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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions for first degree murder and child abuse and Defendant’s sentence of death, holding that there was no reversible error in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial court did not commit an error under Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154 (1994) by failing to instruct the jury that Defendant was ineligible after instructing the jurors that a life sentence includes the “possibility of release from prison after serving 35 years”; (2) there was no error in empaneling a juror who was a convicted felon; (3) there was no merit to Defendant’s challenges to each of the aggravating factors found by the jury; (4) the trial court did not commit reversible error in its evidentiary rulings; (5) there was sufficient evidence to support the convictions; (6) the prosecutor did not violate Defendant’s due process rights by misstating the law on mitigation during the penalty phase; (7) Defendant’s claim of cumulative prosecutorial misconduct failed; and (8) the jury did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Defendant to death. View "State v. Sanders" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that an abuser’s ongoing threats of harm over a three-month period may establish a “threat or use of immediate physical force” under Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-412(A) supporting a defendant’s duress defense to charges of abusing her children. Defendant and her husband were convicted of the kidnapping and child abuse of their three daughters. At issue on appeal was whether the husband’s threats and abuse of Defendant created a threat of immediate harm sufficient to support a duress defense and whether Defendant’s proposed expert testimony was admissible as observation evidence. The Court of Appeals answered both questions in the affirmative. The Supreme Court vacated a portion of the court of appeals’ opinion, reversed Defendant’s convictions and sentences, and remanded this case for a new trial, holding (1) the trial court erred when it precluded Defendant from raising a duress defense and from introducing evidence in support of that defense; and (2) the expert testimony regarding the psychological effects of Defendant’s husband’s ongoing threats of harm did not constitute permissible observation evidence under Clark v. Arizona, 548 U.S. 735 (2006). View "State v. Richter" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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In this negligence action, the Supreme Court held that a negligence claim based solely on an officer’s intentional use of physical force is inappropriate. Rather, the appropriate state-law claim is for battery. Plaintiff filed this complaint seeking damages for dog-bite injuries he received when a law enforcement officer intentionally released a police dog against him. The jury found in favor of Plaintiff and awarded him $617,500 in damages. The court of appeals affirmed in a split decision. The Supreme Court vacated the opinion of the court of appeals and reversed the trial court’s judgment, holding (1) while plaintiffs cannot assert a negligence claim under the circumstances of this case, plaintiffs may base a negligence claim on conduct by the officer that is independent of the intentional use of physical force; (2) at trial on a battery claim, expert witnesses cannot suggest to the jury that Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989), is the legal standard for deciding the applicability of Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-409, which provides a justification defense for law enforcement officers who use physical force. View "Ryan v. Napier" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury

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When asked to decide the rate at which interest on a $7.8 million judgment Plaintiff obtained against the State accrued pending appeal, the Supreme Court held that the interest rate prescribed by Ariz. Rev. Stat. 41-622(F) applied to the judgment. Plaintiff filed this negligence action against the state, and the jury awarded her $7.8 million. The State’s appeal was unsuccessful. While the judgment was supposed to be paid from the State’s Risk Management Revolving Fund, the judgment was erroneously paid from the Construction Insurance Fund (CIF). When the mistake was discovered, the CIF was reimbursed from the Revolving Fund. In 2015, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment to resolve the calculation of post-judgment interest. At issue was whether, because the judgment had initially been paid from the CIF, it was subject to the rate of interest prescribed by Ariz. Rev. Stat. 44-1201(B) instead of the lower rate prescribed by section 44-622(F) for judgments paid from the Revolving Fund. The superior court concluded that the lower rate applied. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that section 41-622(F) applied to the entire judgment, including any portion for which the State may be reimbursed by its excess insurance coverage. View "Glazer v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions for two counts of first degree murder, attempted first degree murder, and other crimes and Defendant’s sentence of death for each murder, holding that no prejudicial error occurred in the trial proceedings. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant’s pretrial motions for a change of venue and continuance; (2) Defendant’s claims of error in jury selection and voir dire were unavailing; (3) evidence of Defendant’s confession was properly admitted; (4) the trial court did not commit fundamental error under Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154 (1994) by failing to inform the jury that Defendant would not be eligible for release if sentenced to life imprisonment; (5) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing victim-impact evidence; and (6) there was no abuse of discretion in imposing the death sentence. The dissent argued at length that the death sentence is cruel and unusual punishment under the Arizona Constitution. View "State v. Bush" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that Ariz. Rev. Stat. 45-108 does not require the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) to consider unquantified federal reserved water rights when it determines whether a developer has an adequate water supply for purposes of the statute. This case stemmed from the ADWR’s 2013 adequate water supply approving Pueblo Del Sol Water Company’s application to supply water to a proposed development in Cochise County. The superior court vacated ADWR’s decision, concluding that the agency erred in determining that Pueblo’s water supply was “legally available” because ADWR was required to consider potential and existing legal claims that might affect the availability of the water supply, including the Bureau of Land Management’s unquantified federal water right. The Supreme Court vacated the superior court’s decision and affirmed ADWR’s approval of Pueblo’s application, holding that ADWR is not required to consider unquantified federal reserved water rights under its physical availability or legal availability analysis. View "Silver v. Pueblo Del Sol Water Co" on Justia Law

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At issue in this workers’ compensation case was whether, when a worker settles a claim against a third party for less than the limits of the third party’s insurance, the worker may obtain a judicial determination of whether the insurance carrier’s lien should be reduced to account for the employer’s comparative fault. Victor Leija died during the course of his employment. Victor’s family claimed workers’ compensation benefits through Twin City Fire Insurance Company, Victor’s employer’s workers’ compensation carrier. Twin City accepted the claim. The Leijas also filed a negligence action against third parties who allegedly negligently caused Victor’s death. Meanwhile, Twin City asserted its right under Ariz. Rev. Stat. 23-1023(D) to fully enforce a lien against all settlement proceeds to the extent of past and future workers’ compensation benefits. After the Leijas and the third-party defendants settled, Twin City filed this action to fully enforce its lien. The Leijas counterclaimed, requesting that the superior court set a trial to establish the employer’s proportionate fault and the resulting amount of Twin City’s lien. The superior court ruled in Twin City’s favor. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a claimant who settles all third-party claims is not entitled to a post-settlement trial to determine the percentage of employer fault solely to reduce or extinguish the insurance carrier’s lien. View "Twin City Fire Insurance Co. v. Leija" on Justia Law

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At issue was when the statute of limitations commences on credit card debt subject to an optional acceleration clause. The Supreme Court held that Mertola LLC’s lawsuit seeking to collect an outstanding credit card debt from Alberto and Arlene Santos (together, Santos) was barred by the six-year statute of limitations pursuant to Ariz. Rev. Stat. 12-548(A)(2), despite the credit card agreement in this case giving the bank the option of declaring the debt immediately due and payable upon default. Santos defaulted on the credit card debt, and Mertola eventually acquired Santos’s debt. Mertola sued for breach of the account agreement, seeking the entire outstanding balance. The superior court granted summary judgment for Santos, concluding that the breaches alleged by Mertola occurred more than six years prior to the filing of this action. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that although the statute of limitations for a missed payment begins to run when the payment is due, the cause of action as to future installments does not accrue until the creditor exercises the acceleration clause. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals’ opinion and affirmed the trial court, holding that when a credit card contract contains an optional acceleration clause, a cause of action to collect the entire outstanding debt accrues upon default. View "Mertola, LLC v. Santos" on Justia Law

Posted in: Banking, Contracts

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction for transportation of a narcotic drug for sale, holding that the trial court’s remedy for a Batson violation of reinstating wrongfully excluded jurors to the venire was proper. During Defendant’s trial, the prosecutor violated Defendant’s equal protection rights by using peremptory strikes to remove Hispanic jurors from the venire, in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). Defendant moved for a mistrial and dismissal of the entire venire. The trial court denied the motion and empaneled the first nine jurors who had not been struck, including two of the reinstated jurors. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court’s remedy of restoring the impermissibly excluded juror to their prior places on the venire and forfeiting the State’s peremptory challenges was sufficient. View "State v. Urrea" on Justia Law

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In this medical malpractice action, the Supreme Court held that a stipulated dismissal with prejudice of an agent-surgeon does not preclude a party from asserting a claim against the surgeon’s principal for its own independent negligence, and this is true even when the independent negligence claim requires proof of the surgeon’s negligence. Plaintiffs filed medical malpractice actions against Hospital and Surgeon alleging that Surgeon was negligent in his surgical care and that Hospital was both vicariously liable for Surgeon’s negligence and independently negligent. Plaintiffs subsequently entered into a settlement agreement with Surgeon precluding Plaintiffs from pursuing claims against Hospital based on a theory of vicarious liability, although Plaintiffs could bring independent claims against Hospital. Hospital moved to dismiss the remaining claims on the ground that they were derivative of Surgeon’s negligence. The trial court agreed and dismissed most of Plaintiffs’ remaining claims against Hospital. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Plaintiffs’ claims for negligent credentialing, hiring, and supervision were based on Hospital’s independent negligence and thus were preserved in the settlement agreement with Surgeon; and (2) the holding in DeGraff v. Smith, 62 Ariz. 261 (1945), that a stipulated dismissal with prejudice operates as an adjudication that the dismissed party was not negligent in the treatment of the plaintiff, is disavowed. View "Kopp v. Physician Group of Arizona, Inc." on Justia Law