Articles Posted in New Mexico Supreme Court

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In a wrongful death action, the jury returned a special verdict that awarded damages to the individual loss-of-consortium claimants but not to the decedent’s estate. The decedent’s surviving spouse and children (collectively Plaintiffs) filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that the award of zero damages to the estate was not supported by substantial evidence. The issue before the New Mexico Supreme Court was whether Plaintiffs waived the right to challenge the jury verdict on appeal by failing to object to the verdict prior to the jury’s discharge. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that they did: “A party is deemed to have waived a challenge to an ambiguous, inconsistent, or incomplete jury verdict if the party had an opportunity to raise the objection before the jury was discharged but failed to do so.” In this case, Plaintiffs created ambiguity in the verdict by modifying the uniform jury instruction on wrongful death damages and drafting the special verdict form in a way that failed to advise jurors how to allocate damages between the individual loss-of-consortium claimants and the decedent’s estate. During its deliberations, the jury submitted a question to the district court which confirmed that the jury was confused about how to allocate damages on the special verdict form. As a result of this confusion, it was unclear whether the jury deliberately intended to award zero wrongful death damages to the estate or whether the jury mistakenly included wrongful death damages in its award to the individual claimants. View "Saenz v. Ranack Constructors, Inc." on Justia Law

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New Energy Economy, Inc. (NEE) appealed a final order issued by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC). NEE contended the PRC violated New Mexico law by approving a contested stipulation granting the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) certificates of public convenience and necessity (CCNs) to acquire new generation resources and by filing a notice proposing to dismiss the protests to PNM’s 2014 integrated resource plan (IRP). The New Mexico Supreme Court determined NEE’s arguments were predicated on a mistaken understanding of the law, and NEE asked the Court to accept factual assertions that were rejected in earlier proceedings. The Court affirmed the PRC’s final order. View "New Energy Econ. v. N.M. Pub. Regulation Comm'n" on Justia Law

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Early in the proceedings in New Mexico ex rel. King v. Valley Meat Co., LLC, No. D-101- 3 CV-2013-3197 (Valley Meat case), A. Blair Dunn, counsel for Valley Meat Co., e-mailed an Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) request to First Judicial District Court Executive Officer Stephen Pacheco for production of, among other things, communications and records relating to the Valley Meat case, including “all communications between . . . Judge Matthew Wilson and his staff . . . and Court Clerk’s staff” and “[a]ny communications received by Judge Matthew Wilson and his staff, Judge Raymond Ortiz and his staff, and any member of the Court Clerk’s staff to/from any outside person or organization.” In this superintending control proceeding, the New Mexico Supreme Court clarified the constitutional and statutory procedures for IPRA enforcement actions to compel production of court records, and held that IPRA actions directed at a district court’s records had to be filed against the lawfully designated IPRA custodian and must be filed in the judicial district that maintains the records. Furthermore, the Court held that the contents of an officeholder’s personal election campaign, social media website, and the internal decision-making communications that are at the core of the constitutional duties of the judicial branch, such as preliminary drafts of judicial decisions, are not public records that are subject to mandatory disclosure and inspection under IPRA. View "Pacheco v. Hudson" on Justia Law

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Paul Fairchild Jr. asked the district court to grant summary judgment on his cross-claims against Defendants Richard Love and R.H. Love Galleries, Inc. (collectively Love) on the ground that Love failed to timely file a response to Fairchild’s motion for summary judgment and was therefore “in default.” Jerald Freeman, The Tea Leaf, Inc., and Thomas Nygard, Inc. (collectively Plaintiffs) jointly owned a painting by Albert Bierstadt they purchased for $180,000. In October 2002, three transactions involving the Bierstadt painting occurred in quick succession: (1) Freeman agreed on behalf of Plaintiffs to sell the painting to Paul Benisek for $240,000, to be paid in twelve monthly installments; (2) Benisek agreed to sell the painting to Love for $300,000, also to be paid in twelve monthly installments; and (3) Love sold the painting to Fairchild for $375,000, which Fairchild paid in full with a combination of cash and the trade-in of three other pieces of artwork. In accordance with their respective agreements, Love made several payments to Benisek, and Benisek made several payments to Freeman. But in spring 2003, Love experienced financial trouble and stopped making payments to Benisek, who in turn stopped making payments to Freeman. Meanwhile, Fairchild consigned the Bierstadt painting for sale at a gallery in New York City. Freeman, who had not received full payment from Benisek, became aware that the New York gallery was attempting to sell the Bierstadt painting and asked the gallery to ship the painting to Santa Fe for inspection. Freeman obtained possession of the Bierstadt painting and refused to return it to the gallery. Love, whose counsel had withdrawn while his motion was pending, explained that he lacked legal representation and had been experiencing health problems, and he requested an opportunity to submit a late response. The district court did not allow Love additional time to respond and granted Fairchild’s motion for summary judgment without considering whether Fairchild had established a prima facie case for summary judgment under Rule 1-056 NMRA. After review, the New Mexico Supreme Court held the district court erred by granting summary judgment: “Prior to granting an uncontested motion for summary judgment, the district court must assess whether the moving party has demonstrated that no genuine issue of material fact exists ‘and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.’” The Court of Appeals erred in its application of the right-for-any-reason doctrine to affirm the district court. The Supreme Court reversed the summary judgment order and vacated the resulting award of damages, and the case was remanded to the district court with instructions to permit Love to file a response to Fairchild’s motion for summary judgment and for further proceedings. View "Freeman v. Fairchild" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Natalie Garcia (née Watkins), sued her former employer, Defendant Hatch Valley Public Schools (HVPS), for employment discrimination under the New Mexico Human Rights Act (NMHRA). Plaintiff alleged that HVPS terminated her employment as a school bus driver based on her national origin, which she described as “German” and “NOT Hispanic.” HVPS successfully moved for summary judgment in the district court, and the Court of Appeals reversed, focusing on Plaintiff’s “primary contention” that HVPS had discriminated against her and terminated her employment because she was not Hispanic. The New Mexico Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, holding that summary judgment in HVPS' favor was appropriate because Plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination and failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact about whether HVPS’ asserted reason for terminating her employment was pretextual. In so holding, the Court also concluded: (1) the Court of Appeals properly focused on Plaintiff’s contention that she was not Hispanic in analyzing her discrimination claim; (2) Plaintiff could claim discrimination under the NMHRA as a non-Hispanic; and (3) the plain language of the NMHRA did not place a heightened evidentiary burden on a plaintiff in a "reverse" discrimination case. View "Garcia v. Hatch Valley Pub. Schs." on Justia Law

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This case arose out of a dispute between insureds, Nancy Vigil and her stepson Martin Vigil, and their insurance company, Progressive Casualty Insurance Company, as to whether the Vigils’ policy was in effect at the time of a November 4, 2002, car accident. The parties’ dispute has been the subject of two jury trials and two appeals to the Court of Appeals. The New Mexico Supreme Court limited its review to the propriety of two evidentiary rulings that the district court made prior to the second trial. The Court of Appeals held that the district court erred by excluding evidence at the second trial of: (1) a previous judge’s summary judgment ruling that the Vigils lacked coverage on the date of the accident, a ruling that had been reversed in “Progressive I;” and (2) Progressive’s payment of $200,000 under the Vigils’ policy to settle third-party claims while this litigation was pending. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and held the district court acted within its discretion to exclude the evidence under Rule 11-403 19 NMRA, which permitted the district court to “exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.” The case was remanded back to the Court of Appeals to address the remaining issues that Progressive raised on appeal. View "Progressive Cas. Co. v. Vigil" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of a dispute between insureds, Nancy Vigil and her stepson Martin Vigil, and their insurance company, Progressive Casualty Insurance Company, as to whether the Vigils’ policy was in effect at the time of a November 4, 2002, car accident. The parties’ dispute has been the subject of two jury trials and two appeals to the Court of Appeals. The New Mexico Supreme Court limited its review to the propriety of two evidentiary rulings that the district court made prior to the second trial. The Court of Appeals held that the district court erred by excluding evidence at the second trial of: (1) a previous judge’s summary judgment ruling that the Vigils lacked coverage on the date of the accident, a ruling that had been reversed in “Progressive I;” and (2) Progressive’s payment of $200,000 under the Vigils’ policy to settle third-party claims while this litigation was pending. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and held the district court acted within its discretion to exclude the evidence under Rule 11-403 19 NMRA, which permitted the district court to “exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.” The case was remanded back to the Court of Appeals to address the remaining issues that Progressive raised on appeal. View "Progressive Cas. Co. v. Vigil" on Justia Law

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This case involved three people who agreed to co-parent one minor Child: Tue Thi Tran (Mother); Clinton Demmon (Demmon), Child’s biological father and Mother’s current partner; and Robert Bennett (Bennett), who was married to Mother at the time of Child’s birth. In 2007, the parties entered into a memorandum of agreement that settled the issue of legal paternity in Demmon’s favor yet provided that all three adults were Child’s “co-parents.” The district court adopted the memorandum of agreement as a stipulated order of the court. Disputes arose between the parties, and in 2012 the district court issued a parenting order that expressly awarded joint legal custody of Child to Mother, Demmon, and Bennett. The district court also held Mother and Demmon in contempt of court for violating the vacation and visitation provisions in the memorandum of agreement. On appeal, Mother and Demmon challenged the 2012 parenting order, arguing that Bennett was not Child’s father and that the district court erred by awarding custody to a non-parent. Mother and Demmon also contended that the district court abused its discretion by holding them in contempt of court. After review, the New Mexico Supreme Court concluded the parties effectively settled the issue of paternity under the Uniform Parentage Act when they entered into the memorandum of agreement and that the district court adjudicated the issue of paternity when it issued the stipulated order adopting the agreement. Therefore, the Court held Demmon was Child’s legal father. Furthermore, the parties’ memorandum of agreement did not confer parental rights on Bennett, in addition to Child’s two legal parents. Finally, the Court vacated the contempt order. View "Tran v. Bennett" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Sarah Cahn invoked the due process exception to the New Mexico Medical Malpractice Act (MMA), but did not file her late-accruing medical malpractice claim against Respondent John Berryman, M.D. within twelve months. Twenty-one months elapsed between the accrual date of Cahn’s claim against Dr. Berryman and the date she filed suit against him. Thus, her claim was barred by Section 41-5-13 of the Act. By this opinion, the New Mexico Supreme Court clarified the contours of the due process exception, and held that plaintiffs with late-accruing medical malpractice claims, i.e., claims accruing in the last twelve months of the three-year repose period, shall have twelve months from the time of accrual to commence suit. View "Cahn v. Berryman" on Justia Law

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The New Mexico Supreme Court consolidated two separate appeals of a final order of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) that granted a taxicab certificate to Q Cab, LLC for new taxicab service in Albuquerque. Two preexisting taxicab companies, Albuquerque Cab Company (Albuquerque Cab) and Yellow-Checker Cab Company (Yellow Cab) wanted the New Mexico Supreme Court to interpret the Motor Carrier Act, NMSA 1978, section 65-2A-1 to -41 (2003, as amended through 2017), because the Act had been recently amended, creating separate designations for “municipal” and “general” taxicab services, and added a definition of fitness which a candidate taxicab company must show, and the PRC must find, before an applicant may operate. The two preexisting companies sought a declaration with respect to their ability to protest new taxicab applications. The PRC determined Q Cab was fit to operate. The Supreme Court, after review, determined Albuquerque Cab and Yellow Cab were not statutorily protected from competing applicants; Albuquerque Cab and Yellow Cab both failed to demonstrate their respective businesses would be impaired; and that the PRC’s determination that Q Cab was fit to operated was supported by substantial evidence and was within the agency’s discretion. The Supreme Court affirmed the PRC’s final order. View "Albuquerque Cab Company, Inc. v. New Mexico Public Regulation Comm'n" on Justia Law