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Deiter v. Coons

Supreme Court of Idaho

May 1, 2017

MELINDA DEITER and JOSEPH DEITER, individually, and as parents and natural guardians of MELINDA ROBERTS and GIDEON DEITER, minors, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
DONALD COONS, SHARON COONS, and PENNY COONS dba DON'S MEATS, and PATTY A. ANDERSON, Defendants-Respondents, and JANAK, INC., and DONALD JANAK, Defendants.

         2017 Opinion No. 41

         Appeal from the District Court of the Third Judicial District of the State of Idaho, in and for Gem County. Hon. Juneal C. Kerrick, District Judge.

         The judgment of the district court is affirmed.

          Elliot L. Olsen, Pritzker Olsen, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, argued for appellants.

          Stanley J. Tharp, Eberle, Berlin, Kading, Turnbow & McKlveen, Chtd., Boise, argued for respondents Donald Coons, Sharon Coons, and Penny Coons.

          Steven R. Kraft, Moore & Elia, LLP, Boise, argued for respondent Patty Anderson.

          EISMANN, Justice.

         This is an appeal out of Gem County from a judgment dismissing claims against the person who sold a steer for slaughter that was later contaminated with E. coli bacteria by the slaughterer and against the persons to whom the slaughterer delivered the carcass for processing into packages of meat. We affirm the judgment of the district court.

         I.

         Factual Background.

         Patty Anderson agreed to sell a 4-H steer for her eighteen-year-old granddaughter Danielle Bryant, who had purchased and raised the steer. Ms. Anderson placed an ad on Craigslist, and Joseph Deiter responded to the ad, but he only wanted to purchase one-half of the steer. He and Ms. Anderson communicated regarding various issues, and she ultimately prepared a handwritten contract ("Deiter Contract"), which they both signed. The contract provided:

This is a contract iniated [sic] on Aug. 14, 2010 between Patty A. Anderson and Joseph and Melinda Deiter . . . Meridian, ID.
A deposit of $100.00 (check # 1178) has been received by Patty A. Anderson for 1/2 of a beef in (carcass weight). Once the beef has been killed and delivered to Don's Meat in Emmett, ID, the carcass weight will be known and Sharon Coons (owner of Don's Meat) will tell us what that weight is. At that time Joseph and Melinda Deiter will pay me (Patty Anderson) the amount of $2.25 lb for 1/2 the beef. When the meat has been cut wrapped by Don's Meat Joseph and Melinda Deiter will pay Sharon Coons 45¢ lb for that service and will pick up their half of the beef.

         Once Mr. Deiter had paid the $100.00 deposit and returned the signed contract, Ms. Anderson then had to find someone who was willing to purchase the other half of the steer before it was slaughtered. She placed another ad on Craigslist seeking a purchaser for the other half of the steer. A Mrs. Kirk responded to that ad, paid a $100.00 deposit, and signed a handwritten contract dated August 17, 2010, that had been prepared by Ms. Anderson.

         Ms. Anderson contacted Donald Janak, who along with his wife own Janak, Inc., a mobile slaughtering business. He was asked to slaughter the steer on behalf of Mr. Deiter and Mrs. Kirk and to deliver the carcass to Don's Meats, which was a custom meat processing business that was owned and operated by Donald and Sharon Coons and their daughter Penny Coons. Mr. Janak and an employee of Janak, Inc., went to Ms. Anderson's property, where Ms. Anderson's ex-husband delivered possession of the steer to Mr. Janak. Mr. Janak and the employee slaughtered and skinned the steer, cut the carcass in half down the middle, and delivered the two halves of the carcass to Don's Meats, where the meat was processed. Mr. Deiter's half of the carcass was processed first, and then Mrs. Kirk's half of the carcass was processed. Ms. Anderson paid Mr. Janak's fee. Mr. Deiter and Mrs. Kirk informed Don's Meats how they each wanted their respective halves of the carcass butchered and wrapped, and they each picked up their respective quantities of cut-and-wrapped meat from Don's Meats. Each package of meat was marked "Not for Sale." After eating the meat, the members of the Deiter family became ill due to becoming infected with E. coli bacteria.

         On January 9, 2012, the Deiters filed this action against Ms. Anderson, Mr. Janak and his corporation, and the Coonses. Ms. Anderson filed a motion for summary judgment as to the claims against her, and, after briefing and argument, the district court granted her motion. The Deiters filed a motion for reconsideration, but the court denied their motion. The Coonses moved for summary judgment as to the claims against them and, after briefing and argument, the district court granted their motion. The Deiters settled with Mr. Janak and Janak, Inc., and they appealed the judgment in favor of Ms. Anderson and the Coonses. After oral argument, this Court requested that the parties submit additional briefing on the issue of when title to the steer passed under the Uniform Commercial Code, and the parties did so.

         II.

         Did the District Court Err in Granting Summary Judgment to Ms. Anderson?

         In their complaint, the Deiters alleged various theories of liability against Ms. Anderson, but the only theory they argue on appeal is that she was negligent per se for violating the Federal Meat Inspection Act, specifically 21 U.S.C. § 610(c). They argued to the district court that she violated the act because she sold adulterated meat; the steer was slaughtered under insanitary conditions; and she did not sell, slaughter, or prepare the steer for her own use. On appeal, the Deiters argue additional alleged violations of the Act that they contend would be a basis for a finding of negligence per se. Because those additional theories were not argued in the district court, we will not consider them on appeal. "An appellant is bound by the issues and theories upon which the case was tried below. Although a judgment may be sustained upon any legal theory, a new theory cannot be employed on appeal to attack the judgment." Clements Farms, Inc. v. Ben Fish & Son, 120 Idaho 185, 207, 814 P.2d 917, 939 (1991).

         The Deiters argued to the district court that Mr. Anderson was negligent per se for violating section 610(c) of the Act, which provides:

No person, firm, or corporation shall, with respect to any cattle, sheep, swine, goats, horses, mules, or other equines, or any carcasses, parts of carcasses, meat or meat food products of any such animals-
(c) Sales, transportation, and other transactions sell, transport, offer for sale or transportation, or receive for transportation, in commerce, (1) any such articles which (A) are capable of use as human food and (B) are adulterated or misbranded at the time of such sale, transportation, offer for sale or transportation, or receipt for transportation; or (2) any articles required to be inspected under this subchapter unless they have been so inspected and passed . . .

         In order to violate this provision, Ms. Anderson would have had to "sell, transport, offer for sale or transportation, or receive for transportation, [the described articles] in commerce." When initially enacted, the Act did not apply to intrastate transactions. The word "commerce" was defined to mean only interstate transactions. 21 U.S.C. § 601(h). The Act was later amended to permit the Secretary of Agriculture to designate a State as one in which the Act applies to operations and transactions wholly within the State if it has failed to develop or is not enforcing requirements equal to those imposed by the Act. 21 U.S.C. § 661(4)(c)(1). The Secretary designated Idaho as subject to the Act in 1981. Designation of the State of Idaho under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, 46 Fed. Reg. 28837-01 (May 29, 1981). Years later, the Idaho Legislature repealed Idaho's meat inspection laws. Ch. 94, § 1, 2006 Idaho Sess. Laws, 267, 267. Therefore, the district court erred in holding that the Act only applied to interstate transactions. "When the trial court reaches the correct result by an erroneous theory, we will affirm the result on the correct theory." Stapleton v. Jack Cushman Drilling & Pump Co. Inc., 153 Idaho 735, 740, 291 P.3d 418, 423 (2012).

         Ms. Anderson was acting as an agent for her granddaughter throughout these transactions. There is a factual dispute as to whether Mr. Deiter was so informed, but that dispute is immaterial. Being an agent of an undisclosed principal would make her liable on the contract, Agrisource, Inc. v. Johnson, 156 Idaho 903, 908, 332 P.3d 815, 820 (2014), but in this case it does not change the analysis with respect to liability.

         Ms. Anderson was not liable because under the Idaho Uniform Commercial Code, title to the steer passed to Mr. Deiter and Mrs. Kirk when possession was transferred to Mr. Janak. The Deiters contend that they did not purchase the steer; they only purchased the meat that was to be derived from the steer. They argue that the contract uses the word "beef," which means the meat from the steer, not the steer itself. The word "beef" can mean "the flesh of a cow, steer, or bull raised and killed for its meat" or "an adult cow, steer, or bull raised for its meat." Random House, Inc. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/beef (accessed: March 28, 2017). The Deiter Contract unambiguously used the word "beef" to mean an adult steer raised for meat.

         The contract stated that Mr. Deiter purchased "1/2 of a beef in (carcass weight)." It was one-half of "a beef" that he contracted to purchase. (Emphasis added.) The use of the singular "a" indicates that he purchased one-half of an object. The contract then states, "Once the beef has been killed and delivered to Don's Meat in Emmett, ID, the carcass weight will be known . . . ." Only something living could be killed. The steer was living, the meat later derived from the carcass was not living and could not be killed. The words "the beef" could only refer to the "beef" in the preceding sentence, which is the one-half of a beef that Mr. Deiter contracted to purchase. Selling a live steer that is to be butchered and sold by carcass weight does not indicate that it is only the resulting processed meat that is being sold. Therefore, the contract unambiguously states that Mr. Deiter purchased one-half of the steer that was to be killed and that the purchase price was to be determined based upon the carcass weight of the steer after it was slaughtered and delivered to Don's Meats.

         Idaho Code section 28-2-401(2) provides, insofar as is relevant, "Unless otherwise explicitly agreed title passes to the buyer at the time and place at which the seller completes his performance with reference to the physical delivery of the goods . . . ." There was no explicit agreement that title to the steer would pass at any time other than when Ms. Anderson completed her performance with reference to the physical delivery of the steer. Therefore, title passed when she completed that performance.

         Idaho Code section 28-2-308(a) states that unless otherwise agreed "the place for delivery of goods is the seller's place of business or if he has none his residence." It is undisputed that Mr. Janak went to Ms. Anderson's residence where the steer was being held to take possession of the steer so he could slaughter it. Upon taking possession of the steer, Mr. Janak and the employee slaughtered it and then delivered the steer carcass to Don's Meats.

         Under the Deiter Contract, it is clear that the carcass was to be delivered to Don's Meats. The contract states, "Once the beef has been killed and delivered to Don's Meat in Emmett, ID, the carcass weight will be known and Sharon Coons (owner of Don's Meat) will tell us what that weight is." Ms. Anderson instructed Mr. Janak that after he had slaughtered the steer, he was to deliver the steer carcass to Don's Meats. Mr. Deiter and Mrs. Kirk became owners of the steer when Mr. Janak took possession of it. At that point Ms. Anderson had "complete[d] h[er] performance with reference to the physical delivery of the goods." I.C. § 28-2-401(2).

         "Under the Uniform Commercial Code, there are two types of sales contracts when a carrier is used to transport the goods sold: (1) 'shipment' contracts; and (2) 'destination' contracts." 67 Am. Jur. 2d Sales § 479 (2014) (footnotes omitted). Idaho Code section 28-2-401 sets forth when title passes under shipment and destination contracts. It states:

(a)if the contract requires or authorizes the seller to send the goods to the buyer but does not require him to deliver them at destination, title passes to the buyer at ...

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