Torres v. Jai Dining Servs. (11.2.21)

The Arizona Supreme Court begins this dram shop case opinion with noting other courts have blended the different concepts of actual cause and proximate cause and then uses this blended version of causation. Resolution of this case, the court continues, depends on the scope of the risk and foreseeability. Without any reference to these themes embedded in the Third Restatement, the court ends up defining proximate cause by what it isn’t, i.e., unforeseeable and extraordinary. Here are the facts. Intoxicated patron named Cesar Villanueva who is there with friends and his girlfriend is kicked out of a night club at 2:30 a.m. He drives away and gets to his brother’s house where he stays for over an hour. Around 4:00 a.m. his brother takes Villanueva to his own home along with his girlfriend and one of her friends. Villanueva sleeps for a little at his own home but then he is asked to take his girlfriend’s friend home. The friend drives his truck to her home while Villanueva and his girlfriend sleep in the backseat. After arriving at the friend’s house, Villanueva climbs into the front seat and drives away. He causes an accident and kills two people. (The court of appeals’ opinion has more of the details of BAC etc.) Case is tried, and the jury awards $2 million in compensatory damages and apportions 60% fault against Villanueva and 40% against the club. The court of appeals reversed the judgment holding the chain of causation was broken when Villanueva first arrived safely home. Villanueva’s driving was a superseding and intervening cause. Arizona Supreme Court reverses the court of appeals’ opinion that an overserved patron’s later decision to drive while intoxicated after safely reaching home or a similar resting place constitute an intervening and superseding cause that breaks the chain of causation. Proximate cause depends on the scope of the risk and foreseeability. The risk created by overserving alcohol is that the patron will drive while intoxicated and cause an accident. “We agree with Plaintiffs that the risk created by a liquor licensee overserving a patron exists as long as the patron drives intoxicated, regardless of when or where the patron travels and even with a short stop at home.” The supreme court then recognizes instances including liquor liability claims where the driving is not foreseeable and is extraordinary. The court distinguishes the Patterson v. Thunder Pass decision where a tavern employee took a patron home, the patron then decides to walk back and retrieve her car, and then causes an accident. In that case the patron’s decision to go back was unforeseeable and extraordinary as a matter of law. Finally, the supreme court remands the case back to the court of appeals to decide what to do with an argument raised with the argument first raised with the court of appeals that A.R.S. § 4-312(B) preempts common law dram shop claims. Perhaps we will see this case back again at the supreme court.

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Morgan and Neff v. Superior Court (D2 7.20.21)

Local newspaper reporters in Cochise County sought the names of jurors who recently served on two criminal trials. They enlist the support of a clinical professor and two law students to represent them. They argue the innominate jury system violates the First Amendment and Arizona law. Trial court denied their request for juror identity, and they file a special action. Jurisdiction is accepted, but relief is denied.

It is unclear what Arizona law the reporters rely upon. The court begins by citing Arizona statutes and rules protecting juror information. None support the reporters. The court then addresses the First Amendment. The reporters argue past historical practice in Cochise County of allowing access and this experience demonstrates a First Amendment right of access. The court rejects this concluding that a historical experience test does not look at the particular practice of one jurisdiction but the experience throughout the United States. The court finds a split of authority on this point, and distinguishes case law discussing the right of access with other aspects of the jury system including public trial and the voir dire process. The court stresses the potential harm in mandating the disclosure of juror names including subjecting jurors to public unwanted media attention, harassment, embarrassment, or danger. Such disclosure would also elevate fair-trial concerns for defendants in high-profile cases. “The danger of jurors being exposed to information or questions about the case, concerns about their safety or reputation as a result of their vote, and violations of their privacy may create violations of due process.” The court points in the right direction. Protecting jurors’ privacy and the rights of an accused to a fair trial ranks higher than newspaper reporters selling information.

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Mesnard v. Campagnolo (6.2.21)

Don Shooter was expelled from Arizona’s House of Representatives after being accused of sexually harassing another member Ugenti-Rita. Before he was expelled there was an investigation of both Shooter and Ugenti-Rita. Shooter believed the Speaker of House J.D. Mesnard removed information from the investigation report that exculpated him and inculpated Ugenti-Rita.

Shooter fired off a letter to other members of the House, and Mesnard responded with a news release. Shooter sued Mesnard claiming he was defamed. Mesnard filed a motion to dismiss and pulled out his Arizona constitutional legislative immunity card (art. 4, pt. 2 § 7 (“No member of the Legislature shall be liable in any civil or criminal prosecution for words spoken in debate.”). (Readers may recall a couple of years ago Mesnard was critical of another representative who pulled out a different legislative immunity card after being stopped for speeding – art. 4, pt. 2 § 6.)

The Arizona Supreme Court agrees Mesnard is entitled to immunity for the preparation and release of the report (legislative function), but because the press release was outside that process, it may be actionable. The line is fuzzy. Justice Bolick concurs with the result but believes this case should be decided under separation of powers. Courts should stay out of the legislature and its processes involved in expelling its own. This is a political not a legal issue and should not be resolved by the fuzziness of defining what is and is not protected by legislative immunity. It is beyond the judicial power, writes Justice Bolick, to second-guess the legislature’s methods and actions. “The remedy for abuse of such constitutionally assigned powers is political, not legal.” What if the legislature ordered the dispute resolved at 20 paces?

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