Justia Arizona Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court upheld the decisions of the lower courts in this matter arising from two criminal cases, holding that the Cochise County Superior Court's innominate jury system does not violate the First Amendment.This case arose from two criminal cases that used innominate juries without objection by either party. In both cases, Appellant, a journalist, unsuccessfully sought access to prospective and impaneled jurors' names before and after trial. The court of appeals affirmed. On appeal, Appellant argued that the First Amendment provides a qualified right of public access to jurors' names during voir dire, thus creating a presumption of access that can be overcome only on a case-by-case basis by showing both that a compelling state interest exists in a particular case to shield the names and that denying access is a remedy narrowly tailored to serve that interest. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the First Amendment does not provide the press or public with a qualified right to access jurors' names, and the law is facially valid. View "Morgan v. Honorable Dickerson" on Justia Law

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On July 18, 2012, Robinson beat, bound, and immolated his nine-months-pregnant girlfriend, S.H., in their apartment, killing her and their unborn child, B.H. He then placed a 9-1-1 call to report a fire. Upon extinguishing the fire, responders discovered S.H.’s partially burned body lying face down on the bedroom floor with her feet and hands bound, wrists handcuffed, mouth and eyes covered with duct tape, and mouth stuffed with cloth. A search of Robinson’s backpack revealed rolls of duct tape, pieces of crumpled duct tape, a matchbook with at least one match missing, and a receipt reflecting purchases of duct tape and a bottle of lighter fluid that day. Police found a handcuff key in Robinson’s pocket.Robinson was sentenced to death. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed, first rejecting “Batson” challenges to the dismissal of potential minority jurors. The court upheld the jury’s “especial cruelty” and its “heinous or depraved conduct” findings. The legislature’s decision to equate feticide with infanticide also makes B.H.’s murder senseless as a matter of law. Robinson’s double-counting argument failed. Although the jury was prohibited from weighing B.H.’s age twice as it “assesse[d] aggravation and mitigation” at the penalty phase, it was permitted to “use one fact to find multiple aggravators” at the aggravation phase. The court also rejected challenges to jury instructions and statements made by the prosecutor. View "State of Arizona v Robinson" on Justia Law

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Cal-Am, a developer and operator of RV and mobile-home parks leased the Yuma Sundance RV Resort from its owner, intending to construct a new banquet and concert hall on the property. The property owner provided the funding for the construction. Cal-Am managed the project. Cal-Am hired a contractor, Nickle, to design and construct the hall, who then hired Edais Engineering to survey the property and place construction stakes to mark the Hall’s permitted location. No contract existed between Edais and Cal-Am. Edais acknowledges that its placement of the stakes was defective. Cal-Am was forced to adjust its site plan, eliminating eight RV parking spaces. Cal-Am sued Edais for claims including negligence. The trial court granted Edais summary judgment on the negligence claim finding that Cal-Am could not recover its purely economic damages. The court of appeals affirmed.The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed, repudiating its 1984 Donnelly Construction holding that a design professional’s duty to use ordinary skill, care, and diligence in rendering professional services extends both to persons in privity with the professional and to persons foreseeably affected by a breach of that duty. Under Arizona’s current framework, which repudiated foreseeability as a basis for duty, design professionals lacking privity of contract with project owners do not owe a duty to those owners to reimburse purely economic damages. View "Cal-Am Properties, Inc. v. Edais Engineering, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the Indian Reorganization Act did not expressly preempt Mohave County's ad valorem property tax on a power plant owned by non-Indian lessees of land purportedly acquired by the federal government under the Act and held in trust for the benefit of an Indian tribe.Plaintiff initiated these consolidated lawsuits seeking a refund of payments for property taxes imposed from 2010 to 2018 to the extent they were based on valuations of the power plant at issue, arguing that section 5 of the Act, 25 U.S.C. 5108, expressly preempts states from imposing property taxes on any real property improvements located on land held in trust by the federal government for the benefit of Indian tribes or individuals. The tax court granted summary judgment for the County, but the court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment in part, holding that section 5 of the Act expressly preempts taxing permanent improvements constructed on tribal lands acquired under that section when those improvements are owned by non-Indians. View "South Point Energy Center LLC v. Arizona Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

Posted in: Tax Law
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The Supreme Court held that the identity of an alleged narcotic drug is an element of Arizona's drug possession statute, Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-3408, and therefore, jury unanimity is required as to which drug or drugs listed in Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-3401(6), (19), (20), or (23) was involved in an offense under section 34-3408.Petitioners in this case were Mexican natives lawfully residing in the United States who were convicted of drug-related counts. Based on their convictions, the immigration court ordered them removed from the country. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit certified for the Supreme Court questions regarding whether Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-3415 and section 13-3408 were divisible as to drug type. The Supreme Court declined to answer the first two certified questions but did hold that jury unanimity regarding the identity of a specific drug is required for a conviction under section 13-3408. View "Romero-Millan v. Barr" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the tax court dismissing Counts I through III of the Attorney General's complaint and granting summary judgment on Count IV, holding that the tax court erred in part.At issue was the scope of three statutes the Attorney General (AG) invoked to challenge an agreement between the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) and a private company for the company to construct and operate a hotel and conference center on property owned by ABOR. The Supreme Court held (1) to initiate an action under Ariz. Rev. Stat. 42-1004(E) there must be an applicable tax law to enforce; (2) the AG may bring a quo warranto action pursuant to Ariz. Rev. Stat. 12-2041 to challenge the unlawful usurpation or exercise of a public franchise; and (3) the AG's public-monies claim was subject to the five-year statute of limitations set forth in Ariz. Rev. Stat. 35-212(E). View "State v. Arizona Board of Regents" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that a homeowners' association (HOA) may not rely on a general amendment power provision in its covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) to place restrictions on landowners' use of their land only as to those restrictions for which the HOA's original declaration has provided sufficient notice.Plaintiff brought this action against Calabria Ranch Estates, a residential subdivision, and other property owners seeking a declaratory judgment to invalidate recently amended CC&RS that were voted upon without Plaintiff's consent or knowledge. The superior court invalidated portions of the amended CC&RS. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that all of the amendments were invalid without unanimous consent. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that an HOA cannot create new affirmative obligations where the original declaration did not provide notice to the homeowners that they might be subject to such regulations. View "Kalway v. Calabria Ranch HOA, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that because the alleged conduct of a victim of the collision in this case occurred simultaneously with Max Fontes's alleged criminal conduct, Fontes was not entitled to a superseding cause jury instruction.Max Fontes was speeding when he struck Angel Shelby's vehicle. Shelby and his son were not restrained, and the child died. Shelby later pled guilty to driving under the influence and endangerment. Fontes was charged with, inter alia, manslaughter. Before trial, the State filed a motion in limine to preclude Fontes from raising a superseding cause defense. The trial court denied the motion, finding that Shelby's acts could constitute a superseding cause. The court of appeals vacated the trial court's order, concluding that a superseding cause instruction was precluded under the circumstances. The Supreme Court vacated the judgments of the lower courts, holding (1) Fontes was not entitled to a superseding cause jury instruction because Shelby's alleged acts and omissions were not intervening events; but (2) the court of appeals failed to analyze the predicate issue of whether Shelby's alleged acts and omissions were intervening events. View "State v. Honorable Aragon" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court held that the Pinal County Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) and the Penal County Board of Supervisors (Board) acted unlawfully when they adopted a two-tiered retail transaction privilege tax (TPT) on tangible personal property as part of a transportation excise tax.At issue was (1) Pinal County's adoption of Proposition 416, a regional transportation plan, and Proposition 417, a transportation excise tax; and (2) a two-tiered TPT structure whereby the first $10,000 of any single item was taxed at one rate and any amount in excess was taxed at a rate of zero percent adopted as part of a transportation excise tax in Pinal County. The Supreme Court held (1) Pinal County complied with state law in adopting the transportation excise tax; but (2) the County's two-tiered retail transaction privilege tax was invalid. View "Vangilder v. Arizona Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

Posted in: Tax Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court in this parental rights termination case, holding that the juvenile court applied the incorrect definition of "normal home" in Ariz. Rev. Stat. 8-533(B) in terminating the parental interest of Father to his child.The juvenile court found H.B. and her half-siblings dependent as to Mother and their respective fathers. As to Father, the court found that DCS had proved termination pursuant to the length-of-sentence ground listed 8-533(B)(4) and that termination was in H.B.'s best interests. Specifically, the court concluded that Father's incarceration had and would continue to deprive H.B. of a normal home for a period of years, thus demonstrating the legnth-of-sentence ground for termination. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the juvenile court erred by not considering whether a permanent guardianship could provide H.B. with a "normal home" while Father maintained his parental rights; and (2) remand was necessary for consideration of Father's past and ongoing efforts to parent H.B. from prison and their impact on H.B.'s interest in a stable home life in the court's best interests analysis. View "Timothy B. v. Department of Child Safety" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law