SHUJA SAYED AHMAD and MARGARET S. AHMAD, surviving parents of ALEXANDER SAYED AHMAD, deceased, Plaintiffs/Appellants,
STATE OF ARIZONA, a body politic, Defendant/Appellee.
from the Superior Court in Maricopa County No. CV2008-030707
The Honorable David O. Cunanan, Judge.
& Aguirre, PLLC, Phoenix By Richard T. Treon Treon &
Shook, PLLC, Phoenix By Daniel B. Treon Co-Counsel for
Arizona Attorney General's Office, Tucson By Robert R.
McCright Counsel for Defendant/Appellee
Presiding Judge Peter B. Swann delivered the opinion of the
court, in which Judge Lawrence F. Winthrop and Chief Judge
Samuel A. Thumma joined.
This is an appeal from an order of remittitur and conditional
new trial on the jury's damages award in a wrongful death
action. We reversed and remanded in Ahmad v. State
("Ahmad I"), 240 Ariz. 380 (App. 2016). The
supreme court vacated our decision in Ahmad I and
remanded the case to us for reconsideration in view of
Soto v. Sacco, 242 Ariz. 474 (2017). Applying the
law of remittitur as articulated in Soto, we again
reverse because the superior court failed to state with
particularity the grounds for its order, and the record does
not reveal substantial evidence to support the order. We
remand for entry of judgment on the jury's verdict.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
During a pursuit by state and city law enforcement, a
criminal suspect's vehicle struck and killed Shuja and
Margaret Ahmad's son, Alex. The Ahmads brought a wrongful
death action against the state on the theory that the pursuit
was unnecessary and dispatchers failed to communicate
The jury returned a verdict in favor of the Ahmads, awarding
them $30 million in damages and finding the state 5% at fault
for Alex's death. The state moved for a remittitur or a
new trial on damages. The state argued that the jury's
award included unavailable punitive and compensatory damages.
The superior court granted the state's motion, reducing
the damages award to $10 million, thereby reducing the
state's responsibility from $1.5 million to $500, 000,
and granted a conditional new trial on damages only. The
While courts generally loathe to alter a jury award, Rule 59
of the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure does permit a
verdict, decision, or judgment to be vacated and a new trial
granted if a damages award is excessive or insufficient.
Based upon the evidence presented at trial and the damages
recoverable in this action, the Court finds that the thirty
million dollar award was excessive. Although the award by the
jury was excessive, the Court acknowledges the findings of
the jury. Based upon the evidence presented at trial, the
Court finds that the reasonable value of damages is ten
million dollars. Although this amount is on the high side of
a reasonable and just damages amount, based upon the facts
and law in this case and in deference to the jury's
damages decision, the Court finds this amount appropriate.
The court denied the Ahmads' motion for a complete new
trial on all issues and their motion for reconsideration,
and, because the Ahmads declined to accept the reduced
damages amount, ultimately ordered a new trial on damages.
The Ahmads timely appealed, and we reversed and remanded in
Ahmad I. We now reconsider that decision under
Ariz. R. Civ. P. ("Rule") 59 authorizes the
superior court, when it finds the jury's damages award
excessive, to grant a new trial conditioned on the adversely
affected party's rejection of a reduced damages award.
Rule 59(f)(1)(A). As Soto held, the court thereby
"plays a role akin to a 'thirteenth juror' (a
ninth juror in a civil case)" and serves the
"indispensable function" of acting as "the
primary buffer against unjust verdicts." 242 Ariz. at
478, ¶ 8 (citation omitted); see State v.
Fischer, 242 Ariz. 44 (2017) (discussing consideration
of motions for new trial by the superior court and on
appeal). But the court "should be circumspect in
interfering with a jury verdict by carefully and sparingly
exercising its discretion to reduce . . . a jury's damage
award." Soto, 242 Ariz. at 477-78, ¶ 7.
The court "may not simply substitute its judgment for
the jury's." Id. at 477, ¶ 7.
Remittitur is proper only when the court "is firmly
convinced" that the verdict "reflects an
exaggerated measurement of damages" and "is
contrary to the weight of the evidence." Id. at
478, ¶¶ 8-9 (citation omitted).
¶6Soto held that the jury has no more discretion in
wrongful death than personal injury actions, and that the
foregoing remittitur standard is identical in both categories
of cases. Id. at 481, ¶¶ 18-19.
Soto further held that the superior court must state
with particularity the grounds for a remittitur order.
Id. at 479, ¶¶ 11-12 (construing
materially similar provisions of 2016 version of Rule). To
satisfy the particularity requirement, the court must do more
than merely quote or paraphrase the Rule-the court must
"describe why the jury award is too high or low" in
"sufficient detail to apprise the parties and appellate
courts of the specific basis for the court's ruling so
that they may avoid speculation." Id. at 480,
¶¶ 13-14. In the absence of ...