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)


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)

Harle v. Williams (CA1 3/14/19)

Holding that an agreement preventing execution of a judgment tolls the expiration of the judgment’s effective period. This is not news but doesn’t come up all the time even though the fact situation here was routine, which may be why the court published it.

A lawsuit settlement agreement included a stipulated judgment plus a covenant not to execute as long as settlement payments were made. Judgment was entered in 2011; Defendant stopped making payments in 2014, Plaintiff recorded the judgment and began collection proceedings in 2016. At the time, 12-1551 limited the execution period to five years (its now ten) so Defendant filed a motion (presumably for dismissal, though the court does not tell us). The trial court denied it.

The Court of Appeals affirms. It is established law that the enforcement period does not begin to run as long as the judgment is not enforceable. Defendant’s argument was that this does not apply to a private agreement but North Star held otherwise over twenty years ago. The period for enforcement and for renewal did not begin to run until Defendant breached the agreement.

The opinion does not go into great detail; its function is to point out the precedent.

(Opinion: Harle v. Williams)