Fastbucks of Roswell, N.M., LLC v. King

Decision Date01 November 2012
Docket NumberNo. 31,007.,31,007.
Citation294 P.3d 1287
PartiesFASTBUCKS OF ROSWELL, NEW MEXICO, LLC, FastBucks of Alamogordo, New Mexico, LLC, FastBucks of Gallup, New Mexico, LLC, FastBucks of Las Vegas, New Mexico, LLC, FastBucks of Rio Rancho, New Mexico, LLC, FastBucks Holding Corp., FastBucks, Inc., and FastBucks Wage and Benefits, LLC, Plaintiffs–Appellants, v. Gary K. KING, Attorney General of the State of New Mexico, Defendant–Appellee.
CourtCourt of Appeals of New Mexico

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Streubel Kochersberger Mortimer, L.L.C., David A. Streubel, Donald F. Kochersberger III, Albuquerque, NM, for Appellants.

Scott Fuqua, Assistant Attorney General, Santa Fe, NM, for Appellee.

OPINION

FRY, Judge.

{1} Plaintiffs, which are several FastBucks-related entities (FastBucks), appeal the decision of the Fifth Judicial District Court (5th district court) denying FastBucks' petition for mandamus relief against the Attorney General on the basis that granting relief would unduly interfere with pending litigation between the parties before the First Judicial District Court (1st district court). Because we conclude that the 5th district court properly exercised its discretion in denying the petition for mandamus to defer to a sister court already having jurisdiction over the parties and the issues, we affirm.

BACKGROUND

{2} On June 18, 2009, the Attorney General filed suit against numerous FastBucks entities in 1st district court (AG Lawsuit) challenging FastBucks' lending practices and certain consumer loans issued throughout the state. The Attorney General claimed that the loans and lending practices at issue in the AG Lawsuit are unconscionable pursuant to common law and the New Mexico Unfair Practices Act, NMSA 1978, Sections 57–12–1 to –26 (1967, as amended through 2009). The Attorney General alleged that interest rates on these loans routinely exceeded 500 percent per annum and that prolonged amortization periods resulted in cumulative payments over five times the principal of the original loan amounts. The Attorney General further alleged that FastBucks offered the loans without giving consumers a meaningful opportunity to negotiate and failed to conduct meaningful inquiries into the likelihood or ability of the borrowers to successfully complete repayment. The Attorney General requested that the district court declare FastBucks' lending practices and loan terms unconscionable and award restitution, civil penalties, and injunctive relief.

{3} Exactly one year later, following unsuccessful attempts by FastBucks to obtain pretrial dismissal of the AG Lawsuit, FastBucks filed a petition for writ of mandamus against the Attorney General in the 5th district court seeking to prohibit the Attorney General from continuing to pursue the AG Lawsuit. FastBucks alleged that its loans were “made in full compliance with all relevant statutory and regulatory mandates,” specifically those found in the New Mexico Small Loan Act of 1955, NMSA 1978, Sections 58–15–1 to –39 (1955, as amended through 2007), and that the Attorney General was therefore acting beyond the limits of his statutory and constitutional power in bringing the suit. Citing the Legislature's repeal of hard interest caps for small loans in 1981, see Section 58–15–14 (repealed effective July 1, 1983), FastBucks alleged that the AG Lawsuit was an attempt by the Attorney General to “usurp[ ] the province of the Legislature by “seeking to have a court make policies that the Legislature refused to enact.”

{4} In response to FastBucks' petition, the Attorney General argued that granting the petition would result in an inappropriate intrusion on the 1 st district court's jurisdiction over the pending AG Lawsuit. During a hearing on the issues raised in the petition and response, the district court expressed concern over whether issuing the writ against the Attorney General would, in effect, be issuing the writ against another district court contrary to Article VI, Section 13 of our New Mexico Constitution. Following subsequent briefing by the parties on this issue, the court denied the petition on the ground that it “should not interfere with the litigation pending in the [1st] ... [d]istrict [court].” FastBucks appealed.

DISCUSSION

{5} FastBucks' sole issue on appeal is whether the 5th district court's decision to effectively abstain from interfering in the AG Lawsuit by dismissing the mandamus petition was a proper basis on which to deny FastBucks mandamus relief.

Standard of Review

{6} FastBucks argues that the appropriate standard of review is de novo because this case requires interpretation of the statutes allocating power to the Attorney General and statutes governing mandamus. See State ex rel. Shell W. E & P, Inc. v. Chavez, 2002–NMCA–005, ¶ 7, 131 N.M. 445, 38 P.3d 886 (recognizing that statutory interpretation presents a question of law which an appellate court reviews de novo). However, as noted above, the 5th district court dismissed FastBucks' petition out of deference to the pending AG Lawsuit in the 1st district court. Therefore, this appeal does not require us to analyze or apply the statutes relied upon by FastBucks. Instead, given the nature of the district court's ruling, and as further explained below, the proper standard of review for this case is abuse of discretion.

{7} While mandamus procedure is “technical in nature and closely regulated by statute[,] Mimbres Valley Irrigation Co. v. Salopek, 2006–NMCA–093, ¶ 10, 140 N.M. 168, 140 P.3d 1117, the writ is an extraordinary remedy, Cobb v. State Canvassing Bd., 2006–NMSC–034, ¶ 20, 140 N.M. 77, 140 P.3d 498, and district courts retain discretion when ruling on the propriety of issuing the writ in any given case. SeeNMSA 1978, § 44–2–4 (1884) (stating that writ of mandamus may be issued ... to compel the performance of an act which the law specially enjoins as a duty resulting from an office, trust or station” (emphasis added)); Territory ex. rel Gildersleeve v. Perea, 6 N.M. 531, 553, 30 P. 928, 934 (1892) (stating that the courts have large discretionary powers in mandamus cases), superseded by statute as stated in Cavender v. Phillips, 41 N.M. 235, 249–50, 67 P.2d 250, 251–52 (1937); see also52 Am.Jur.2d Mandamus § 25 (2012) (“The issuance of a writ of mandamus is a matter resting within the sound discretion of the court.”). Accordingly, where, as here, the district court exercised its discretion to deny the writ petition for prudential reasons rather than as an application and interpretation of the statutes governing either mandamus or the powers of the Attorney General, we review the denial for an abuse of discretion. Cf. Brantley Farms v. Carlsbad Irrigation Dist., 1998–NMCA–023, ¶ 30, 124 N.M. 698, 954 P.2d 763 (holding that the district court abused its discretion in not applying collateral estoppel to bar the petitioners' claim for a writ of mandamus); see also52 Am.Jur.2d Mandamus § 26 (2012) (stating that a court's ruling on issuance of mandamus should be reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard). A district court abuses its discretion if its decision is “contrary to logic and reason,” Paz v. Tijerina, 2007–NMCA–109, ¶ 8, 142 N.M. 391, 165 P.3d 1167, or if it “exceeds the bounds of reason, all the circumstances before it being considered.” Matrix Prod. Co. v. Ricks Exploration, Inc., 2004–NMCA–135, ¶ 21, 136 N.M. 593, 102 P.3d 1285 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

The 5th District Court Properly Denied Mandamus in Deference to the 1st District Court

{8} In urging this Court to reverse the district court's decision, FastBucks argues that: (1) the district court properly had jurisdiction to issue the writ of mandamus, (2) venue was proper in the district court, and (3) FastBucks made the requisite showing entitling it to mandamus relief. In essence, FastBucks contends that if a district court properly has jurisdiction to hear a mandamus proceeding, there is no reason for that district court to deny the petitioner a ruling on the merits of the mandamus petition in that petitioner's chosen forum.

{9} We agree that the 5th district court had jurisdiction to consider the mandamus petition. SeeN.M. Const. art. VI, § 13 (giving district courts jurisdiction to issue writs of mandamus, provided that such jurisdiction does not extend to issuing a writ “directed to judges or courts of equal or superior jurisdiction”); see alsoNMSA 1978, Section 44–2–3 (1884) (stating that [t]he district court has exclusive original jurisdiction in all cases of mandamus, except where such writ is to be directed to a district court or a judge thereof in his official capacity”). FastBucks sought mandamus to prohibit the Attorney General from pursuing the AG Lawsuit. Consequently, if the writ had issued, it would have been directed to the Attorney General and not to the district court. Therefore, no jurisdictional issues prevented FastBucks from petitioning the 5th district court for mandamus relief.

{10} Moreover, it appears venue was proper in the 5th district court. SeeNMSA 1978, § 38–3–1(G) (1988) (“Suits against any state officers as such shall be brought in the court of the county in which their offices are located, at the capital or in the county where a plaintiff, or any one of them ... resides[.]). In this case, FastBucks of Roswell, New Mexico, LLC's residency in Chavez County allowed the FastBucks entities to file the petition in the 5th district court in accordance with Section 38–3–1(G).

{11} Despite FastBucks' correct assertions as to jurisdiction and venue, we disagree that these considerations alone entitled FastBucks' to a determination of the merits underlying the petition in this case. Rather, we consider the propriety of the district court's action in denying the petition in deference to pending litigation between the parties in a sister district court. For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion, especially given that FastBucks has the...

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    ...of a petition for writ of mandamus is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. FastBucks of Roswell, N.M., LLC v. King, 2013–NMCA–008, ¶ 7, 294 P.3d 1287. Within the abuse of discretion standard we consider whether the district court's ruling rested on its determination that the Secretary acted......
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