Ahmad v. State (CA1 11/13/18)

We reviewed the first opinion in this case here; go there for the facts. The Supreme Court vacated that and remanded for reconsideration in light of Soto v. Sacco (2017). It reaches the same result as the original, for essentially the same reasons.

Soto says that a remittitur order must be specific. This one wasn’t, so the court again reverses it. But its original opinion said much same thing (Soto admitted that it broke no new ground) so we wonder whether that’s the part of Soto that the Supreme Court had in mind when vacating.

The court again explains that $30 million for the loss of an adult son is just fine because the statute says “fair and just” and this “provides ‘a very broad base for the measure of damages.'” Perhaps the part of Soto that the Supreme Court had in mind was the part that said that “fair and just” is no broader than the normal personal-injury standard.

Or perhaps it was the part about comps. The original opinion had argued that comparable verdicts shouldn’t be considered; Soto says that they can be but are marginally relevant. The new opinion acknowledges that but, predictably, comes down on the side of “marginal.”

The new opinion says specifically what we inferred from the original: Defendant argued that the award included a punitive component. “[P]laintiffs’ counsel potentially implicated punitive damages by suggesting that the jury was tasked with preventing future deaths.” But the trial court overruled the objection and its order of remittitur didn’t specifically find any aspect of the award puntitive. “The jury’s conduct does not suggest” that it didn’t follow the instructions. Since there was apparently no evidence of the jury’s conduct other than its award, the theory seems to be that $30 million is proof of its own validity.

Which is consistent with the statement that “[T]he $30 million sum for the two parents, combined with the attribution of 5% of the fault to the state, suggests that the verdict was the result of a temperate deliberative process.” Unless merely fillng out the form of verdict is a sign of temperence and deliberation, the statement assumes its own conclusion. (In fairness, it is of course possible to read deliberation into these numbers. The problem is that the deliberation they suggest is about how to give the Plaintiffs $1.5 million even though the State was only 5% at fault.)