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Civil Procedure: Rules 60(b) and 59 Applicability to Challenging Constitutionality of Punitive Damages Award

Posted by Ted A. Schmidt | Feb 23, 2022 | 0 Comments

Aloia v. Gore, No. 1 CA-CV 20-0431 (App. Div. I, February 15, 2022) (J.Howe)

Trial court lacks jurisdiction to consider rule 60(b) motion attacking constitutionality of punitive damage award where attack must be made via rule 59 motion for new trial filed within 15 days of the entry of judgement.

Plaintiffs were awarded $8.5 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages arising out of defendants' mishandling of the body parts of the plaintiffs' loved ones. The defendant Gore attacked the constitutionality of the punitive damage award with an untimely motion for new trial under rule 59 of the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure. The motion was untimely, due to Gore's attorney not receiving notice of the entry of the judgment from the clerk.  Thereafter defendant sought the same relief under Rule 60(b).  The trial court granted this motion for relief from the judgment and reduced the punitive damage award to $8.5 million.  Gore appealed arguing the punitive damage award should be reduced further.  The plaintiffs cross-appealed arguing the trial court lacked jurisdiction to reduce the punitive damage award.

The Arizona Court of Appeals vacated the trial court's ruling and remanded the matter for reinstatement of the $50 million punitive damage award.

The trial court lacked jurisdiction to grant relief under either Rule 60(b)(1) or Rule 60(b)(6). As the parties recognized, Rule 59 sets forth the procedure to contest the constitutionality of a jury's punitive damages award when a defendant does not timely move for a judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50. See Rule 50, 59(a)(1)(E) (“excessive or insufficient damages” as grounds for new trial) and 59(f) (allowing grant of a conditional new trial when reduction of damages is ordered). As stated above, a Rule 59 motion for a new trial “must be filed no later than 15 days after the entry of judgment.” This deadline may not be extended by stipulation or court order “except as allowed by Rule 6(b)(2).” Failure to comply with Rule 59's deadline deprives a court of jurisdiction to rule on the motion's merits.

About the Author

Ted A. Schmidt

Ted's early career as a trial attorney began on the other side of the fence, in the offices of a major insurance defense firm. It was there that Ted acquired the experience, the skills and the special insight into defense strategy that have served him so well in the field of personal injury law. Notable among his successful verdicts was the landmark Sparks vs. Republic National Life Insurance Company case, a $4.5 million award to Ted's client. To this day, it is the defining case for insurance bad faith, and yet it is only one of several other multi-million dollar jury judgments won by Ted during his career. He is certified by the State Bar of Arizona as a specialist in "wrongful death and bodily injury litigation".


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