Drake v. Industrial Commission

In Drake v. Industrial Commission, 939 P.2d 177 (Utah 1997), the Court were asked whether the court of appeals appropriately reviewed for legal correctness the issue of whether the petitioner was injured in the scope of her employment. Id. at 180. The Labor Commission, along with the employee's insurer, argued that scope of employment determinations were factual and consequently subject to a substantial evidence standard of review. Id. at 181 & n.7. The Court rejected this argument, holding that whether facts fall under the "legal rule termed 'special errands,' . . . requires some legal analysis." Id. Prior precedent and persuasive authority had established a legal, albeit highly fact dependent, rule for determining when a "special errand" fell within an employee's scope of employment. Id. at 183. Given the fact-dependent nature of the inquiry, however, the Court found that we could not "spell out in detail a legal rule that will adequately anticipate the facts that should be outcome determinative" for the policy behind the legal rule to be served. Id. at 182. Consequently, we determined that whether a "special errand" is within an employee's scope of employment is a mixed question of law and fact requiring some deference. Id. The Court further explained that when considering "'whether a given set of facts comes within the reach of a given rule of law,'" id. at 181, deference to the lower court is created when a legal standard is defined "'so that it actually grants some operational discretion to the trial courts applying it,'" id.