Gonzales-Pittman v. Bregman, A-1-CA-39450

Case DateFebruary 06, 2023
CourtCourt of Appeals of New Mexico

LILIANA GONZALES-PITTMAN, Plaintiff/Counterdefendant-Appellant,

SAM BREGMAN, Defendant/Counterplaintiff-Appellee.

No. A-1-CA-39450

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

February 6, 2023

Corrections to this opinion/decision not affecting the outcome, at the Court's discretion, can occur up to the time of publication with NM Compilation Commission. The Court will ensure that the electronic version of this opinion/decision is updated accordingly in Odyssey.


The Allison Law Firm, P.C. Michael Allison Albuquerque, NM for Appellant.

Law Office of Monnica L. Barreras, LLC Monnica L. Barreras Albuquerque, NM for Appellee



{¶1} The sole issues in this appeal relate to the damages and attorney fees awarded to Defendant by the district court after Plaintiff failed to answer Defendant's counterclaims against Plaintiff for malicious abuse of process and defamation, and the district court entered defaidt judgment. Plaintiff raises three issues: (1) the


sufficiency of the evidence supporting the compensatory damages, (2) the award of punitive damages, and (3) the award of attorney fees.

{¶2} Plaintiff first maintains that as a matter of law, the evidence did not support the elements of each underlying counterclaim. By this argument, Plaintiff attempts to circumvent the impact of the default judgment and asks this Court to treat the damages hearing as a test for the sufficiency of the pleading of the counterclaims. We agree with Plaintiff that a default judgment that is "entered on well-pleaded allegations in a complaint establishes . . . liability." See Gallegos v. Franklin, 1976-NMCA-019, ¶ 40, 89 N.M. 118, 547 P.2d 1160. We disagree, however, that Defendant's allegations were insufficient to state the counterclaims. Defendant pleaded the elements of each counterclaim at paragraphs ten through seventeen of the counterclaims.[1] As a result, after entry of the default judgment in the present case, all that remained to be determined was the "dollar amount of the damages suffered by [Defendant]." See Burge v. Mid-Continent Cas. Co., 1997-NMSC-009, ¶ 24, 123 N.M. 1, 933 P.2d 210. Plaintiff does not challenge the dollar amount of the damages.

{¶3} Instead, Plaintiff contends that the underlying complaint must be based on more than "speculative or conclusory statements" and for support, cites federal law


and Burge. We are unpersuaded by the federal citations. New Mexico law has declined to adopt the heightened federal pleading standard. See Madrid v. Vill. of Chama, 2012-NMCA-071, ¶¶ 16-18, 283 P.3d 871. The allegations in the counterclaims satisfied the New Mexico notice pleading standard. See Rule 1-008(A) NMRA, discussed in Zamora v. St. Vincent Hosp., 2014-NMSC-035, ¶ 13, 335 P.3d 1243 ("Today the basic guidelines for pleading claims in New Mexico can be found in Rule 1-008, which states that any claim for relief shall contain a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)). Our Supreme Court's holding in Burge is also inapposite, because the present case required no determination of comparative fault. See Burge, 1997-NMSC-009, ¶ 24 (holding that "a defaulting party admits only to the liability of [their] portion of the damages"). We therefore reject Plaintiff s arguments and affirm the award of compensatory damages.

{¶4} Plaintiff next contends that the punitive damages award was unsupported and excessive. To the first point, Plaintiff argues that the evidence did not support the punitive damages award because no evidence supported the compensatory damages award. We agree that a party must establish that some compensatory or nominal damages are allowed before punitive damages may be awarded. See Sanchez v. Clayton, 1994-NMSC-064, ¶ 17, 117 N.M. 761, 877 P.2d 567. We have, however, affirmed the compensatory damages award and therefore consider that argument no


further. We apply our well-established standard of review for the sufficiency of the evidence to determine whether a punitive damages claim is supported. See Walta v. Gallegos Law Firm, P.C., 2002-NMCA-015, ¶ 59, 131 N.M. 544, 40 P.3d 449. Having reviewed the counterclaims, the...

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