Valdez v. Delgado (CA1 9/10/19)

The court makes this simple case sound complicated.

Plaintiff sued for specific enforcement of an oral contract to sell a house, relying on the part-performance exception to the statute of frauds. The trial court denied Defendant’s JMOL; the jury found for Plaintiff; the trial court then denied Defendant’s renewed motion for JMOL. Defendant appealed.

Court of Appeals affirms. On appeal a jury’s findings are accepted unless clearly erroneous; the jury found by special verdict that Plaintiff had done things, which the court recites at length, because of and in reliance on the contract. Whether the facts satisfy the part-performance exception is a conclusion of law that the court makes de novo; the court has no trouble concluding that these facts do satisfy it.

The court, though, apparently doesn’t think this a no-trouble case. “This case requires us to assess the interplay between two standards of review where a legal question is raised on appeal, and reviewed de novo, but the answer to the legal question hinges on the factual findings of a jury, which are reviewed for clear error.” But that’s just a convoluted way of expressing the ABCs of appellate review: findings you accept unless clearly erroneous, legal conclusions you make yourself. Always, not just in this case. The idea that JMOL rulings are reviewed de novo — which is what seems to throw the court off onto this tangent — doesn’t change that. The court’s attempt to “assess the interplay” lasts only a couple of paragraphs (13 and 14) and adds nothing to the law.

Defendant also argued that specific performance was not a proper remedy. While there can be a conceptual argument against specific performance in some statute-of-frauds cases the evidence here was pretty clear. The court agrees that the remedy was appropriate.

(Opinion: Valdez v. Delgado)


Apache Produce v. Malena Produce (CA1 8/12/19)

This nice opinion, a case of first impression that has the taste not to boast of it, concerns an interesting issue regarding injunctive relief.

Plaintiff and Defendant are rival Nogales produce importers. Plaintiff was in litigation in Mexico with a certain Mexican grower about whether it had a contract to distribute the grower’s produce; Plaintiff said it did, the grower said it didn’t. When the grower hired Defendant Plaintiff brought this case for intereference with contract and unjust enrichment, seeking damages and injunctive relief. It applied for a TRO and a hearing on a preliminary injunction. Defendant then moved to stay the case, apparently until the Mexican litigation was resolved. The trial court granted the stay without ruling on the injunctive issues. Plaintiff filed a special action, which the Court of Appeals declined. So Plaintiff filed an appeal.

12-2101(A)(5)(b) permits appeal from an order “refusing to grant . . . an injunction.” Plaintiff argued that by not ruling on the injunction the trial court refused it. Defendant argued that the court didn’t refuse it but instead merely deferred it until after the stay. There is no Arizona authority on point. Because preliminary injunctions are to provide speedy relief from irreparable injury, the court concludes that by indefinitely postponing it the trial court had effectively denied it. Cases from other jurisdictions are to the same effect.

On the merits the court holds that granting a stay to avoid ruling on a preliminary injunction is an abuse of discretion. The factors considered in ruling on the two are different. Using one to dispose of the other employs the wrong legal standard.

A good opinion but one that should never have existed. We have no idea whether Plaintiff deserves a preliminary injunction. But how can a trial court believe that a party’s request for relief could be dealt with by not ruling on it? There is a reason why there was no Arizona authority, and why these cases are few and far between elsewhere. And it isn’t because defendants don’t ever try to stay a case to avoid an injunction.

(Opinion: Apache Importers v. Malena Produce)

Reyes v. Gilbert (CA1 7/25/19)

There is a nuggest here which makes some sense, which is that a new trial for failure to make disclosure or discovery has to be based on disclosure or discovery. Otherwise we’re not sure that the court’s analysis is particularly artful.

Plaintiff was hurt when a car in which he was a passenger ran off the road into a canal. He sued the Town of Gilbert alleging inadequate signs and barricades. He lost at trial but won his motion for new trial based on the Town’s failure to disclose an engineering report concerning the road. The Town appealed.

The Court of Appeals reverses and remands with instructions to reinstate the verdict.

The opinion recounts at length the facts of the accident (the driver was drunk and reckless), the facts of the entire evening of the accident, and, in one of the eleven footnotes, the facts of the driver’s criminal punishment. None has anything to do with the issue or the holding. Perhaps someone found them interesting, though they are standard teenage-one-car-accident stuff. Or perhaps this is another example of a phenomenon we remarked on recently — trying to make the holding emotionally satisfying — since the driver could perhaps have crashed regardless of how the Town signed the road. (Of course a causation defense, especially if there were a general verdict, could have raised issues in this appeal but this blog entry is going to be long enough as it is so we won’t worry about why they’re not here.)

The court gives us a lengthy section on “Applicable Law and Standard of Review.” The “applicable law” cited is that roads needn’t be perfectly safe and that their design can assume that drivers will follow the rules of the road. How that law is “applicable” to an appeal about new trial under Rule 26.1 is not explained. As for the standard-of-review section, we have said too much about those to repeat that rant here. This particular one is clearly intended to justify the result rather than to explain, however unnecessarily, the parameters of analysis.

There was a traffic study of the area from 2003, made in connection with a then-proposed subdivision. Plaintiff had filed a public-records request for studies of the road. The Town didn’t provide the 2003 study in response to the request nor under Rule 26.1. It apparently wasn’t clear whether the trial court granted new trial based on the request, on Rule 26.1, or on both. So the court addresses both.

A request for public documents is not a discovery request under the Rules of Civil Procedure. It is made under a statute that includes its own sanctions (39-121.02). It is thus not a basis for new trial even if the statue were violated.

Regarding Rule 26.1 the court examines the facts and the allegations and decides that the 2003 report had nothing to do with the case or “at best . . . contained marginally useful information” and so the Town “had no reason” to disclose it. The trial court therefore erred. What kind of error, you ask? Was it an error of law? Was there no substantial evidence to support it? Was it arbitrary and unreasonable? The opinion’s standard-of-review section had raised all as possibilities. One would normally expect the court to identify which one it had picked, especially since its disagreement with the trial court sounds so much like one of fact. But it doesn’t.

The court then says that even if the Town violated Rule 26.1 there was no prejudice. The 2003 study didn’t “materially” contradict the town’s expert witness. As for “speculation” that the report supported an additional theory of negligence, that’s not prejudicial because Plaintiff and his expert could have come up with it on their own. (The court cites no authority for this; we assume that it didn’t look for any since the cases don’t necessarily say that.) Plaintiff can’t, therefore, have a new trial because letting him use a report that raises a new issue that the Town kept secret until after the trial would mean that his disclosure of the issue would be untimely. (Don’t believe us? Read the last part of ¶38.) So the trial court abused its discretion (at least here the court identifies a legal basis of error).

(Opinion: Reyes v. Gilbert)