United States District Court, D. Arizona
Jill S. Frederick, Plaintiff,
Irma O. Frederick, et al., Defendants.
HONORABLE JOHN J. TUCHI, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
issue is Plaintiff's Amended Motion for Partial
Reconsideration of Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 92, Mot.).
The Court asked Defendant to file a Response (Doc. 93), which
Defendant did (Doc. 94, Resp.). Plaintiff asks the Court to
reconsider its decision to preclude punitive damages related
to her claims that her father, Jim, lacked the capacity, was
unduly influenced, or was defrauded to sign an Individual
Retirement Account (IRA) beneficiary designation change in
favor of Defendant before his death. (See Doc. 90,
Order at 17-18.)
for reconsideration should be granted only in rare
circumstances. Defenders of Wildlife v. Browner, 909
F.Supp. 1342, 1351 (D. Ariz. 1995). A motion for
reconsideration is appropriate where the district court
“(1) is presented with newly discovered evidence, (2)
committed clear error or the initial decision was manifestly
unjust, or (3) if there is an intervening change in
controlling law.” School Dist. No. 1J, Multnomah
Cnty. v. AC and S, Inc., 5 F.3d 1255, 1263 (9th Cir.
1993). Mere disagreement with a previous order is an
insufficient basis for reconsideration. See Leong v.
Hilton Hotels Corp., 689 F.Supp. 1572, 1573 (D.
Haw. 1988). A motion for reconsideration “may not be
used to raise arguments or present evidence for the first
time when they could reasonably have been raised earlier in
the litigation.” Kona Enters., Inc. v. Estate of
Bishop, 229 F.3d 877, 890 (9th Cir. 2000).
Motion for Reconsideration, Plaintiff presents no newly
discovered evidence or intervening change in controlling law;
instead, she contends that the Court's decision was
erroneous. (Mot. at 1-2.) In challenging the Court's
conclusion that Plaintiff did not proffer sufficient evidence
to create a genuine dispute of material fact as to her prayer
for punitive damages, she asks the Court to examine the
circumstantial evidence of Defendant's “evil
mind.” (Mot. at 3-4.) In support, Plaintiff cites
Hyatt Regency Phoenix Hotel Co. v. Winston &
Strawn, 907 P.2d 506, 518 (Ariz.Ct.App. 1995), which
[a] defendant acts with the requisite evil mind when he
intends to injure or defraud, or deliberately interferes with
the rights of others, consciously disregarding the
unjustifiable risk of significant harm to them. Important
facts to consider when deciding whether a defendant acted
with an evil mind include (1) the reprehensibility of
defendant's conduct and the severity of the harm likely
to result; (2) any harm that has occurred; (3) the duration
of the conduct; (4) the defendant's awareness of the harm
or risk of harm; and (5) any concealment of it. The plaintiff
may meet the clear and convincing standard by either direct
or circumstantial evidence which persuades the jury of the
high probability of the defendant's evil mind.
(internal quotations and citations omitted).
Court stated in its prior Order (Order at 18), much of the
evidence Plaintiff cites in resisting Defendant's request
for summary judgment on Plaintiff's punitive damages
prayer goes to whether Defendant unduly influenced Jim or
engaged in fraud, and not necessarily whether Defendant's
state of mind was evil in allegedly doing so. In other words,
facts going to whether Defendant unduly influenced Jim to
alter the beneficiary designation, or fraudulently altered
the beneficiary designation herself, do not necessarily raise
the inference of an evil mind sufficient to support a request
for punitive damages. Otherwise, punitive damages would be
available any time a plaintiff alleged undue influence or
fraud. See, e.g., Rawlings v. Apodaca, 726
P.2d 565, 578 n.8 (Ariz. 1986) (noting “punitive
damages are not recoverable in every fraud case, even though
fraud is an intentional tort”); Dawson v.
Withycombe, 163 P.3d 1034, 1062 (Ariz.Ct.App. 2007)
(“Eschewing a per se rule, we think every case
must be based on its own facts and the standard of
aggravated, wanton, reckless or malicious intentional
wrongdoing is more consistent with the standard our supreme
court has stated for an award of punitive damages.”).
some evidence proffered by Plaintiff at the time of summary
judgment gives the Court pause. If Defendant did engage in
the alleged conduct, the facts all show that Defendant was
aware of the harm to Plaintiff that would result at the
expense of Jim's beneficiary designation wishes. Indeed,
the harm to Plaintiff was readily apparent; the beneficiary
designation change meant Plaintiff would be entitled to
substantially less money. (See also Doc. 80, PSOF
¶ 56 (citing evidence that the fact that Plaintiff was
the majority beneficiary of the IRA was always a point of
contention in Jim and Defendant's marriage).) This
evidence raises at least an inference that the harm was
targeted at Plaintiff.
Plaintiff proffered evidence at the time of summary judgment
that Defendant did not inform others of Jim's beneficiary
designation change and withdrew money from the IRA
immediately before and after his death. If the beneficiary
designation change was the product of the alleged improper
conduct, a factfinder may infer that Defendant tried to
conceal the improper conduct by not sharing the underlying
beneficiary designation change with others, even though all
facts show that she was at least aware of it. Although
Defendant argues in her Response (Resp. at 5-6) that denying
a fraud one did not commit is expected, concealing the
underlying change to the beneficiary designation is another
matter-one that raises other inferences.
present Motion but not in her Response to Defendant's
summary judgment motion, Plaintiff points to more evidence
that the relationship between Plaintiff and Defendant was
difficult or strained, which raises additional inferences of
malice through Defendant's intent to harm Plaintiff in
allegedly orchestrating the beneficiary designation change.
While this evidence would have helped Plaintiff's
argument that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to
Defendant's evil mind, the Court cannot properly consider
it because it was not proffered by Plaintiff at summary
this is a close call, the Court finds that Plaintiff did
proffer sufficient circumstantial evidence at the time of
summary judgment to raise an inference of malicious
intentional wrongdoing on the part of Defendant, such that a
genuine dispute of material fact as to punitive damages
exists. The Court will therefore reverse its prior decision
on this point, and Plaintiffs prayer for punitive damages
will proceed to trial.
THEREFORE ORDERED granting Plaintiffs Amended Motion for
Partial Reconsideration of Order Granting in Part and Denying
in Part Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc.