Brown v. Wightman

In Brown v. Wightman, 47 Utah 31, 34, 151 P. 366, 366-67 (Utah 1915), the Court addressed whether a plaintiff could recover from the estate of the deceased defendant who shot and killed himself after injuring the plaintiff. After holding that the death of the wrongdoer abated plaintiff's action, thereby preventing the plaintiff from recovering, id. at 33, 151 P. at 366, the court addressed the plaintiff's argument that the Open Courts Clause guaranteed her the right to maintain an action against the defendant's estate, id. at 33-34, 151 P. at 366. The court listed other state constitutions that contained similar "Open Courts" provisions, and stated: "The courts have, however, always considered and treated those provisions, not as creating new rights, but as placing a limitation upon the legislature to prevent that branch of the state government from closing the doors of the courts against any person who has a legal right which is enforceable in accordance with some known remedy. Where no right of action is given, however, or no remedy exists, under either the common law or some statute, those constitutional provisions create none." (Id. at 34, 366-67.) The Court held that the open courts provision acts as a protection against the legislature from abrogating legal rights to a remedy for injury. In Brown the plaintiff was asking the court to use section 11 as a basis for creating a new cause of action where one had not existed previously. See id. In denying the plaintiff's request, the court recognized that the open courts clause does not give the court the power to create new legal rights. Id. That seems to be an unremarkable proposition and one that in no way undermines the function, explicitly acknowledged in Brown, of section 11 in limiting the legislature's power to abrogate existing legal rights. See id.