Ironwood Commons v. Randall (CA1 4/4/2019)

A case about where a Justice Court judgment is recordable. It also makes a point about fees.

Plaintiff obtained judgment in the Pinal County Justice Court in 2011. It later recorded the judgment in Maricopa County. In 2016 it filed a renewal affidavit in Maricopa and began garnishment there. Defendant moved to quash the writ, arguing that the renewal was invalid because it should have been done in Pinal. The trial court denied the motion.

The Court of Appeals affirms. Under 33-962 a Justice Court judgment may be recorded after filing a transcript with the Superior Court — which is what Plaintiff had done — and is thereafter deemed a Superior Court judgment. Defendant argued that the transcript must be filed in the Superior Court of the same county. But the statute doesn’t say so. That is a requirement for executing by levy on real property under 22-246 but the other collection statutes don’t contain the limitation.

Defendant cited J.C. Penney (App. 1999), where a Justice Court judgment from Page was filed and recorded in Coconino but the renewal affidavit was mistakenly filed in Maricopa. That case held the renewal invalid because allowing an affidavit to be filed anywhere could lead to confusion and uncertainty by not giving judgment debtors notice of the renewal. It also said that a debtor should not have to check court records in other counties. But renewing in the Superior Court of the county where the judgment is filed, as was done here but not in J.C. Penney, gives the debtor constructive notice. The court rejects the idea of not having to check other counties because it is “untethered to any statutory language or secondary evidence of legislative intent.” “Nothing requires actual notice.”

Regarding fees, Plaintiff argued that it was entitled to them in connection with its collection efforts because the judgment awarded “all reasonable costs and attorneys’ fees incurred” in collecting. The trial court awarded fees. But fees in garnishment are allowed only if the debtor objects “solely for purposes of delay or to harass,” 12-1598.07. Language in a judgment doesn’t override the statutes. Because the record doesn’t show how much of the fee award related to the garnishment and how much to allowable non-garnishment work (e.g., renewing the judgment) the court remands the issue.

Someone seems to have worked hard on this opinion but it could have used one more major edit. The extensive discussion and analysis of J.C. Penney, for example, is interesting but its effect on this holding is not always clear.

(Opinion: Ironwood v. Randall)


Duff v. Lee (CA2 3/29/19)

By coincidence here is an example of a phenomenon we mentioned the other day, a litigant’s attempt to avoid the claw-back. This one is a bit unusual because it comes from a class of cases — low-end PI claims — that will not do so from now on. But, needless to say, the court does not allow it.

Plaintiff wanted to avoid Pima County’s FASTAR program. (Bureaucrats no doubt think the acronym exceedingly clever. This is the program that is to bring us “more efficient and inexpensive, yet fair” resolution of cases, according to the order enacting it; good of the Supreme Court to mention that last part, at least in passing. It is a pilot program in Pima until 2020, at which time it will be deemed a success and come to a courthouse near you.) The program junks compulsory arbitration and replaces it with a choice between a short trial (following abbreviated discovery) and an arbitration from which the plaintiff cannot appeal. Plaintiff filed a motion to get compulsory arbitration instead and took special action from its denial.

The court summarizes her arguments as being that the compulsory arbitration statute, 12-133, gives her substantive rights that the FASTAR rules violate. The respondent judge filed a brief arguing that the rules and the statute are consistent; the concurring opinion agrees but the majority does not. So it concludes that, while an appeal from compulsory arbitration has been held to be a substantive right, the arbitration itself is procedural. And as to the right of appeal, FASTAR merely “conditions” it. The rules therefore displace the statute under Seisinger (2009) and several earlier separation-of-powers cases.

Plaintiff also argued that FASTAR did not apply to her. The Supreme Court’s administrative order establishing the pilot program lowered Pima’s jurisdictional limit for compulsory arbitration to $1,000. But although the county, in order to set itself up for FASTAR, had requested this as part of a new set of local rules the Supreme Court’s separate order approving those rules was not entered until several months after FASTAR began. Plaintiff filed her case after FASTAR but before the separate order. The Supreme Court’s rules don’t actually allow local rules to be changed by administrative order but the Court of Appeals tells us decisively that “we cannot say the supreme court [sic.; the opinion capitalizes Superior Court but not Supreme Court] lacked authority” to do so in order to implement FASTAR. Whether an order is “administrative” makes a difference to lower courts but not to the Supreme Court because of that court’s “broad constitutional authority to make administrative rules.” And, apparently, to ignore them.

Plaintiff also argued that 12-133 should be read in conjunction with 22-201, which now gives the Justice Court exclusive jurisdiction up to $10,000. So the legislature didn’t intend that the limit for compulsory arbitration in Superior Court be reduced to a point below that court’s jurisdiction. (At least we think that’s what was being argued; neither opinion really explains it.) The majority “responds” to the argument by rejecting it in a footnote as “somewhat strained.” The concurrence adds, in language slightly oblique, that it makes no difference because the legislature has no power to prevent FASTAR anyway.

Based on the figure we have heard, the number of civil jury trials held in Pima County last year would, thirty years ago, have kept one division of that court busy for perhaps six weeks. But remember the iron rule: delays in the system are always your fault, never the bureaucrats’. This requires the strictly procedural decisions that, first, some people haven’t been damaged badly enough to deserve actual discovery and an actual trial and, second, even those who have been must be micromanaged by functionaries whose real concerns are the numbers on their “processing” spreadsheets. Whether any of that is fair is an afterthought, to be tacked on clumsily with a comma.

(Opinion: Duff v. Lee)

Apodaca v. Keeling (CA1 3/19/19)

A useful wrinkle to remember about sanctions for an unsuccessful appeal from compulsory arbitration. Then a practice pointer on appeal.

Defendant rear-ended a car containing the Apodaca family. In this action they all sued her. Liability was not contested but she appealed the compulsory-arbitration award and achieved a smaller trial verdict, allocated among the four plaintiffs. Two of the four plaintiffs won jury awards that were less than 23% smaller than that awarded by the arbitrator. Plaintiffs therefore moved for costs and fees under Rule 77(h). Because the total judgment was more than 23% smaller Defendant opposed them. The trial court granted the motion.

The Court of Appeals reverses. “The proper analysis is to compare the total arbitration award and costs to the total judgment and costs on appeal.” This is because the rule speaks of “the judgment” and “the arbitration award.” Plaintiffs had a case — Fisher (2014) — but that involved a different issue: the effect of comparative negligence, allowing a co-defendant held blameless at both levels to collect 77(h) sanctions even though the plaintiffs’ award against the culpable defendant was more than 23% smaller.

The court denies Defendant’s request for fees “because it was made only in her reply brief.” The rule (ARCAP 21) says specifically that it “must” be made in the opening or answering brief. This happens all the time and makes things easy for the court. Which do people do too late — think about fees or read the rule about them? That’s also easy, since lawyers never stop thinking about fees but rarely think to read.

(Opinion: Apodaca v. Keeling)