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Tooele city ordered to pay developer more than $20 million

Published October 10, 2013 6:02 pm

Courts • Utah Court of Appeals and trial judge uphold jury's damage award.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A Utah judge has re-affirmed a jury's verdict ordering the city of Tooele to pay a $20.7 million judgment to a development group that says the city has tried to stymie progression of its subdivision.

In 2009, a jury awarded the amount to Tooele Associates for money lost on its Overlake subdivision. But the trial judge soon set aside the verdict, ruling that the jury's findings were "irreconcilably inconsistent," and that the jury contradicted itself on key elements in its findings, in particular that both parties had breached the development agreement.

However, last August, the Utah Court of Appeals disagreed, saying the jury's verdict was consistent, and reversed the trial judge's decision.

Since then, Tooele city has filed several motions asking 3rd District Judge Randall Skanchy for another trial, arguing that attorneys for Tooele Associates failed to provide sufficient evidence regarding the amount of damages, and that the legal theory used at trial wasn't appropriate. Skanchy shot down the motion Wednesday, saying the developer did present adequate evidence at trial.

"It is unknown exactly how the jury came to its final calculation of damages, but the award was within the range presented and is reasonable," Skanchy wrote in his ruling.

Skanchy also denied two other similar motions, and ordered Tooele Associates to file a new proposed judgment amount, which attorney Bruce Baird said they are planning to file Thursday.

"We are extremely happy that this long nightmare may at last be over, and that Tooele Associates can get what they've always been entitled to," Baird said Thursday. "They always say you can't fight city hall. Well, we did and we won."

The city and developer entered into an agreement in 1997, allowing for a mixed-use development that would include some 7,500 homes. As part of the deal, Tooele Associates gave the city 30 of its 2,800 acres in exchange for the city providing culinary water.

Attorney Bruce Baird said the city failed to follow through on its end of that agreement. And in 2002, claiming the city was delaying the development in a move to slow residential growth, Tooele Associates filed suit.

At trial, a jury found that the city had cost — and would continue to cost— the developer money. Tooele Associates was awarded about $22.5 million, though that sum was offset by the jury's finding that the developer had cost the city roughly $1.8 million in damages.

The Tooele City attorney did not return a call for comment on Thursday, and it is unclear whether the city will file another appeal in the case. Baird said he hopes the case will be coming to a close.

"I hope that the city chooses not to waste any more taxpayers' money fighting a battle that has been lost for a very long time, and listens to the judge, Court of Appeals, and ultimately, the jury," he said.

jmiller@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jm_miller