Badilla v. Wal-Mart Stores E. Inc.

Decision Date10 September 2015
Docket Number34,085.
Citation2015 NMSC 029,357 P.3d 936
PartiesKenneth BADILLA, Plaintiff–Petitioner, v. WAL–MART STORES EAST INC., d/b/a Wal–Mart # 850, et al., Defendant–Respondent.
CourtNew Mexico Supreme Court

Narciso Garcia, Jr., Albuquerque, NM, for Petitioner.

Rodey, Dickason, Sloan, Akin & Robb, P.A., Jeffrey M. Croasdell, Patrick M. Shay, Thomas A. Outler, Albuquerque, NM, for Respondent.

OPINION

VIGIL, Chief Justice.

{1} We are called upon to decide whether a complaint for breach of warranty seeking damages for personal injury under the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) is governed by the four-year statute of limitations for suits based on the sale of goods, or whether the three-year statute of limitations for tort applies.

{2} Kenneth Badilla (Plaintiff) bought a pair of work boots at Wal–Mart. He claims the soles of the boots came unglued, causing him to trip and injure his back. More than three years later, on September 20, 2007, he sued Wal–Mart and its store manager (Defendants) for breach of express and implied warranties. In his complaint Plaintiff seeks damages for personal injuries he claims were caused by the boots' alleged failure to conform to their warranties. Defendants moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted on two grounds: first, that Plaintiff's complaint was time-barred by the application of the three-year statute of limitation for causes of action for torts in NMSA 1978, Section 37–1–8 (1976) rather than the four-year statute of limitation period in the UCC under NMSA 1978, Section 55–2–725(1) (1961) ; and second, that there were no genuine issues of material fact to rebut Plaintiff's inability to establish the elements for breach of express and implied warranty.

{3} Plaintiff appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment in Defendants' favor to the Court of Appeals. Badilla v. Wal–Mart Stores E., Inc., 2013–NMCA–058, 302 P.3d 747. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on the statute of limitations issue, and because its determination on that issue was dispositive, it abstained from addressing the second basis upon which the district court granted summary judgment.Id. ¶ 16.

{4} Plaintiff sought review of the Court of Appeals' decision by petition for writ of certiorari, asking this Court to determine whether his claims for personal injury damages resulting from breach of warranties were subject to the four-year limitation period set out in Section 55–2–725 or the three-year limitation period for tort actions found in Section 37–1–8.1 Badilla v. Wal–Mart Stores E., Inc., cert. granted, 2013–NMSA–005, 302 P.3d 1162. We granted Plaintiff's petition and reverse the Court of Appeals. We hold that the UCC's four-year statute of limitation governs breach of warranty claims, including those seeking damages for personal injuries resulting from the breach.

I. BACKGROUND

{5} Plaintiff, a tree trimmer, purchased a pair of Brahma brand men's work boots from Wal–Mart on October 19, 2003. The boots' packaging described the boots as “iron tough,” “rugged leather ... men's work boots.” The label also stated that the boots “me[t] or exceed[ed] ASTM F2413–05 standards,” which “outlin[e] what footwear employers must ensure employees use under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which requires protection against falling or rolling objects, objects piercing the sole, and when an employee's feet are exposed to electrical wires.” Badilla, 2013–NMCA–058, ¶ 2 & 2 n. 1, 302 P.3d 747 (citing 29 C.F.R. § 1910.136 (2009) ). Plaintiff wore the boots eight to twelve hours per day, six days a week, for about nine months. He claims that as the sole of “the boots wear down[,] the yellow rubber piece tends to unglue itself and roll up as you are walking, making it very dangerous when working.” Plaintiff states that this unglued piece of the sole of the boots caused him to trip, fall over, and injure his back.

{6} On July 28, 2004, Plaintiff was wearing the boots while at work cutting down dead tree limbs and removing the logs. When he began to move a log weighing about 150 pounds, the unglued sole of his boot got caught on debris, causing him to fall backwards and drop the log on top of himself. He immediately felt a sharp pain in his back. The next morning, he was unable to get out of bed due to his back pain, and was driven to the emergency room. He had x-rays and an MRI, which showed that he had two ruptured or bulging discs. Following five or six months of physical therapy, Plaintiff eventually underwent back surgery.

{7} Plaintiff filed his complaint against Defendants alleging breach of warranties on September 20, 2007, about three years and two months after the accident. In his complaint, Plaintiff seeks damages for personal injuries caused by the allegedly defective boots based upon (1) breach of express warranty, (2) breach of implied warranty of merchantability, and (3) breach of implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose. These claims are brought pursuant to the UCC as set forth in NMSA 1978, Sections 55–2–313 to –315 (1961), respectively. Defendants answered the complaint and raised affirmative defenses, including the assertion that Plaintiff's damages were barred by the statute of limitations.

{8} Defendants filed a second motion for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff's complaint was time-barred by the three-year tort statute of limitations under Section 37–1–8. Defendants also argued that, while Plaintiff had “establishe[d] the existence of an express warranty based on the product description printed on the packaging,” he had failed to assert that Defendants engaged in “any specific acts [that would] constitute a breach of that warranty,” and failed to show how the boots failed to conform with any implied warranties. Defendants argued that there were no genuine issues of material fact at issue on either basis, and that they were entitled to summary judgment. The district court agreed with Defendants on both grounds, and granted summary judgment in their favor under Rule 1–056 NMRA.

{9} Plaintiff appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Court of Appeals. Badilla, 2013–NMCA–058, ¶ 4, 302 P.3d 747. The Court of Appeals addressed only the first issue and affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment, holding that “when a personal injury is the basis for a breach of warranty suit, the essence of the injury should govern which statute of limitation applies.” Id. ¶ 12. Thus, the Court of Appeals concluded that because Plaintiff's claims were “undisputedly for personal injury, rather than loss based on the commercial value of the boots, [they] must remain subject to the three-year ... statute of limitation” for torts. Id. The Court of Appeals found that its determination of the statute of limitations issue was dispositive, and for this reason it did not address the second basis upon which it granted certiorari to the district court—whether there was indeed no genuine issue of material fact as to Plaintiff's inability to establish the elements necessary to prove breach of warranty. Id. ¶ 16.

{10} Plaintiff petitioned this Court for a writ of certiorari, which we granted in order to review whether the “essence of the injury should govern which statute of limitation applies” in a breach of warranty suit seeking damages for personal injury caused by the breach. Id. ¶ 12. We hold that it does not.

II. DISCUSSION

{11} The central issue is whether the four-year statute of limitation period applies to claims under the UCC seeking damages for personal injury sustained from a breach of warranty, or whether the three-year statute of limitation period for claims based in tort applies. In deciding this issue, we first examine the development of the UCC, and then proceed to review the language of the statute, to discern the Legislature's intent behind its adoption of the UCC statute of limitation.

In doing so, we conclude that the UCC statute of limitation applies to actions for breach of warranty where a party seeks to recover damages for personal injuries. Further, we acknowledge that other jurisdictions join one of two main approaches in addressing this issue, and conclude that the majority approach is most consistent with the law in New Mexico. Finally, we conclude that Plaintiff asserts breach of warranty claims seeking personal injury damages. Therefore the UCC statute of limitation governs his claims. Accordingly, we reverse and remand to the Court of Appeals for consideration of whether there was a genuine issue of material fact precluding summary judgment on the merits of Plaintiff's claims, which the Court of Appeals did not reach in its initial opinion on this case.

A. Standard of Review

{12} Our determination of the applicable statute of limitations requires us to interpret the statutory scheme of our UCC. Interpretation of a statute is an issue of law ... [which w]e review ... de novo.” Pub. Serv. Co. of N.M. v. N.M. Pub. Util. Comm'n, 1999–NMSC–040, ¶ 14, 128 N.M. 309, 992 P.2d 860 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “When this Court construes statutes, our charge is to determine and give effect to the Legislature's intent.” Moongate Water Co. v. City of Las Cruces, 2013–NMSC–018, ¶ 6, 302 P.3d 405 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “To discern the Legislature's intent, the Court look[s] first to the plain language of the statute, giving the words their ordinary meaning, unless the Legislature indicates a different one was intended.” State v. Almanzar, 2014–NMSC–001, ¶ 14, 316 P.3d 183 (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “Where the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, we must give effect to that language and refrain from further statutory interpretation.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “When interpreting a statute, we are also informed by the history, background, and overall structure of the statute, as well as its...

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