Arpaio v. Figueroa

Citation229 Ariz. 444,276 P.3d 513,633 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 35
Decision Date30 April 2012
Docket NumberNo. 2 CA–SA 2012–0015.,2 CA–SA 2012–0015.
PartiesJoseph M. ARPAIO and Ava Arpaio, husband and wife; Karyn Kleinschmidt, nka Karyn Markwell; Randal S. Harenberg and Carlene Harenberg, husband and wife; Sandra M. Garfias, Petitioners, v. Hon. Gilberto V. FIGUEROA, Judge of the Superior Court of the State of Arizona, in and for the County of Pinal, Respondent, and Jennifer Braillard, Real Party in Interest.
CourtArizona Court of Appeals

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Struck Wieneke & Love, P.L.C. By Daniel P. Struck, Amy L. Nguyen, and Nicholas D. Acedo, Chandler, Attorneys for Petitioners.

Stinson Morrison Hecker, LLP By Michael C. Manning, Larry J. Wulkan, Leslie E. O'Hara, and Stefan M. Palys, Phoenix, Attorneys for Real Party in Interest.

OPINION

VÁSQUEZ, Presiding Judge.

[229 Ariz. 445]¶ 1 This special action arose from the underlying action real party in interest Jennifer Braillard had brought against petitioners Joseph and Ava Arpaio, Karyn Kleinschmidt, Randal and Carlene Harenberg, and Sandra Garfias in connection with the death of Braillard's mother. Petitioners challenge the respondent judge's order, directing them to give a “detailed accounting of the [ir] personal community assets” to their respective attorneys, who would in turn produce them for discovery if Braillard established a prima facie case for punitive damages. Petitioners further challenge the respondent's subsequent refusal to issue a protective order as to the information. We accept jurisdiction and grant relief.

Background

¶ 2 Braillard brought an action against petitioners and multiple other defendants alleging negligence, gross negligence, and violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, after her mother, a diabetic, died in the Maricopa County Medical Center, where she was brought after spending three days in a Maricopa County jail without insulin or treatment for complications caused by the lack of insulin. Braillard also sought punitive damages “against the individual Defendants.”

[229 Ariz. 446]¶ 3 The case was set for trial. At a pretrial hearing, Braillard pointed out that she had asserted punitive damages claims against many of the defendants, and although she conceded she was not “entitled to see their financial statements today,” she maintained production of that information at a later time might lead to a delay. Braillard asked the respondent judge to order the defendants against whom she had asserted claims for punitive damage, including petitioners, to produce “personal sworn financial statements” that would be sealed and given to the respondent before the start of trial. Petitioners objected, arguing that because Braillard had not yet made a prima facie showing that punitive damages were appropriate, they should not be required to produce or disclose their records and that Braillard's request was “nothing more than an attempt to intimidate” them.

¶ 4 The respondent judge apparently planned to wait until trial to decide whether Braillard had made a prima facie showing for punitive damages, thereby entitling her to present the issue of punitive damages to the jury. And, in order to avoid what he viewed as an inevitable delay either before or during trial, the respondent ordered petitioners to gather the information and provide it to their respective attorneys so it would be available if he later determined Braillard had made the requisite prima facie showing. During a telephonic status review hearing two days later, petitioners requested “a protective order with respect to the[ir] personal financial information” in the event the respondent determined a prima facie showing had been made. The respondent denied that motion, stating he did not believe he had the authority to issue such an order. This special action followed.

Discussion

¶ 5 “The decision to accept or reject special action jurisdiction is highly discretionary,” and [a] primary consideration is whether the petitioner has an equally plain, speedy and adequate remedy by appeal.” Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co. v. Grant, 222 Ariz. 507, ¶ 9, 217 P.3d 1212, 1216 (App.2009). “Although appellate courts do not ‘routinely entertain petitions for extraordinary relief on discovery matters,’ special action jurisdiction may be appropriate because a discovery order is not immediately appealable.” Id. ¶ 10,quoting Green v. Nygaard, 213 Ariz. 460, ¶ 6, 143 P.3d 393, 395 (App.2006) (finding special action jurisdiction appropriate “when the issue involves interpretation or application of civil procedure rules”). And when the subject of the discovery order is “privileged or confidential material,” it is particularly appropriate to accept jurisdiction. Cervantes v. Cates, 206 Ariz. 178, ¶ 8, 76 P.3d 449, 452 (App.2003); see also Salvation Army v. Bryson, 229 Ariz. 204, ¶ 1, 273 P.3d 656, 657 (App.2012). Under these circumstances, petitioners' remedy by appeal would be inadequate. 1 Furthermore, petitioners' arguments present purely legal issues, which are likely to arise again and may be resolved appropriately by special action. State ex rel. Romley v. Martin, 203 Ariz. 46, ¶ 4, 49 P.3d 1142, 1143 (App.2002). We therefore accept special action jurisdiction.

¶ 6 We first address Braillard's contention in her response to the petition for special action that [t]he issue presented is moot.” Based on comments the respondent judge made after this court granted petitioners' request for a stay of respondent's ruling, Braillard maintains the respondent “gave [petitioners] the very relief [they] seek[ ] from this Court.” The comments to which she is referring are the following:

I think my instinct at this point would be to say ... if that's [the appellate court's] ruling, and that's what [it] feels most comfortable with, then we're probably going to take the risk. And on the twelfth day if I find there's a prima facie case and I order the documents produced and Sheriff Arpaio tells me to go jump in the lake, then I've got two choices. I hold him in contempt or [counsel] files another special action and the judge stays me and we move forward. I don't know that we're going to be able to do much more than that.

Those comments, however, were made in the context of this court having ordered the respondent's ruling on the petitioners' financial information stayed pending our resolution of this special action. Nothing in the respondent's comments suggests he had vacated his ruling or otherwise changed his position; rather, his comments show he was simply complying with this court's order. The issues raised in the petition are not moot.

¶ 7 We turn then to petitioners' argument that, in light of this court's decision in Larriva v. Montiel, 143 Ariz. 23, 691 P.2d 735 (App.1984), the respondent judge's “order to produce should be vacated.” “A trial court has broad discretion in resolving discovery disputes.” Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co., 222 Ariz. 507, ¶ 11, 217 P.3d at 1216. But, “a court abuses its discretion when it commits an error of law in reaching its decision.” Id.

¶ 8 Although we noted in Larriva that financial information about the defendant is relevant “in a proper punitive damages case,” we added, “there must be prima facie proof of a defendant's liability for punitive damages before his wealth or financial condition may be discovered.” 143 Ariz. at 24, 691 P.2d at 736. We rejected the approach adopted by some states, requiring “a preliminary liability verdict” before allowing financial discovery, as well as the approach of other states, allowing financial discovery in the absence of a prima facie showing on punitive damages. Id. at 25–26, 691 P.2d at 737–38. Rather, we determined that a plaintiff must make a prima facie showing “that he will be entitled to present the issue of punitive damages to the jury before discovery should be allowed in the financial area,” noting this could be accomplished “through discovery, by evidentiary means or through an offer of proof.” Id. at 26, 691 P.2d at 738.

¶ 9 In reaching this conclusion, we noted policy reasons for requiring a prima facie showing, which included the need to ‘protect[ ] the defendant from an unwarranted invasion of privacy and harassment where the plaintiff has merely asserted a claim for punitive damages.’ Id. at 24, 691 P.2d at 736,quoting Leidholt v. District Court, 619 P.2d 768, 771 (Colo.1980). The court in Leidholt further explained, “disproportionate discovery may increase the cost of litigation, harass the opponent, and tend to delay a fair and just determination of the legal issues.” 619 P.2d at 770;see also Richards v. Superior Court, 86 Cal.App.3d 265, 150 Cal.Rptr. 77, 80 (1978) ( “Response to discovery seeking financial information places a severe burden on the responder. As a minimum, there is the time and expense necessary to the compilation of a complex mass of information unrelated to the substantive claim involved in the lawsuit....”).

¶ 10 In our view, although the respondent judge's order did not require petitioners to disclose the information to Braillard, it nevertheless required them to find, compile, and provide their counsel with their financial information, which could be viewed as more harassing and burdensome to the defendants themselves than any subsequent disclosure required by their counsel. See Larriva, 143 Ariz. at 24, 691 P.2d at 736;Richards, 150 Cal.Rptr. at 80. We see no reason why the policies we emphasized in Larriva should not apply here, where the burden imposed on petitioners is essentially the same, entitling them to the protection we deemed necessary in Larriva.

¶ 11 In support of a contrary conclusion, Braillard cites several out-of-state and federal cases in which courts have ordered production of certain evidence for in camera review. We are not bound, however, by the decisions of the courts of other states, Ramsey v. Yavapai Family Advocacy Ctr., 225 Ariz. 132, ¶ 32, 235 P.3d 285, 294 (App.2010), nor those of the federal district courts, Dube v. Likins, 216...

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