SILVER CREEK SEED, LLC, an Idaho limited liability company, Plaintiff-Counterdefendant-Respondent,
SUNRAIN VARIETIES, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company, Defendant-Counterclaimant-Appellant.
Opinion No. 140
from the District Court of the Fifth Judicial District of the
State of Idaho, Blaine County. Hon. Robert J. Elgee, District
judgment of the district court is affirmed.
St. Clair Gaffney PA, Idaho Falls, for appellant. John M.
Brothers Law Office, PLLC, Twin Falls, for respondent. Andrew
B. Wright argued.
JONES, Chief Justice
a contract dispute between Silver Creek Seed, LLC
("Silver Creek") and Sunrain Varieties, LLC
("Sunrain"), arising from the development of
Bacterial Ring Rot ("BRR") in two of the potato
varieties grown by Silver Creek for Sunrain. After a four-day
trial, the jury returned a verdict awarding damages to Silver
Creek. Sunrain timely appealed: (1) the district court's
denial of a motion to reconsider an order granting partial
summary judgment to Silver Creek; (2) the exclusion of the
back side of the Idaho Crop Improvement Association
("ICIA") blue tag from evidence; (3) the admission
of testimony relating to the source of the BRR; (4) alleged
errors in jury instructions; (5) the award of prejudgment
interest to Silver Creek and (6) the award of attorney fees
and costs to Silver Creek. Both parties seek attorney fees on
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
2012, Mark Johnson, on behalf of Silver Creek, entered into a
contract with Sunrain to grow seed potatoes of several
proprietary varieties for Sunrain. The contract was for the
seed year 2012/2013, with the seed to be resold to Sunrain
following the growing season. Previous iterations (referred
to as "generations") of one of the varieties, the
84180s, had been grown in Washington State on Ebe Farms in
2010 and in Nevada in 2011. Ebe farms tested positive for BRR
the Sunrain seed grown by Silver Creek in 2012, including the
84180s, was stored by Silver Creek at Sunrain's request
over the winter of 2011. The remainder of the Sunrain seed
was delivered to Silver Creek prior to planting in 2012.
Silver Creek cut and planted the Sunrain seed during the 2012
crop season. The resulting harvest was placed in storage by
Silver Creek. In December 2012 and March 2013, Sunrain
arranged for portions of the harvest to be picked up from
Silver Creek and delivered to Sunrain customers. These
shipments met Idaho's certification requirements for seed
potatoes. The March 2013 shipment consisted of the 84180
variety, which was sold by Sunrain to a third-party farmer.
Thereafter, additional testing was conducted in contemplation
of exporting a portion of the potatoes to Canada. These tests
revealed the presence of BRR in the remaining 84180 and Rumba
varieties. Silver Creek then conducted extensive testing on
the other Sunrain potato varieties, all of which tested
negative for BRR.
parties met to discuss the test results and possible options.
Ultimately, it was decided to sell the infected potatoes as
cattle feed. The infected potatoes were collected from Silver
Creek and shipped accordingly. Sunrain did not divide
proceeds from either the March 2013 shipment or the cattle
feed shipment with Silver Creek. Sunrain also failed to pay
Silver Creek for the remaining Sunrain varieties grown by
Silver Creek that tested negative for BRR.
thereafter, communication between the parties broke down and
Silver Creek filed suit, alleging that Sunrain had breached
the contract and the implied warranties relating to the seed
potatoes. Sunrain counterclaimed, alleging that Silver Creek
had breached the contract by failing to pay for the seed
potatoes received from Sunrain.
to trial, the district court granted Silver Creek's
motion for partial summary judgment. In its order, the court
held that Sunrain had accepted and was obligated to pay
Silver Creek for the 84180s that had been shipped prior to
the positive BRR test, and that Sunrain should have accepted
and paid Silver Creek for the other varieties that tested
negative for BRR.
case then proceeded to trial. Before the case was submitted
to the jury, Sunrain moved for directed verdict on Count II
of its counterclaim, which concerned payment for a portion of
the seed potatoes delivered by Sunrain to Silver Creek.
Silver Creek did not dispute the amount owed, so the Court
granted the motion and damages associated with the
counterclaim were not presented to the jury. These damages
were later offset by the jury award to Silver Creek.
jury returned a verdict in favor of Silver Creek awarding
$678, 828.60 in damages relating to the 84180 potatoes
delivered prior to the discovery of BRR and the varieties
that tested negative for BRR. The jury also awarded Silver
Creek $81, 910.50 in damages relating to the Rumba and
undelivered 84180 potatoes.
the verdict, Silver Creek moved for prejudgment interest on
the damages awarded to it by the jury. The court granted the
motion and judgment was entered in favor of Silver Creek on
March 13, 2015. Sunrain timely appealed.
ISSUES PRESENTED ON APPEAL
Whether the district court erred by denying Sunrain's
Motion to Reconsider.
Whether the district court erred by excluding evidence of the
ICIA's blue certification tags.
Whether the district court erred by admitting testimony
related to the presence of BRR on Ebe Farms.
Whether the district court erred in instructing the jury,
specifically with regard to instructions 7-9, 12, and 19 and
failing to instruct the jury on contract modification.
Whether the district court erred in awarding Silver Creek
Whether the district court erred in awarding Silver Creek
Whether any party is entitled to attorney fees on appeal.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
district court's decision to grant or deny a motion for
reconsideration is reviewed by this Court using the same
standard of review used by the lower court in deciding the
motion for reconsideration. Fragnella v. Petrovich,
153 Idaho 266, 276, 281 P.3d 103, 113 (2012). In this case,
the motion was to reconsider the grant of partial summary
judgment to Silver Creek. A district court must grant a
motion for summary judgment if "the pleadings,
depositions, and admissions on file, together with the
affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to
any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law." Frazier v. J.R.
Simplot Co., 136 Idaho 100, 102, 29 P.3d 936, 938
(2001). In making the determination, all facts are construed
in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.
Parks v. Safeco Ins. Co. of Illinois, 160 Idaho 556,
561, 376 P.3d 760, 765 (2016).
district court's evidentiary rulings will not be
disturbed by this Court unless there has been a clear abuse
of discretion." Navo v. Bingham Mem'l
Hosp., 160 Idaho 363, 370-71, 373 P.3d 681, 688-89
(2016) (quoting Mattox v. Life Care Ctrs. of America,
Inc., 157 Idaho 468, 473, 337 P.3d 627, 632 (2014)). The
abuse of discretion standard requires a three-part inquiry:
"(1) whether the lower court rightly perceived the issue
as one of discretion; (2) whether the court acted within the
boundaries of such discretion and consistent with any legal
standards applicable to specific choices; and (3) whether the
court reached its decision by an exercise of reason."
Court exercises free review over the propriety of jury
instructions. Mackay v. Four Rivers Packing Co., 151
Idaho 388, 391, 257 P.3d 755, 758 (2011). "[T]he
standard of review of whether a jury instruction should or
should not have been given, is whether there is evidence at
trial to support the instruction . . . and whether the
instruction is a correct statement of the law."
Clark v. Klein, 137 Idaho 154, 156, 45 P.3d 810, 812
(2002) (internal citations and quotations omitted).
award of prejudgment interest by a trial court is reviewed
for abuse of discretion. Dillon v. Montgomery, 138
Idaho 614, 617, 67 P.3d 93, 96 (2003). Similarly, the
determination of a prevailing party for purposes of an award
of attorney fees is reviewable using an abuse of discretion