stipulation recognized this “period of transition” and noted, “Further order as to custody will be addressed in Utah . . . if necessary.”

¶3        At the December hearing, the parties also stipulated as to other issues, including property division, spousal support, and child support. This stipulation mentioned the impending move to Utah and the likelihood that, due to the move, “[Devin’s] annual income of $141,000 will decrease to approximately $90,000– $100,00 per year.” The stipulation also provided that Devin would pay $840 per month in spousal support, beginning January 1, 2020, and continuing for, at most, only four years (roughly half the length of the nearly nine-year marriage), and that Stephanie was “to make reasonable efforts to become self-supporting within a reasonable period of time.” Additionally, the stipulation provided that Devin would maintain health insurance for the children and that “upon [Stephanie’s] employment,” she would also provide health insurance for the children “if available at no or reasonable cost through her employment.”

¶4        The parties did, as planned, move to Utah in December 2019, and Devin’s income did resultingly drop to $90,000. Thereafter, on February 18, 2020, the California court entered a judgment of dissolution (the Judgment). The Judgment incorporated the parties’ stipulations made at the December hearing and finalized the divorce.

¶5        About two months later, on April 22, 2020, Devin filed a petition to modify the Judgment in Utah. Devin argued that “his dramatic reduction in income” amounted to a “substantial and material change in circumstances” that warranted a change to the previously ordered spousal support and child support amounts. Devin argued the changes were also warranted by a change in Stephanie’s income, stating, “[U]pon information and belief, Stephanie has initiated employment or other means to generate a regular and consistent income.” Additionally, Devin’s petition to modify raised issues surrounding the mechanics of the children’s visitation, arguing that the Judgment “fails to detail how the parties are to exchange the minor children” considering that the two older children were in school and the youngest child was not yet school-aged. He requested that he be allowed to return all three children in the morning instead of having to wait to return the youngest child at noon, as provided for in the Judgment.

¶6        Stephanie responded with a motion to dismiss or, alternatively, a motion for summary judgment. She argued that Devin’s petition to modify rested on changes in circumstances that were foreseeable when the Judgment was entered and that, therefore, his petition must be dismissed.

¶7        The district court granted Stephanie’s motion to dismiss in its entirety. The court determined that there was no indication that the Judgment was not already calculated based on Devin’s anticipated reduction in salary to $90,000–$100,00 per year. The court explained,

The order was finalized and entered after the move and the initial payments were set to be made while the parties already were to live in Utah. It stretches the imagination of the Court to the breaking point to believe that the California court would enter an order fully expecting income to have dropped before even the first payment would be made.

As to spousal support, the court recognized that “differences in earning potential . . . should be given some weight in fashioning the support award” and that this factor was presumptively already considered by the California court making the award. (Quotation simplified.) And as to visitation, the court pointed out that the issue was addressed in the Judgment, which specifically provided that the children would be delivered “at school or if no school at noon.” The court therefore determined that it did not find a “significant unforeseen change in circumstances” to support modification. (Emphasis added.) Devin now appeals.

ISSUE AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶8        Devin argues that the district court erroneously dismissed

his petition to modify, which dismissal was based on its determination that the facts alleged in the petition did not show an unforeseen substantial change in circumstances that would warrant modification. “We review a decision granting a motion to dismiss for correctness, granting no deference to the decision of the district court.” Miller v. Miller, 2020 UT App 171, ¶ 10, 480 P.3d 341 (quotation simplified).[3]

ANALYSIS

¶9        A party may seek changes to an award of spousal or child support when there has been a substantial change of circumstances not addressed in the divorce decree. See Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-5(11)(a) (LexisNexis Supp. 2022) (“The court has continuing jurisdiction to make substantive changes and new orders regarding alimony based on a substantial material change in circumstances not expressly stated in the divorce decree or in the findings that the court entered at the time of the divorce decree.”); id. § 78B-12-210(9)(a) (“A parent, legal guardian, or the office may at any time petition the court to adjust the amount of a child support order if there has been a substantial change in circumstances.”). But the changes in circumstances that Devin raises in his petition that have occurred since the stipulation was drafted in December 2019—namely, his decreased income and Stephanie’s availability for employment—were foreseen and addressed in that stipulation. Furthermore, these changes in circumstances that Devin raises had already occurred by the time the Judgment incorporating that stipulation was eventually entered in February 2020.

¶10 The Judgment orders Devin to pay “child support in the amount of $2,160 per month” and “spousal support in the amount of $840 per month” commencing in January 2020, shortly after relocation. And in the same section, the Judgment clearly recognizes Devin’s impending income reduction: “[Devin] anticipates that [his] annual income of $141,000 will decrease to approximately $90,000–$100,000 per year due to the relocation of himself and his employment from California to Utah.” Thus, the Judgment anticipated Devin’s lowered income, and we agree with the district court that it is implausible that the California court would have made support awards based on Devin’s old income when it recognized that a much lower income would be in effect before any payments became due.

¶11      This same support section of the Judgment also anticipates Stephanie’s future employment. The Judgment limits the maximum length of spousal support to four years[4] and states, “[Stephanie] is placed under a Gavron Admonition to make reasonable efforts to become self-supporting within a reasonable period of time.”[5] Further, the Judgment clarifies that “upon [Stephanie’s] employment[,] [she] shall obtain health insurance for the parties[’] minor children if available at no or reasonable cost through her employment.” In fact, even Devin’s petition to modify recognized that the Judgment addresses Stephanie’s future employment:

[U]pon information and belief, Stephanie has initiated employment or other means to generate a regular and consistent income. Indeed, the Judgment indicates Stephanie was required to make efforts to secure full-time employment. As such, Stephanie either has secured regular employment or now possesses the ability to secure gainful full-time employment. At a minimum, Stephanie should be imputed income at a reasonable amount considering her education, training, certificates, employment history, and any other factors reasonably considered by the Court.

So Stephanie’s return to employment was clearly anticipated in the Judgment.[6]

¶12      Thus, the Judgment addressed both the anticipated drop in Devin’s income and the possibility of Stephanie’s return to employment and accounted for them when ordering child and spousal support amounts. And therefore, these employment changes do not amount to unanticipated changes that would warrant a modification of the support amounts. Therefore, we see no error in the district court’s determination that even when viewing the alleged facts in Devin’s favor, no substantial change in circumstances had occurred that was not addressed in the Judgment; and consequently, we see no error in the dismissal of Devin’s petition to modify.

¶13      Devin, however, points to language in the stipulation that he argues implies that the Judgment was “a very loose order intended only to last until more was known in Utah.” First, he points to a general provision at the close of the Judgment stating, “The issues of child custody and visitation, child support and spousal support are transferred to the county in which the parties’ minor children will be residing in Utah effective immediately upon entry of this judgment.” But we do not agree that this language is an indication that the support awards should be revisited upon relocation; instead, where the parties had already relocated upon entry of the Judgment, the language simply demonstrates an awareness that any unanticipated issues or changes of circumstances that might arise in the future (in the nearly fifteen years before the children would all become adults) would be appropriately dealt with in Utah instead of California.

¶14 Second, Devin relies on language in the child custody stipulation that mentions relocation and then states, “Further orders as to custody will be addressed in Utah upon parties’ move, if necessary.” However, this mention (and in particular its “if necessary” limitation) simply clarifies what would happen if changes were warranted in the future and is not an indication that the California court expected the divorce decree to be modified upon relocation. Furthermore, this reference specifically mentions only the modification of child custody, which is largely unrelated to the income changes raised in Devin’s petition to modify.

¶15 Third, Devin points to the Judgment’s failure to address the issue of how the children would be claimed on the parties’ taxes as evidence that the Judgment was intended to be only temporary. But, again, this omission does not suggest that the California court expected that its support awards would be recalculated upon arrival in Utah.

¶16      Devin also raises contract principles to argue that the intent of the parties regarding future modification should have been considered by the district court when determining if modification was appropriate. But even assuming the intent of the parties would be relevant, there was no ambiguity in the stipulated agreement suggesting that immediate modification was intended after relocation to Utah, nor was there any indication that this remained an open question. Although Devin tries to introduce additional materials that he argues show such an intention, even under contract principles those materials would not be considered because of the unambiguous nature of the parties’ stipulation.[7] See Bakowski v. Mountain States Steel, Inc., 2002 UT 62, ¶ 16, 52 P.3d 1179 (“When interpreting a contract, a court first looks to the contract’s four corners to determine the parties’ intentions, which are controlling. If the language within the four corners of the contract is unambiguous, then a court does not resort to extrinsic evidence of the contract’s meaning, and a court determines the parties’ intentions from the plain meaning of the contractual language as a matter of law.” (quotation simplified)).[8]

CONCLUSION

¶17      We do not see an error in the district court’s determination that the changes in circumstances Devin raises were already addressed by the original Judgment. And as a result, we see no error in the court’s denial of Devin’s petition to modify.[9] We therefore affirm.

 

 

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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Father has 50/50 custody. Now ex is trying to take it away. What to do?

I am a father who has exercised at least 50/50 custody with my ex. Now she’s trying to take me to court for full custody and me getting every other weekend visits. How can I avoid losing 50/50 custody?

First, thank your lucky stars you are a father who currently has 50/50 custody of his children. Far, far too many fit and loving fathers who could easily exercise joint equal physical custody of their children and whose children would do nothing but benefit from the exercise of joint equal custody are needlessly and unjustifiably denied a joint equal child custody award by courts who simply cannot bring themselves to believe, much less conceive of, the idea that children being reared by both parents equally is better than relegating one parent to second class visitor status in his child’s life.

Second, the fact that you have been exercising at least 50–50 custody of your children for the past few years helps to make it much harder for your ex to build a case against you for modifying the child custody award in a manner that deprives both father and children of a 50–50 custody schedule. Again, be grateful this is the case, because if you were trying to win 50–50 custody of your children on the first go around during your divorce or other child custody legal action, the odds are grossly stacked against fit and loving fathers.

Third, if you are afraid that your judge is going to discriminate against you on the basis of sex, you need to understand this principle: “if it isn’t close, there cheating won’t matter.” Otherwise stated, you need to ensure that you win six ways from Sunday. you have to bring overwhelming amounts of evidence and proof into court, so that you leave the judge no option but to rule in your favor. Easier said than done, certainly, but now is not the time to become complacent or substitute hope for effort. Spare no expense to preserve your joint equal physical custody award. A necessary component of a winning case is that you are living a life beyond reproach. Get your house in order. If there is anything remotely amiss in your life, correct course immediately, clearly, and permanently.

Fourth, make sure you understand and that your attorney understands what statutory and case law factors and criteria govern the original child custody award and a petition to modify the original child custody award. It may be that your ex does not have sufficient grounds for a petition to modify child custody to survive a motion to dismiss.

Fifth and finally, do not take on a petition to modify child custody alone, without a vigilant and skilled attorneys assistance. There is an undeniable culture of bias and discrimination and prejudice against fathers when it comes to courts making child custody awards. This doesn’t mean that every judge in every court indulges in sexual discrimination against father, but it’s virtually impossible to tell the difference between an impartial judge and a biased one, and so you need an attorney who will not suffer fools gladly, who will defend the joint equal custody award.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/As-a-father-I-have-50-50-split-custody-with-my-ex-and-then-some-now-shes-trying-to-take-me-to-court-for-full-custody-every-other-weekend-visits-how-can-I-avoid-loosing-ny-kids/answer/Eric-Johnson-311?prompt_topic_bio=1

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Kirkham v. Widdison – 2019 UT App 97 – tax issues in divorce

Kirkham v. Widdison – 2019 UT App 97

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

JANAE A. KIRKHAM,
Appellant,
v.
JAMIE WIDDISON, HRB TAX GROUP, GRACE HANSEN, BONNY WIDDISON, AND ALPINE GARDENS INC.,
Appellees.

Opinion No. 20170655-CA
Filed June 6, 2019

Third District Court, Salt Lake Department
The Honorable Andrew H. Stone
No. 150902366

Janae A. Kirkham, Appellant Pro Se
Suzanne Marelius, Attorney for Appellees Jamie Widdison and Bonny Widdison
Sean N. Egan, Anthony J. Durone, and Timothy West, Attorneys for Appellees HRB Tax Group and Grace Hansen
Jonathan O. Hafen and Jeffery A. Balls, Attorneys for Appellee Alpine Gardens Inc.

JUDGE DAVID N. MORTENSEN authored this Opinion, in which JUDGE DIANA HAGEN concurred. JUDGE MICHELE M.
CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER concurred, except that as to section VI, she concurred only in the result.

MORTENSEN, Judge:

¶1        Appellant Janae A. Kirkham appeals—for the fourth time[1]—issues arising from claims that she alleges occurred during the litigation of a petition to modify in a separate divorce proceeding. Kirkham argues that the trial court erred by granting a rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss four of her claims, granting a rule 12(c) judgment on the pleadings dismissing one of her claims, (3) dismissing her remaining claims on summary judgment, (4) granting a motion to disqualify her attorney, (5) granting a protective order under rule 37 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, and (6) awarding attorney fees and costs pursuant to Utah Code section 78B-5-825. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

¶2        In 2011, Jamie Widdison sought a modification of his and Kirkham’s divorce decree, which would, among other things, allow him to retroactively claim a tax exemption for the parties’ minor child—whom Kirkham had previously claimed. During those proceedings, Kirkham produced copies of her tax returns for the years 2009, 2010, and 2011 (Tax Returns). According to Kirkham’s second amended complaint (Complaint), Widdison and his wife Bonnie Widdison (collectively, Widdisons) received the Tax Returns from their attorney and used Alpine Gardens Inc.’s fax machine to send those copies to HRB Tax Group and its employee, Grace Hansen (collectively, HRB). HRB used the Tax Returns to prepare pro forma returns (Pro Forma Returns)[2] demonstrating the potential impact to Kirkham’s tax liability without the child exemption. The Pro Forma Returns were offered as exhibits in hearings before a commissioner and the trial court.

¶3 Based on the Pro Forma Returns, the commissioner determined that the parties’ collective tax liability would be lowered by allowing Widdison to claim the child exemption. Widdison proposed that if Kirkham filed the Pro Forma Returns, he would pay Kirkham the difference in any tax that would be assessed to her as a result. The commissioner, however, certified the issue to the trial court when Kirkham would not agree. The commissioner noted that Kirkham “had no explanation for her position, particularly where it would cost her nothing.”

¶4        The trial court agreed with the commissioner that Widdison would realize a greater tax benefit from the exemption than Kirkham. On October 10, 2012, the trial court entered a written order authorizing Widdison to claim the child exemption for tax years 2009 through 2012. The court also ordered Kirkham to sign and file the Pro Forma Returns as well as IRS Form 8332, which authorized Widdison to claim the child exemption for those years (Amended Returns). Finally, the court ordered Widdison to reimburse Kirkham any difference in taxes owed by Kirkham as a result of filing the Amended Returns. Kirkham timely appealed the trial court’s order.[3]

¶5        While the modification appeal was pending, Kirkham refused to sign and file the Amended Returns.[4] On December 11, 2012, the commissioner held an order to show cause hearing and again ordered Kirkham to sign and file the Amended Returns. Kirkham, again, refused. On January 10, 2013, the commissioner ordered the clerk of the court to sign IRS Form 8332 on behalf of Kirkham[5]—effectively authorizing the Widdisons to file their amended returns with the child exemption.

¶6        On January 18, 2013, Kirkham’s Amended Returns were filed and received by the IRS. Kirkham alleged in her Complaint that the “amended tax returns for the years 2009, 2010 and 2011 in [Kirkham’s] name were filed by [the Widdisons] and HRB.” However, Kirkham conceded two points. First, after HRB argued that it “did not and cannot file amended returns even if they are final” because “[a]mended returns cannot be filed electronically,” Kirkham conceded that “[HRB] didn’t file the amended returns.” Second, when the court later asked Kirkham, “Who filed the returns?” Kirkham replied, “Widdison did.” As discussed below, infra ¶ 13, Kirkham was ultimately unable to produce any evidence that Widdison, or any other defendant, filed the returns.

¶7        In October 2014, this court vacated the modification order and remanded with instructions to make additional findings on whether shifting the child exemption was justified. See Widdison v. Widdison, 2014 UT App 233, ¶ 21, 336 P.3d 1106. But prior to the remand trial, “the parties fully resolved all claims arising from their 2009, 2010 and 2011 tax returns,” and therefore the court did not address that issue. On remand, the trial court reinstated the original modification order and found that the “allocation of tax dependent exemptions [was] consistent with Utah law . . . [and] the ruling was an equitable, fair and reasonable way to distribute the tax benefit in this case.” The trial court found Kirkham in contempt of the 2012 modification order for refusing to sign and file the Amended Returns and for obstructing Widdison’s ability to comply with the order by “frustrating [his] efforts to compensate her.” The court also found that due to Kirkham’s contempt, Widdison “had to file his amended tax returns on his own with an 8332 form in the absence of [Kirkham’s] amended return being filed. This led to [Kirkham’s] tax return for 2012 being seized. . . . [And] this [was] due to [Kirkham’s] own lack of cooperation.” Finally, the court awarded Widdison costs and attorney fees arising from Kirkham’s contempt.[6]

¶8        Kirkham filed this lawsuit against the Widdisons, HRB, and Alpine (collectively, Appellees), alleging that Appellees’ role in preparing the Pro Forma Returns and filing the Amended Returns gave rise to various claims. Specifically, Kirkham raised claims for tortious conversion against all Appellees (Claim 1); civil conspiracy against all Appellees (Claim 2); invasion of privacy against all Appellees (Claim 3); violation of the Utah Consumer Sales Practices Act (UCSPA) against HRB (Claim 4); violations of the UCSPA–Unconscionability against HRB (Claim 5); intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) against all Appellees (Claim 6); and breach of fiduciary duty against HRB and Widdison (Claim 7).

¶9 During discovery, HRB moved to have Kirkham’s attorney disqualified.[7] HRB argued that Kirkham’s attorney had obtained employment with HRB without disclosing that he represented Kirkham, who intended to sue HRB. Further, HRB argued that Kirkham’s attorney had taken at least one confidential document from HRB during his employment, which he intended to use in the suit against HRB. The trial court granted HRB’s motion to disqualify, finding that (1) the “likelihood of public suspicion or obloquy outweighs the social interest in allowing [Kirkham’s attorney] to continue to represent [her]”; (2) because Kirkham “has filed this action as a Tier 3 action and seeks extensive punitive damages,” “it is likely that [she] will be able to obtain substitute counsel”; and (3) “the ongoing harm to public confidence and to [HRB] in allowing [Kirkham’s attorney] to continue to represent [Kirkham] outweighs the minimal harm to [her] in having to obtain substitute counsel.”

¶10 HRB also moved the trial court to enter a protective order governing discovery. Kirkham objected, but rather than offering any alternative language to the proposed protective order, she requested that the court not enter the order at all. The trial court rejected Kirkham’s objection, finding that “the order has procedure in it for designating documents as well as objecting to designations” and that “the order as prepared is an ordinary and customary protective order in commercial cases.”

¶11 Next, the Widdisons moved pursuant to rule 12(b)(6) to dismiss Claims 1, 2, 3, 6, and 7—or in other words, Kirkham’s entire Complaint as against them. Simultaneously, HRB moved pursuant to rule 12(b)(6) to dismiss Claims 1, 3, 6, and 7. The trial court granted both motions, excepting Claim 2 against the Widdisons. In a seven page memorandum decision, the trial court made the following conclusions with respect to each dismissed claim:

  • Claim 1 (Tortious Conversion)—that “intangible property such as knowledge of Kirkham’s tax status is not property that can be converted”—and “[e]ven if such an intangible interest were subject to conversion . . . Kirkham was never deprived of its use.”
  • Claim 3 (Invasion of Privacy)—that “Kirkham’s counsel made clear that this claim is brought based on misappropriation of name or likeness” and “[s]he alleges no ‘intrinsic value’ of her name” as required by Utah law. And Kirkham’s argument that “every name has intrinsic value . . . is simply legally incorrect.” (Cleaned up.)
  • Claim 6 (IIED)—that the Widdisons’ conduct and HRB’s conduct, as alleged, does not, as a matter of law, constitute such extreme conduct to state a claim for IIED. Further, Kirkham’s allegations show that she views “the modification proceeding as one long pattern of [IIED]”—and under Utah law, “[a]n allegation of improper filing of a lawsuit or the use of legal process against an individual is not redressable by a cause of action for [IIED].” (Citing Bennett v. Jones, Waldo, Holbrook & McDonough, 2003 UT 9, ¶ 66, 70 P.3d 17.)
  • Claim 7 (Breach of Fiduciary Duty)—that Widdison “is not a fiduciary for Kirkham . . . by virtue of his status as a law enforcement officer.”[8] And similarly, HRB, “by contracting with [Widdison] and or his attorney, did not become fiduciaries to Kirkham.”

¶12      HRB then moved the trial court, pursuant to rule 12(c), to dismiss Claims 2 (Civil Conspiracy), 4 (Violation of UCSPA), and 5 (Violation of UCSPA–Unconscionability). At the hearing for this motion, HRB argued that it “did not and cannot file amended returns even if they are final,” because “[a]mended returns cannot be filed electronically.” Kirkham then conceded, “[HRB] didn’t file the amended returns.” The court granted the motion, finding that HRB did not violate “26 U.S.C. § 7216 or any other IRS regulation or tax law in preparing the [Pro Forma Returns],” nor did it violate “U.C.A. §§ 76-6-1102 or 76-6-1105 or . . . the [UCSPA].”[9] And thus, “[t]here was not an unlawful overt act committed by [HRB] upon which liability under a civil conspiracy theory could rest, nor has [Kirkham] pleaded any such act.” Further, the court found that Kirkham failed to establish that HRB proximately caused her alleged damages, because she had been ordered to file the Amended Returns in the modification proceeding and refused to do so.

¶13 Finally, Alpine and the Widdisons moved under rule 12(c) to dismiss Kirkham’s remaining claims: Claim 2 (Civil Conspiracy) against the Widdisons and all claims against Alpine.[10] The trial court converted the rule 12(c) motion to one for summary judgment, “giving [Kirkham] the opportunity to support her claims with deposition testimony, affidavits or other evidence.” Ultimately, the trial court granted the motion in favor of the Widdisons, finding (1) “the Declaration of [Kirkham] . . . is merely a restatement of the allegations in the Complaint, and is not supported by personal knowledge on her part”; (2) “there is no evidence that [Alpine or the Widdisons] or any other defendant ever filed a tax return on behalf of [Kirkham] or conspired with others to do so”; and (3) “there is no evidence that a tax return was ever filed on behalf of [Kirkham] by anyone other than [Kirkham].”

¶14 After all Kirkham’s claims were dismissed, HRB moved for attorney fees under Utah Code section 78B-5-825. The court concluded that Kirkham’s claims against HRB lacked merit and were brought in bad faith and therefore, awarded HRB $61,464 in attorney fees.

¶15      Kirkham appeals.

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶16 Kirkham raises six issues on appeal. First, whether the trial court erroneously granted HRB’s and the Widdisons’ rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss on Claims 1, 3, 6, and 7. “We review a [trial] court’s decision to grant a rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss a complaint for correctness, giving no deference to the [trial] court’s ruling.” Van Leeuwen v. Bank of Am. NA, 2016 UT App 212, ¶ 6, 387 P.3d 521 (cleaned up).

¶17 Second, whether the trial court erroneously granted HRB’s rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings on Claims 2, 4, and 5. The same standard of review applies for a rule 12(c) motion as for one under rule 12(b)(6), and therefore we review the grant of a motion for judgment on the pleadings for correctness, giving no deference to the trial court’s ruling. Tuttle v. Olds, 2007 UT App 10, ¶ 6, 155 P.3d 893.

¶18 Third, whether the trial court erroneously dismissed Claim 2 against the Widdisons, pursuant to rule 12(c). The record shows, however, that this rule 12(c) motion was converted into a rule 56 motion for summary judgment when matters and evidence outside the pleadings were presented to the trial court. Thus, “we review the [trial] court’s summary judgment ruling for correctness and view all facts and reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.” USA Power, LLC v. PacifiCorp, 2010 UT 31, ¶ 28, 235 P.3d 749 (cleaned up).

¶19      Fourth, whether the trial court erroneously granted HRB’s motion to disqualify Kirkham’s attorney. “The proper standard of review for decisions relating to disqualification is abuse of discretion.” Snow, Christensen & Martineau v. Lindberg, 2013 UT 15, ¶ 18, 299 P.3d 1058 (cleaned up).

¶20 Fifth, whether the trial court erroneously granted a protective order governing discovery. A trial court’s grant of a protective order is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Spratley v. State Farm Mutual Auto. Ins. Co., 2003 UT 39, ¶ 8, 78 P.3d 603.

¶21 And sixth, whether the trial court erred by awarding attorney fees and costs pursuant to Utah Code section 78B-5-825. “The Utah Code requires a court to award reasonable attorney fees in a civil action to the prevailing party if the court determines that the action or defense to the action was without merit and not brought or asserted in good faith.” Bresee v. Barton, 2016 UT App 220, ¶ 15, 387 P.3d 536 (cleaned up). “The without merit determination is a question of law, and therefore we review it for correctness. The bad-faith determination is a question of fact and is therefore reviewed by this court for clear error.” Id. (cleaned up).

ANALYSIS

  1. Motions to Dismiss

¶22      “The purpose of a rule 12(b)(6) motion is to challenge the formal sufficiency of the claim for relief, not to establish the facts or resolve the merits of a case, and accordingly, dismissal is justified only when the allegations of the complaint clearly demonstrate that the plaintiff does not have a claim.” Van Leeuwen v. Bank of Am. NA, 2016 UT App 212, ¶ 6, 387 P.3d 521 (cleaned up). Further, “we accept the factual allegations in the complaint as true” and we make all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, Oakwood Village LLC v. Albertsons, Inc., 2004 UT 101, ¶ 9, 104 P.3d 1226, but we do not accept a complaint’s legal conclusions as true, Franco v. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2001 UT 25, ¶ 26, 21 P.3d 198 (“The sufficiency of . . . pleadings must be determined by the facts pleaded rather than the conclusions stated.” (cleaned up)); see also America West Bank Members, LC v. State, 2014 UT 49, ¶ 7, 342 P.3d 224 (“When reviewing a dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), . . . we accept the plaintiff’s description of facts alleged in the complaint to be true, but we need not accept extrinsic facts not pleaded nor need we accept legal conclusions in contradiction of the pleaded facts.” (cleaned up)).

¶23 The trial court dismissed Kirkham’s claims, pursuant to rule 12(b)(6), for tortious conversion, invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and breach of fiduciary duty against HRB and the Widdisons. We examine each claim in turn.

  1. Claim 1—Tortious Conversion

¶24 “A conversion is an act of willful interference with a chattel, done without lawful justification by which the person entitled thereto is deprived of its use and possession.” Bonnie & Hyde, Inc. v. Lynch, 2013 UT App 153, ¶ 30, 305 P.3d 196 (emphasis added) (cleaned up). The trial court concluded that Kirkham’s conversion claim failed because “Kirkham’s tax status is not property that can be converted” and “[e]ven if such an intangible interest were subject to a conversion,”[11] Appellees “plainly had lawful justification to use Kirkham’s tax information . . . and did not deprive her of its use in any event.” The court elaborated, “[t]ax returns and pro forma returns are commonly exchanged and prepared in such actions. The whole point of the modification as it related to the underlying tax exemptions . . . necessarily requires examining at least Kirkham’s tax liabilities, with and without the exemption.” Lastly, the court noted that “Kirkham could have sought protection on the use of such information in the context of discovery in that action, but did not do so.”

¶25      Kirkham acknowledges that “Utah Appellate Courts have not explicitly recognized conversion as involving personal information as a chattel.” Instead, her sole argument on appeal is that the personal information in her tax returns should be considered property subject to conversion. In other words, Kirkham urges us to expand the definition of a chattel to apply to intangible property. We decline to do so. But even if we did, Kirkham has failed to demonstrate that Appellees were not legally justified in using that information or that they deprived her of the use of that information.

¶26 Appellees were legally justified to use Kirkham’s tax information for two reasons. First, Kirkham did not seek any discovery classification or designation—such as “confidential” or “attorney’s eyes only”—which would have limited its use by Appellees. Second, Appellees used Kirkham’s tax information merely to prepare the Pro Forma Returns in order to demonstrate the impact of claiming, or not claiming, the exemption at issue—a practice that is commonplace in this type of litigation.

¶27      Finally, Kirkham has not argued that Appellees deprived her of the use of her personal information. Even if Appellees’ use of Kirkham’s information was improper, she was not precluded from also using that information, and in fact she makes no argument otherwise. We agree with the trial court that “[i]n a sense, Kirkham appears to be arguing that she was entitled to defy the trial court’s order and refuse to file the [A]mended [R]eturns as ordered, and thus is entitled to sue for damages resulting from their filing.” Therefore, we conclude that Kirkham’s claim for tortious conversion was properly dismissed.

  1. Claim 3—Invasion of Privacy

¶28 Kirkham’s invasion of privacy claim is based on misappropriation of her name or likeness.[12] To prevail under this tort theory, a party must show “(1) appropriation, (2) of another’s name or likeness that has some intrinsic value, (3) for the use or benefit of another.” Stien v. Marriott Ownership Resorts, Inc., 944 P.2d 374, 379 (Utah Ct. App. 1997) (cleaned up). The trial court concluded that Kirkham’s allegations were not sufficient to satisfy these elements. The court noted that Kirkham “alleges no intrinsic value of her name” and that her argument “that every name has intrinsic value” is “legally incorrect.” Further, the court concluded that “[a]t the time the returns were allegedly filed, Kirkham had been ordered to file amended returns without claiming that exemption. Thus, there was no intrinsic value in Kirkham’s name that was appropriated by the supposed filing.” We agree.

¶29 On appeal, Kirkham dedicates a single paragraph to support her position that the trial court erred in dismissing this claim. She argues that her tax information is private and confidential under federal law and that therefore Appellees had “absolutely no right to amend those tax returns.” Again, Kirkham’s argument misses the mark. First, Kirkham herself produced the Tax Returns without any designation limiting their use. Second, the Widdisons used the Tax Returns merely to prepare the Pro Forma Returns for the court’s consideration. Third, even if the Widdisons filed the Amended Returns, Kirkham has not demonstrated that doing so was a misappropriation of her name that benefitted the Widdisons.[13] And fourth, Kirkham fails to address the fatal defect in her complaint: that she has not alleged that her name has an intrinsic value. For these reasons, the trial court correctly dismissed Kirkham’s invasion of privacy claim.

  1. Claim 6—Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

¶30 To state a claim for IIED, a party must allege that the defendant intentionally engaged in some conduct toward the plaintiff, “(a) with the purpose of inflicting emotional distress, or, (b) where any reasonable person would have known that such would result; and his actions are of such a nature as to be considered outrageous and intolerable in that they offend against the generally accepted standards of decency and morality.” Franco v. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2001 UT 25, ¶ 25, 21 P.3d 198 (cleaned up).

¶31 Kirkham’s allegations of IIED show that “she views the modification proceeding as one long pattern of intentional infliction of emotional distress.” That is, she alleges that a host of perceived offenses in the course of the modification proceeding amount to IIED. These perceived offenses included attempts to reduce child support, hold her in contempt, and modify the decree. Other alleged offenses included Appellees’ representations and actions taken in the course of litigation, dragging the case out, rushing to get to hearings when Kirkham’s attorney withdrew, rule violations, and discovery abuses.

¶32      Indeed, on appeal, Kirkham furthers this line of reasoning by arguing that “[s]he has been forced to deal with the IRS and continues in her litigation with her ex-husband relating to those amended tax returns” and “[f]ew if any people and certainly no reasonable person can disagree that one cannot be allowed to take and use another person’s tax returns and personal information.” We deem these arguments unpersuasive for two reasons. First, as we have already noted, Kirkham did not designate her tax returns as confidential under a protective order when she produced them in the modification proceeding. Therefore, use of those returns to prepare the Pro Forma Returns was not extreme and outrageous—especially given that the tax exemption was one of the key issues at play in the modification proceeding.

¶33 Second, Kirkham’s argument on appeal is essentially a recitation of her argument to the trial court below—that “she views the modification proceeding as one long pattern of intentional infliction of emotional distress.” Simply put, “allegation[s] of improper filing of a lawsuit or the use of legal process against an individual is not redressable by a cause of action for [IIED].” Bennett v. Jones, Waldo, Holbrook & McDonough, 2003 UT 9, ¶ 66, 70 P.3d 17. Accordingly, the IIED claim was properly dismissed.

  1. Claim 6—Breach of Fiduciary Duty

¶34 Kirkham contends that HRB owed her a fiduciary duty because “she was set up in HRB’s system as a client.” We reject this argument and affirm the trial court on this point because it is inadequately briefed in two aspects. First, Kirkham does not provide a citation to the record—nor have we been able to find one—in support of her position that she was set up in HRB’s system as a client. See Angel Inv’rs, LLC v. Garrity, 2009 UT 40, ¶ 34, 216 P.3d 944 (declining to address a party’s argument on appeal for lack of citations to the record). Second, even if she had cited the record, Kirkham does not provide any legal authority supporting her allegation that HRB became her fiduciary by entering her information into their system. See id. ¶ 35. Nor does she provide any reasoned argument to establish such a precedent under the facts of this case. In other words, we are not persuaded by the argument that HRB owed Kirkham a fiduciary duty when they were retained by the Widdisons to prepare Pro Forma Returns for the purpose of their litigation against Kirkham.

  1. Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

¶35 Next, Kirkham contends that the trial court erroneously granted HRB’s rule 12(c) motion on Claim 2 for civil conspiracy.[14] A claim for civil conspiracy requires “(1) a combination of two or more persons, (2) an object to be accomplished, (3) a meeting of the minds on the object or course of action, (4) one or more unlawful, overt acts, and (5) damages as a proximate result thereof.” Lawrence v. Intermountain, Inc., 2010 UT App 313, ¶ 12, 243 P.3d 508 (cleaned up).

¶36 The trial court—without deciding on the first three elements—concluded that Kirkham could not meet the final two elements of civil conspiracy. Specifically, the court concluded that HRB did not commit an unlawful or overt act, nor was HRB the proximate cause of damages (if any) that Kirkham sustained. We need not reach the issue of whether HRB committed an overt unlawful act[15] because we agree with the trial court that any alleged wrongdoing on HRB’s behalf was not the proximate cause of the alleged damages suffered by Kirkham, and this determination is fatal to her claim.

¶37 Kirkham articulates an argument that damages arising under this claim include “[h]er 2012 tax refund [being] seized to pay for the tax liability created by the amended tax returns” and her “[spending] a considerable amount of time dealing with the IRS and still litigating with [Widdison].” These damages, however, were proximately caused by Kirkham’s conduct, not HRB’s. To be sure, the trial court, on remand from the modification appeal, found that due to Kirkham’s refusal to sign and file the Amended Returns, Widdison “had to file his amended tax returns on his own . . . in the absence of [Kirkham’s] amended return being filed. This led to [Kirkham’s] tax [refund] for 2012 being seized.” But the court found that “this is due to [Kirkham’s] own lack of cooperation.” If Kirkham would have filed the Amended Returns, notified Widdison of the new amount that she owed, and allowed Widdison to pay that amount to the IRS—as she was ordered to do—her 2012 tax refund would not have been seized. But due to Kirkham’s contemptuous behavior, this did not happen. In other words, Kirkham was not entitled to disregard the modification order or claim damages arising from doing so. Therefore, this claim was properly dismissed.

III. Motion for Summary Judgment

¶38 Next, Kirkham contends that the trial court erred by dismissing Claim 2—for civil conspiracy—against the Widdisons. Although Kirkham argues on appeal that this claim was dismissed pursuant to rule 12(c), we note that the trial court converted the motion to one for summary judgment, “giving [Kirkham] the opportunity to support her claims with deposition testimony, affidavits or other evidence.” Thus, we will “affirm [the trial court’s] grant of summary judgment [if] the record shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that [the Widdisons are] entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” See Menzies v. State, 2014 UT 40, ¶ 30, 344 P.3d 581 (cleaned up).

¶39 As an initial matter, Kirkham does not argue on appeal that a genuine issue as to a material fact exists or that she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law—rather, she argues that we must take her allegations as true under rule 12(c). We reject this argument because it ignores the conversion of the rule 12(c) motion to one for summary judgment, where a party cannot merely rest on its pleadings. Orvis v. Johnson, 2008 UT 2, ¶ 18, 177 P.3d 600 (“[O]n summary judgment . . . , the nonmoving party . . . may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the pleadings.” (cleaned up)).

¶40 On summary judgment, Kirkham did produce a three-page declaration. However, as the trial court noted, that declaration “is merely a restatement of the allegations in the Complaint, and is not supported by personal knowledge on [Kirkham’s] part”; “there is no evidence that [Alpine or the Widdisons] or any other defendant ever filed a tax return on behalf of [Kirkham] or conspired with others to do so”; and “there is no evidence that a tax return was ever filed on behalf of [Kirkham] by anyone other than [Kirkham].” Accordingly, because no genuine issue of material fact was created below, and because Kirkham has failed to argue that summary judgment was otherwise erroneously granted, we affirm the trial court on this issue.[16]

  1. Motion to Disqualify

¶41 The trial court granted HRB’s motion to disqualify Kirkham’s attorney on the grounds of an appearance of impropriety. In State v. Johnson, 823 P.2d 484 (Utah Ct. App. 1991), this court “articulated a two-pronged test for determining on appeal whether an attorney should have been disqualified from a case because of an appearance of impropriety.” Id. at 490. “First, the court must find that there is at least a reasonable possibility that some specifically identifiable impropriety occurred because of the representation.” Id. (cleaned up). “Second, the court must balance the likelihood of public suspicion or obloquy against the social interest in allowing the defendant to continue being represented by the lawyer of his or her choice.” Id. (cleaned up).

¶42      Kirkham now argues that “[HRB] is not telling the truth.

[And] [a]t the very least [she] should have been afforded an evidentiary hearing before her attorney was disqualified.” As an initial matter, these arguments do not address whether the trial court abused its discretion in its application of the facts of this case to the two-prong test set forth in Johnson. Further, we note that Kirkham has not cited any legal authority—nor do we believe that one exists—that entitles her to an evidentiary hearing before her attorney can be disqualified. Finally, even if we were to reach the conclusion that error was committed, Kirkham has not argued that she suffered any prejudice as a result. See Utah R. Civ. P. 61 (“The court at every stage of the proceeding must disregard any error or defect in the proceeding which does not affect the substantial rights of the parties.”); Covey v. Covey, 2003 UT App 380, ¶ 21, 80 P.3d 553. In any event, we determine that the record supports the trial court’s conclusion that Kirkham’s attorney was properly disqualified under Johnson.

¶43 The record here demonstrates “a reasonable possibility” that Kirkham’s attorney committed “some specifically identifiable impropriety.” Johnson, 823 P.2d at 490 (cleaned up). Kirkham does not dispute that her attorney gained employment with HRB without disclosing that he simultaneously represented Kirkham, who intended to bring this suit. Nor does Kirkham dispute that her attorney obtained documents during his employment at HRB that he intended to use in the current litigation.[17] This conduct potentially violates at least three rules of professional conduct—all of which could be grounds for disqualification. See Utah R. Prof’l Conduct 4.4(a) (“In representing a client, a lawyer shall not use . . . methods of obtaining evidence that violate the legal rights of [third parties].”); see also id. R. 8.4(c)–(d) (“It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to . . . engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation [or to] engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.”). Further, in light of the fact that Kirkham does not dispute that this conduct occurred, we are hard-pressed to see how there is not at least a reasonable possibility of impropriety. Thus, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Kirkham’s attorney’s conduct satisfied the first prong of Johnson.

¶44      The record also demonstrates that the trial court properly analyzed the second prong of Johnson—whether “the likelihood of public suspicion or obloquy” outweighed “the social interest in allowing the defendant to continue being represented by the lawyer of his or her choice.” 823 P.2d at 490 (cleaned up). After considering the parties’ submissions, the trial court concluded that the “likelihood of public suspicion or obloquy outweighs the social interest in allowing [Kirkham’s attorney] to continue to represent [her].” And because Kirkham “has filed this action as a Tier 3 action and seeks extensive punitive damages,” “it is likely that [she] will be able to obtain substitute counsel.” Therefore, “the ongoing harm to public confidence and to [HRB] in allowing [Kirkham’s attorney] to continue to represent [Kirkham] outweighs the minimal harm to [Kirkham] in having to obtain substitute counsel.”

¶45 Kirkham makes no attempt to show that these findings are clearly erroneous. Counsel’s obtaining employment at a target defendant’s business would generally be perceived as underhanded by the public. Moreover, Kirkham does not even claim that she unsuccessfully tried to retain alternative counsel. Accordingly, the trial court’s analysis was sound, and it was not an abuse of discretion to disqualify Kirkham’s attorney.

  1. Protective Order

¶46 Kirkham next argues that the trial court erroneously granted a protective order governing discovery. Generally, a “trial court has numerous tools it must employ to prevent unwarranted disclosure of the confidential information, including the use of sealing and protective orders.” Spratley v. State Farm Mutual Auto. Ins. Co., 2003 UT 39, ¶ 22, 78 P.3d 603 (cleaned up). “The liberal use of these tools, and others inherent in a trial court’s authority to govern the conduct of proceedings, is a prudent and sufficient safeguard against overbroad disclosure.” Id.

¶47 Here, HRB moved the trial court to enter a protective order governing discovery. Kirkham objected, but rather than offering any alternative language to the proposed protective order, she requested that the court not enter the order at all. The trial court rejected Kirkham’s objection, finding that “the order has procedure in it for designating documents as well as objecting to designations.” The court confirmed the existence of these provisions on the record by asking HRB whether the “order [had a] procedure in it for designating documents as well as objecting to designations.” HRB replied, “Yes.”

¶48 Kirkham now contends that the trial court erred because the protective order precluded her from obtaining discovery. She fails, however, to provide a single citation to the record that would support her argument. Indeed, her arguments on appeal show only that HRB objected to some of Kirkham’s requests for production on the grounds of relevance and privilege. For example, she argues that “requests [that] HRB produce from its records the tax returns and amended tax returns of [the Widdisons]” was objected to on the grounds of relevancy and privilege. Whether this objection was well-taken has nothing to do with whether a protective order should have been entered. Kirkham does not explain how the protective order impeded her ability to conduct discovery. Nor has Kirkham provided any meaningful argument that the trial court abused its discretion by entering what we view as a standard, garden-variety protective order. We conclude that the trial court acted well within its discretion. Moreover, Kirkham does not identify any prejudice associated with the entry of the protective order. Accordingly, Kirkham has provided no basis for reversal.

  1. Attorney Fees

¶49 Finally, Kirkham contends that the trial court erred in granting HRB’s motion for attorney fees under Utah’s bad faith attorney fees statute, which provides that “[i]n civil actions, the court shall award reasonable attorney fees to a prevailing party if the court determines that the action or defense to the action was without merit and not brought or asserted in good faith.” Utah Code Ann. § 78B-5-825 (LexisNexis 2018).[18] “To award fees pursuant to this section, a trial court must determine both that the losing party’s action or defense was without merit and that it was brought or asserted in bad faith.” Fadel v. Deseret First Credit Union, 2017 UT App 165, ¶ 30, 405 P.3d 807 (cleaned up).

  1. Without Merit

¶50 Kirkham argues that the trial court erred in concluding that her claims against HRB were without merit. “To determine whether a claim is without merit, we look to whether it was frivolous or of little weight or importance having no basis in law or fact.” Id. ¶ 32 (cleaned up). In other words, “the bare existence of a basis in law for a potential claim is not sufficient to make a claim meritorious. Rather, there must also be a factual basis for a party’s claims apart from a . . . theoretical basis in law.” Id. (cleaned up).

¶51 Kirkham has not shown that the trial court erred in concluding that her claims were without merit. Kirkham’s only meaningful allegation against HRB was that “[t]he amended tax returns for the years 2009, 2010 and 2011 in [Kirkham’s] name were filed by . . . HRB.” This allegation, if true, certainly could have given rise to a meritorious claim. Kirkham, however, conceded that “[HRB] didn’t file the amended returns,” and she instead argued that “Widdison did.” This concession is telling. If Kirkham knew that HRB had not filed her Amended Returns, we are left with only the allegation that HRB prepared Pro Forma Returns to assist in the underlying modification proceeding—an act that does not rise to the level of tortious or criminal conduct. Further, even after Kirkham conceded this point, she refused to drop her remaining claims against HRB. Thus, we conclude that there was no factual basis for Kirkham’s claims against HRB and therefore, those claims were frivolous as a matter of law.

  1. Bad Faith

¶52      Kirkham contends that the trial court erred in finding that she did not bring her claims in good faith. She argues that “there was no evidentiary hearing and indeed no discovery” and “[t]he amounts of fees and costs awarded clearly indicate the court has not proceeded judiciously and has sought to limit [Kirkham’s] access to the courts.” This assertion does not address the findings that were the legal basis of the trial court’s ruling.

¶53      To satisfy the bad faith element under the statute, a court “must find that the plaintiff (1) lacked an honest belief in the propriety of the activities in question; (2) intended to take unconscionable advantage of others; or (3) had intent to, or knowledge of the fact that the activities in question will hinder, delay or defraud others.” Fadel, 2017 UT App 165, ¶ 35 (cleaned up). “On appeal, a trial court’s finding of bad faith may be upheld despite a party’s claim that he or she held a subjectively reasonable or honest belief in the propriety of the claims . . . raised during the course of a case.” Id. (cleaned up). Thus, we will affirm a finding of bad faith “when there is sufficient evidence in the record to support a finding that at least one of the three factors applies.” Id. (cleaned up).

¶54      Here, we conclude that the trial court’s bad faith finding was not clearly erroneous for three reasons. First, as discussed above, Kirkham conceded that HRB did not file the Amended Returns. When Kirkham alleged that HRB did file the Amended returns, she clearly “lacked an honest belief in the propriety of the activities in question.” See id. (cleaned up). Second, Kirkham’s general allegation that she suffered damages as a result of the Amended Returns being filed is in direct contradiction to the ruling made in the modification proceeding ordering Kirkham to sign and file the Amended Returns. See Warner v. Warner, 2014 UT App 16, ¶¶ 35–37, 319 P.3d 711 (affirming a finding of bad faith when a party prepared an order that was “180 degrees different than what the court ruled” (cleaned up)). Third, Kirkham, on appeal, has declined to provide a single meaningful citation to the record[19] or otherwise provide analysis or legal authority in support of her position. Instead, Kirkham provides the conclusory statement that “[t]he amounts of fees and costs awarded clearly indicate the court has not proceeded judiciously and has sought to limit [her] access to the courts.” Again, this assertion does not directly confront the basis of the trial court’s ruling and fee award. Further, HRB supported their motion below with assertions of bad faith actions that Kirkham does not mention, let alone rebut. In failing to directly address the basis of the trial court’s ruling and additionally failing to confront the record evidence of bad faith, we conclude that Kirkham has not established a basis for overcoming the trial court’s bad faith finding—and therefore, she has failed to meet her burden of persuasion on appeal. See State v. Nielsen, 2014 UT 10, ¶ 41, 326 P.3d 645.

¶55 Next, we reject Kirkham’s argument that “[t]he amounts of fees and costs awarded clearly indicate the court has not proceeded judiciously and has sought to limit [Kirkham’s] access to the courts.” As we have discussed above, supra ¶¶ 50–54, the trial court’s award was justified under the bad faith attorney fee statute. Furthermore, this conclusory statement does not provide a basis for us to reverse by showing that the “amounts of fees and costs awarded” were unreasonable or excessive. Turtle Mgmt., Inc. v. Haggis Mgmt., Inc., 645 P.2d 667, 671 (Utah 1982) (“The amount to be awarded as attorney[] fees is generally within the sound discretion of the trial court” and will be “upheld . . . where the amount does not appear to be unreasonable.” (cleaned up)). Therefore, besides affirming the award in general, we decline to disturb the trial court’s finding of the amount of fees awarded below.

¶56 Finally, HRB seeks an award of attorney fees incurred on appeal. “Generally, when a party who received attorney fees below prevails on appeal, the party is also entitled to fees reasonably incurred on appeal.” Fadel, 2017 UT App 165, ¶ 38 (cleaned up). “This rule applies when the basis for attorney fees in the trial court is the bad faith statute.” Id. (cleaned up). HRB has successfully defended the trial court’s dismissal of Kirkham’s claims, and the trial court awarded attorney fees pursuant to Utah Code section 78B-5-825. Therefore, we grant HRB’s request for an award of attorney fees on appeal.

CONCLUSION

¶57 We conclude that all of Kirkham’s claims were properly dismissed, the trial court did not erroneously disqualify Kirkham’s attorney, the trial court properly entered a protective order, and HRB was properly awarded attorney fees. We further award HRB’s costs and attorney fees on appeal. We remand to the trial court only to determine HRB’s fees on appeal.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

[1] See generally Widdison v. Kirkham, 2018 UT App 205, 437 P.3d 555 (appealing the remand trial regarding the 2012 modification order); Kirkham v. McConkie, 2018 UT App 100, 427 P.3d 444 (appealing the dismissal of her legal malpractice claim); Widdison v. Widdison, 2014 UT App 233, 336 P.3d 1106 (appealing the trial court’s 2012 modification order).

[2] Pro forma is defined as “made or carried out in a perfunctory manner or as a formality” or “based on financial assumptions or projections: such as . . . reflecting a transaction (such as a merger) or other development as if it had been or will be in effect for a past or future period.” Pro forma, Merriam-Webster.com, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pro%20forma [htt ps://perma.cc/68K9-FQ3U].

[3] Kirkham also brought numerous claims against the attorney who represented her from 2007 to 2012 for conduct related to the modification proceeding. See McConkie, 2018 UT App 100, ¶ 2. Kirkham’s claims were dismissed on summary judgment, and this court affirmed. Id. ¶ 1.

[4] The record does not indicate that Kirkham moved to stay the modification while the appeal was pending.

[5] The court clerk was authorized to sign IRS Form 8332 on behalf of Kirkham under rule 70 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure.

[6] Kirkham again appealed, and this court affirmed. See Widdison, 2018 UT App 205, ¶ 18 (affirming the trial court, but remanding to recalculate attorney fees owed by Kirkham for the prior appeal and remand trial proceedings).

[7] Kirkham’s attorney was her father, Larry A. Kirkham.

[8] Kirkham makes no mention of the trial court’s treatment of Claim 7—as against Widdison—in her opening brief, and therefore we decline to address whether it was properly dismissed. See Allen v. Friel, 2008 UT 56, ¶ 8, 194 P.3d 903 (“Issues . . . that were not presented in the opening brief are considered waived and will not be considered by the appellate court.” (cleaned up)).

[9] Kirkham makes no mention of the trial court’s treatment of Claims 4 and 5 in her opening brief, and therefore we decline to address whether they were properly dismissed. See id.

[10] 10. Because of Alpine’s insignificant role in this case—the Widdisons used Alpine’s fax machine to send copies of the Tax Returns to HRB—the trial court disposed of all claims against it pursuant to this rule 12(c) motion by simply stating that “all Causes of Action against the Defendant Alpine Gardens, Inc., are hereby dismissed with prejudice.” And while the trial court dedicated no analysis to the disposal of claims against Alpine, Kirkham has dedicated an equal paucity of analysis in her opening brief. Therefore, we limit our review to claims against HRB and the Widdisons as the appeal of the dismissal of claims against Alpine are inadequately briefed. See Angel Inv’rs, LLC v. Garrity, 2009 UT 40, ¶ 35, 216 P.3d 944 (“We have long held that we have discretion to not address an inadequately briefed argument.”).

[11] The court also noted, and we agree, that the precise issue is not whether the Pro Forma Returns were subject to conversion but whether the underlying information used in the returns was.

[12] Kirkham conceded below that this claim was rooted in misappropriation of name or likeness.

[13] The Widdisons’ only practical benefit arose from the signing and filing of IRS Form 8332, which transferred the child exemption to them from Kirkham. IRS Form 8332, however, was properly signed by the court clerk under rule 70 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. Thus, Kirkham cannot—nor has she attempted to—demonstrate that filing the Amended Returns benefitted HRB or the Widdisons.

[14] As noted, Claims 4 and 5 were also dismissed on this motion, but Kirkham has failed to brief those claims, instead focusing only on Claim 2. See supra ¶ 12 n.9.

[15] We note, however, that in light of Kirkham’s concession that HRB did not actually file her Amended Returns, we agree with the trial court that no unlawful act was committed by HRB.

[16] Even if we were inclined to take Kirkham’s argument at face value—that we must take her allegations as true—this claim still fails for the reasons we articulate in section II.

[17] Kirkham instead argues that obtaining HRB’s internal documents was not prejudicial to HRB because that information was discoverable.

[18] Because the statutory provision in effect at the relevant time does not differ in any material way from the provision now in effect, we cite the current version of the Utah Code.

[19] Kirkham cites the record only to indicate that a full motion cycle and ruling on attorney fees was made below.

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