Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Mexico Supreme Court
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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

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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