Sunday, March 19, 2017

Haik v. Salt Lake City Corporation

The Utah Supreme Court recently issued its opinion in the case of Haik v. Salt Lake City Corporation. The case started nearly 20 years ago when Mark Haik filed a lawsuit in federal court against Salt Lake City. Mr. Haik asserted that Salt Lake City was required to supply water to his undeveloped property in the Albion Basin Subdivision. Mr. Haik's complaint against Salt Lake City included claims for unlawful taking and violation of equal protection. The federal court ruled against Mr. Haik, and concluded that Salt Lake City had no duty to provide water to Mr. Haik's property.

In 2012, Mr. Haik filed a second lawsuit in federal court against Salt Lake City, again seeking for the court to order Salt Lake City to provide water to his property. This lawsuit alleged different legal claims (including claims of civil conspiracy and fraud on the court), but was based on the same underlying facts as the first lawsuit. The federal court again ruled against Mr. Haik and determined that he had no claim against the City.

In 2014, Salt Lake City filed a lawsuit in state district court seeking an administrative review of State Engineer orders approving change applications related to the Albion Basin area. As part of the lawsuit, Salt Lake City also brought claims to adjudicate and quiet title to water rights in Little Cottonwood Creek, including water claimed by Mr. Haik. In response, Mr. Haik brought counterclaims against Salt Lake City that were nearly identical to the claims brought in his 2012 federal lawsuit. The district court dismissed Mr. Haik's counterclaims on the grounds that they were barred by res judicata, which is a legal principle that prohibits a party from bringing the same claims multiple times. The district court's decision was appealed to the Utah Supreme Court.

The Utah Supreme Court reviewed the principles of res judicata to determine if the district court had correctly dismissed Mr. Haik's counterclaims against Salt Lake City. The Supreme Court noted that this was not the second time, but the third time, that Mr. Haik had brought his claims against Salt Lake City. The Supreme Court noted that although some of Mr. Haik's counterclaims differed slightly from the claims he asserted in federal court, they were claims that could have been--and should have been--asserted in his federal court actions, and were therefore barred under res judicata. Mr. Haik asserted that his claims were not barred because he was bringing them as counterclaims in the state court action, rather than as direct claims as he did in his federal court actions, and that his counterclaims were necessary to mount a proper defense. The Supreme Court did not find his distinction to be persuasive (although the Supreme Court did note that a future decision may be necessary to determine if Mr. Haik will be prohibited from raising certain defenses in the state court action due to his prior federal court actions).

In the end, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court's dismissal of Mr. Haik's counterclaims. The Supreme Court summarized its decision as follows: "'What has been will be again, and what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.' Ecclesiastes 1:9. Certainly not Mr. Haik's lawsuit."

To read the full opinion, click here.

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