Berry v. Beech Aircraft Corp – Case Brief Summary (Utah)

In Berry v. Beech Aircraft Corp., 717 P.2d 670, 680 (Utah 1985), the Court interpreted article I, section 11 of the Utah Constitution, known commonly as the open courts clause, to restrict the Legislature's prerogative to abrogate causes of action or their remedies.

The Court held that the Legislature could alter or abolish most causes of action so long as it provided a "reasonable alternative remedy" or if the legislative action was shown to be a reasonable way to eliminate "a clear social or economic evil." Id.

The Court observed that owing to its constitutional status, the right protected by article XVI, section 5 entitles it to "a particularized application of the open courts provision," one not susceptible to legislative encroachment even under circumstances that would satisfy the conditions under which Berry would permit the elimination or limitation of other causes of action or their remedies. Id. at 683.

In order for a statute to withstand a constitutional challenge under the Open Courts Clause, Berry ex rel. Berry v. Beech Aircraft Corp., 717 P.2d 670 (Utah 1985) requires one of two conditions to be met:

First, . . . the law must otherwise provide an injured person an effective and reasonable alternative remedy "by due course of law" for vindication of his constitutional interest. The benefit provided by the substitute must be substantially equal in value or other benefit to the remedy abrogated in providing essentially comparable substantive protection to one's person, property, or reputation, although the form of the substitute remedy may be different . . . ; or

second, if there is no substitute or alternative remedy provided, abrogation of the remedy or cause of action may be justified only if there is a clear social or economic evil to be eliminated and the elimination of an existing legal remedy is not an arbitrary or unreasonable means for achieving the objective. (Berry, 717 P.2d at 680.)

In Berry ex rel. Berry v. Beech Aircraft Corp., while acknowledging the legislature's wide latitude in "defining, changing, and modernizing the law," with the result at times being the creation of new legal rules and the abrogation of old ones, id. at 676, the Court stated "the basic purpose of Article I, section 11 is to impose some limitation on that power for the benefit of those persons who are injured in their persons, property, or reputations since they are generally isolated in society, belong to no identifiable group and rarely are able to rally the political process to their aid." Id.