Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Mexico Supreme Court
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A jury awarded four Plaintiffs a total of more than $165 million in damages to compensate them for a tragic accident that claimed half of a young family in a single instant, and left surviving family members physically and emotionally injured. Defendants appealed the verdict as excessive, contending it was not supported by substantial evidence and was tainted by passion or prejudice. The Court of Appeals affirmed the verdict. The New Mexico Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether the Court of Appeals erred by: (1) applying an abuse of discretion standard to review the district court’s denial of Defendants’ motion for a new trial because the ruling was made by a successor judge who did not oversee the trial; and (2) affirming the district court’s denial of Defendants’ motion for a new trial on grounds that the verdict was excessive. The Supreme Court held: (1) because it reviews claims of excessive verdicts de novo, it did not need to adopt a new standard of review for decisions of successor judges assigned under the circumstances of this case, as requested by Defendants, and the Court declined to do so; and (2) under current law, substantial evidence supported the verdict and the record did not reflect that the verdict was tainted by passion or prejudice. The Court therefore affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Morga v. FedEx Ground Package Sys., Inc." on Justia Law

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The issue presented in this appeal for the New Mexico Supreme Court's review centered on whether contested proceedings were not susceptible to summary judgment in the face of disputed issues of material fact. The Supreme Court found the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (the Commission) ignored this blackletter principle when it summarily dismissed the complaint brought by Resolute Wind 1, LLC (Resolute Wind). The Commission’s summary dismissal violated the procedural due process rights of Resolute Wind and was at a minimum arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion. The Commission also erred in relying on a federal agency’s determination in an earlier, unrelated matter to dismiss the complaint. "The Commission’s procedural and substantive missteps, whether considered separately or together, require us to annul and vacate the final order appealed from and remand the matter to the Commission for further proceedings so as to afford all parties an opportunity to present evidence in support of their respective positions." View "Resolute Wind 1, LLC v. N.M. Pub. Regul. Comm'n" on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the New Mexico Supreme Court's review centered on whether the State’s public health orders (PHOs) could support a claim for just compensation under either Article II, Section 20 of the New Mexico Constitution or Section 12-10A-15 of the Public Health Emergency Response Act (PHERA) (2003, as amended through 2015). With respect to the constitutional question, the Court held that the PHOs could not support a claim for a regulatory taking requiring compensation. With respect to the statutory question, it Court held the PHOs’ restrictions on business operations regarding occupancy limits and closures could not support a claim for just compensation. Furthermore, claimants for just compensation under the PHERA had to exhaust the administrative remedies set forth in Section 12-10A-15(B), (C) before seeking judicial relief. View "New Mexico v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the New Mexico Supreme Court’s review centered on whether the cap on all damages other than medical care and punitive damages under the Medical Malpractice Act (MMA), violated the right to trial by jury guaranteed by Article II, Section 12 of the New Mexico Constitution. Plaintiff Susan Siebert successfully sued her doctor, Rebecca Okun, M.D., and Women’s Specialists of New Mexico, Ltd. (WSNM) for medical malpractice under the MMA. Following the return of the jury’s verdict, Defendants Dr. Okun and WSNM moved to reduce the jury award of $2,600,000 to conform with the $600,000 cap on all nonmedical and nonpunitive damages in MMA actions. The district court denied Defendants’ motion, concluding that the MMA nonmedical, nonpunitive damages cap infringed the state constitutional right to a trial by jury. The Supreme Court held that the MMA nonmedical, nonpunitive damages cap did not violate Article II, Section 12, and reversed the district court’s denial of Defendants’ motion to conform the judgment in accordance with the statutory cap. View "Siebert v. Okun" on Justia Law

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When Angela Russ (Spouse) and Jeffery Russ (Veteran) divorced, they agreed to divide Veteran’s military retirement pay as part of the community property. Nonetheless, about eight years after their divorce, Veteran waived his retirement pay in order to receive a disability benefit from the federal government. His waiver occurred after Mansell v. Mansell, 490 U.S. 581 (1989) was issued, but before Howell v. Howell, ___ U.S. ___, 137 S. Ct. 1400 (2017) was issued. The question presented for the New Mexico Supreme Court’s review was whether the Court of Appeals correctly determined that Howell did not apply to this case. If the Howell Court’s application of the Mansell rule applied, Veteran could unilaterally change his federal benefit as he did. This change precluded Spouse from receiving any of his retirement benefit from the federal government, regardless of what he agreed to when they divorced. If the Howell Court’s application of the Mansell rule did not apply, then Veteran had to indemnify Spouse for her share of his waived retirement benefit. “Although equitable principles may suggest that we should determine that Howell does not apply in this case, the Supremacy Clause of the federal constitution, U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 2, precludes that application of equity.” The New Mexico Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ determination that Howell was not given full retroactive effect in New Mexico, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Russ v. Russ" on Justia Law

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Following the death of Patricia Lewis (Worker), her widower Michael Lewis (Petitioner) was awarded death benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act. The Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) based the award on the finding that Worker, while employed with Albuquerque Public Schools (Employer), contracted allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA) which proximately resulted in Worker’s death. Employer appealed the award to the Court of Appeals. Pertinent here, the appellate court concluded: (1) the WCJ correctly rejected Employer’s argument that Petitioner’s claim for death benefits was time-barred; and (2) he WCJ erred in excluding from evidence certain medical testimony and records which Employer contended related to Worker’s cause of death. The Court of Appeals therefore remanded the case for retrial on whether Worker’s ABPA “‘proximately result[ed]’” in her death. On the first issue, the New Mexico Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals that Petitioner’s claim for death benefits was not time-barred, and affirmed. On the second issue concerning the WCJ’s exclusion of medical testimony and evidence on Worker’s cause of death, the Supreme Court held the Court of Appeals erred in its interpretation of Section 52-1-51(C), but agreed based on the Supreme Court's own interpretation of Section 52-1-51(C) that the case had to be remanded for further proceedings. In all other respects, the opinion of the Court of Appeals was affirmed. View "Lewis v. Albuquerque Public Schools" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from the final order of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (Commission) granting part, but not all, of the increase in retail electric rates sought by the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM). The Commission’s final order was appealed by PNM and cross-appealed by the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA), New Energy Economy (NEE), and the New Mexico Industrial Energy Consumers (NMIEC). On appeal, PNM, NEE, ABCWUA, and NMIEC all raised numerous issues with the Commission’s final order. In this opinion the New Mexico Supreme Court addressed challenges made to the Commission’s decisions regarding Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, the installation of balanced draft technology at San Juan Generating Station, the new coal supply agreement at Four Corners Power Plant, the inclusion of Rate 11B in rate banding, PNM’s prepaid pension asset, and the adoption of Method A. The Supreme Court rejected each of the arguments on appeal except one: the Court concluded that, by denying PNM any future recovery for its nuclear decommissioning costs related to the Palo Verde capacity at issue in this case, the Commission denied PNM due process of law. Therefore, the Court declared all other aspects of the Commission’s final order to be lawful and reasonable, yet annulled and vacated the final order in its entirety pursuant to NMSA 1978, Section 62-11-5 (1982). The matter was remanded to the Commission for further proceedings as required and the entry of an order consistent with the Court’s opinion. View "Public Serv. Co. of N.M. v. N.M. Pub. Regulation Comm'n" on Justia Law

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While the parties in this case litigated contempt proceedings over the course of seven years, the children at the center of the case aged out of the system and became peripheral to a nearly $4,000,000 judgment in favor of Respondents Janet and James Mercer-Smith, who pleased no contest to allegations of abuse against their two minor daughters Julia and Rachel. This case began in 2001 as an abuse and neglect proceeding and turned into a dispute over whether Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) had violated the district court's decision and Julia and Rachel could not be placed with former employees of a group home where they had been residing. After protracted litigation, the district court held CYFD in contempt for violating its placement decision and, almost four years later, imposed the sanction for the violation, ordering CYFD to pay the Mercer-Smiths more than $1,600,000 in compensatory damages and more than $2,000,000 in attorney fees and costs. The award was based on the district court’s determination that the violation of the placement decision resulted in the loss of the Mercer-Smiths' chance of reconciliation with Julia and Rachel. The New Mexico Supreme Court held that the purpose for which the district court exercised its contempt power was not remedial in nature and therefore could not be upheld as a valid exercise of civil contempt power. Accordingly, the Court reversed the contempt order and vacated the award in its entirety. View "New Mexico ex rel. CYFD v. Mercer-Smith" on Justia Law

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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