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Soto v. Sacco

Supreme Court of Arizona

July 13, 2017

Michael Soto, et al., Plaintiffs/Appellants,
Anthony M. Sacco, et al., Defendants/Appellees.

         Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County The Honorable Michael D. Gordon, Judge No. CV2013-011046

         Opinion of the Court of Appeals, Division One 239 Ariz. 516 (App. 2016) VACATED

          James Michael Abernethy (argued), Law Office of James Michael Abernethy PLLC, Phoenix, Attorney for Michael Soto

          Edward G. Hochuli, Lori L. Voepel (argued), Justin M. Ackerman, Jones, Skelton & Hochuli P.L.C., Phoenix, Attorneys for Anthony M. Sacco, Total Transit Inc. dba Discount Cab and Discount Enterprises, Inc.

          Mark Brnovich, Arizona Attorney General, Daniel P. Schaack, Assistant Attorney General, Robert R. McCright, Assistant Attorney General, Phoenix, Attorneys for Amicus Curiae State of Arizona

          Joseph N. Roth, Joshua D. Bendor, Osborn Maledon P.A., Phoenix; and Brad Holm, Phoenix City Attorney, Phoenix, Attorneys for Amicus Curiae City of Phoenix Jeffrey C. Warren, Amanda Heitz, Bowman and Brooke LLP, Phoenix, Attorneys for Amicus Curiae Arizona Association of Defense Counsel.

          JUSTICE LOPEZ authored the opinion of the Court, in which CHIEF JUSTICE BALES, VICE CHIEF JUSTICE PELANDER, and JUSTICES BRUTINEL, TIMMER, BOLICK and BERCH (Retired) [*] joined.

          LOPEZ JUSTICE.

         ¶1 This case concerns the standards a trial court applies in granting a new trial or ordering remittitur or additur under Arizona Rule of Civil Procedure 59. Although a trial court should be circumspect when modifying a jury verdict, it nonetheless may do so if it states the Rule 59(a) or (i) grounds for the order and explains its ruling with sufficient particularity to avoid speculation as to its basis.


         ¶2 This case arises from a motor vehicle accident, the salient facts of which are not in dispute. Michael Soto and his wife Julie (the "Sotos") were passengers in a taxi cab driven by Anthony Sacco when it collided with another vehicle. The Sotos sued Sacco, Discount Enterprises Inc., and Total Transit, Inc. doing business as Discount Cab (collectively "Defendants"). Defendants admitted Sacco's negligence and respondeat superior liability. A jury trial ensued to determine damages.

         ¶3 As a result of the accident, Michael sustained multiple fractures to his dominant arm and underwent surgery to permanently implant a plate and screws to stabilize it. The Sotos testified that Michael experienced significant pain and emotional distress since the accident, preventing him from participating in physical activities he previously enjoyed. Michael's treating physician, however, placed no limitations on his activities and told him to use his arm normally, using pain as a guide Justice Andrew W. Gould has recused himself from this case. Pursuant to article 6, section 3, of the Arizona Constitution, the Honorable Rebecca White Berch, Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court (Retired), was designated to sit in this matter. when engaging in physical activity. Michael's medical bills totaled $40, 538.40, but he made no claim for future medical expenses or lost wages.

         ¶4 At trial, the Sotos urged the jury to award Michael $725, 000 in damages. Defendants suggested an award between $90, 000 and $120, 000. After deliberating, the jury awarded $700, 000 to Michael and $40, 000 to Julie. Defendants then moved for a new trial, or to alter or amend the judgment, and for remittitur under Arizona Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a)(1), (5), (7) and (8), and Rule 59(i), requesting that Michael's award be reduced to not more than $350, 000. The trial court found that the jury verdict in favor of Michael "was excessive and not supported by the evidence, " and granted a remittitur pursuant to Rule 59(i), reducing Michael's award to $250, 000.[1] The Sotos rejected the court's remittitur and appealed from the new trial order that became effective after they declined the remittitur.

         ¶5 The court of appeals affirmed. Soto v. Sacco, 239 Ariz. 516 (App. 2016). It rejected the Sotos' argument that conditional grants of new trial under Rule 59(i) are subject to Rule 59(m), which requires the trial court to specify with particularity the ground(s) on which the new trial is granted. The court of appeals instead concluded that "Rule 59(i) does not require the trial court to specify the particulars in relation to which the verdict was excessive" and upheld the trial court's remittitur. Soto, 239 Ariz. at 519 ¶ 12 (quoting Hancock v. Linsenmeyer, 15 Ariz.App. 296, 299 (1971)) (internal quotation marks omitted). The court determined that the trial court "could reasonably conclude that the ...

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