12 Statutory Basis for Contempt and Inherent Contempt Powers

January 10, 2019


Rosser v. Rosser Summary: A statutory contempt remedy simply does not fit the facts of this case, even if we assume that [Wife’s] version of the facts is correct. [Husband] did not commit deceit on the court, nor did he violate an order or judgment of the court. He appears to have violated the terms of the Mediation Agreement, and—although we express no opinion on the matter—he may have committed fraud or fraudulent nondisclosure upon [Wife] in the time period between the mediation and the entry of the Decree.

Rosser v. Rosser, 2019 UT App 5 (Filed January 10, 2019)

12 Statutory Basis for Contempt and Inherent Contempt Powers:  Under a mediation agreement the parties would pay the taxes due equally of about $29,000. However, then after Wife had paid her half of the taxes and before Husband had paid his half, the parties filed an amended return that show a refund of approximately $7,000. The parties then changed the final decree so that Wife would get the refunds and pay any further tax liability. However, the amended tax return was erroneous and the parties actually still owed $,7000. Wife felt deceived, Husband refused to pay the tax, and Wife sued.  Court found Husband had deceived Wife, and help him in contempt and ordered him to pay the remaining taxes and attorney fees.  Husband appealed the contempt portion.  The Court of Appeals reserved the contempt because there were no findings to support the contempt on the statutory grounds for contempt. The court stated, “¶10 Under Utah statutory law, a court has authority to hold a person in contempt of court for any one of twelve enumerated reasons. See Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-301 (LexisNexis 2012).[The text of this code section is reprinted below in full.) (The court also directed attention to its footnote 3, but stated that Wife did not invoke the inherent contempt powers in her arguments.) [Husband] contends that none of the twelve grounds apply here, and that therefore the district court was without statutory authority to hold him in contempt. We agree with [Husband] [that there was no evidence of violation of one of the 12 enumerated basis.] . . . [Court’s Footnote 3. Under Utah law, courts also have inherent (non-statutory) contempt powers. See Chen v. Stewart, 2005 UT 68, ¶ 36, 123 P.3d 416 (“A court’s authority to sanction contemptuous conduct is both statutory and inherent.”). In this case, however, [Wife] did not ask the district court to invoke its inherent powers and, in its order, the district court did not expressly invoke any such powers. On appeal, [Wife] defends the district court’s order by asserting that the court had the statutory power to issue its contempt order. Because the district court does not appear to have invoked its inherent power, and because [Wife] does not argue that it did, we do not address whether the district court would have had the power to hold [Husband] in contempt of court pursuant to its inherent (as opposed to its statutory) authority.] . . . CONCLUSION ¶21 A statutory contempt remedy simply does not fit the facts of this case, even if we assume that [Wife’s] version of the facts is correct. [Husband] did not commit deceit on the court, nor did he violate an order or judgment of the court. He appears to have violated the terms of the Mediation Agreement, and—although we express no opinion on the matter—he may have committed fraud or fraudulent nondisclosure upon [Wife] in the time period between the mediation and the entry of the Decree. But [Wife’s] remedy, if any, for [Husband’s] actions must be found somewhere other than the contempt statute. We vacate…contempt…and attorney fees…” Posser v. Rosser, 2019 UT App 5 (Filed January 10, 2019).

Click HERE for the full text of the case.

Statutory Basis for Contempt:

78B-6-301.  Acts and omissions constituting contempt.

     The following acts or omissions in respect to a court or its proceedings are contempts of the authority of the court:

(1)        disorderly, contemptuous, or insolent behavior toward the judge while holding the court, tending to interrupt the course of a trial or other judicial proceeding;

(2)        breach of the peace, boisterous conduct or violent disturbance, tending to interrupt the due course of a trial or other judicial proceeding;

(3)        misbehavior in office, or other willful neglect or violation of duty by an attorney, counsel, clerk, sheriff, or other person appointed or elected to perform a judicial or ministerial service;

(4)        deceit, or abuse of the process or proceedings of the court, by a party to an action or special proceeding;

(5)        disobedience of any lawful judgment, order or process of the court;

(6)        acting as an officer, attorney or counselor, of a court without authority;

(7)        rescuing any person or property that is in the custody of an officer by virtue of an order or process of the court;

(8)        unlawfully detaining a witness or party to an action while going to, remaining at, or returning from, the court where the action is on the calendar for trial;

(9)        any other unlawful interference with the process or proceedings of a court;

(10)      disobedience of a subpoena duly served, or refusing to be sworn or to answer as a witness;

(11)      when summoned as a juror in a court, neglecting to attend or serve, or improperly conversing with a party to an action to be tried at the court, or with any other person, concerning the merits of an action, or receiving a communication from a party or other person in respect to it, without immediately disclosing the communication to the court; and (12)      disobedience by an inferior tribunal, magistrate or officer of the lawful judgment, order or process of a superior court, or proceeding in an action or special proceeding contrary to law, after the action or special proceeding is removed from the jurisdiction of the inferior tribunal, magistrate or officer. Disobedience of the lawful orders or process of a judicial officer is also a contempt of the authority of the officer.

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