Koenig v. Perez, 16321

Docket NºNo. 16321
Citation104 N.M. 664, 726 P.2d 341, 1986 NMSC 66
Case DateSeptember 29, 1986
CourtSupreme Court of New Mexico

FEDERICI, Justice.

Plaintiffs sued defendants Columbus Electric Cooperative, Inc. (CEC) and Leo and Mary Koenig (Koenigs) for damages arising out of an incident in which Thomas Roy Perez (Perez), one of the plaintiffs, sustained severe injuries when he came into contact with a downed high-voltage power line owned and controlled by CEC and located adjacent to a county road which ran through the Koenig farm.

Perez and Ernest Anselmi were high school students when the incident occurred in 1979 and were employed by the Koenigs as farm laborers. Anselmi testified in his deposition that he was driving alone on the county road through the farm when he lost control of his truck and hit a guy wire supporting an electric power pole, causing the pole and attached power lines to fall onto his truck. Anselmi was not injured and had walked some distance from the accident scene when Perez arrived in his own truck. Anselmi told Perez what had happened and the two returned to Anselmi's truck despite the downed power lines of which they were both aware.

Perez testified in his deposition that although he was aware at the time that contact with high-voltage lines could be very dangerous, he chose to go under several sagging lines and step over another to get to Anselmi's unoccupied truck because it was the closest way. After reaching Anselmi's truck and finding they could not extricate the vehicle, they decided to go and call someone to shut off the power lines. As they proceeded back to Perez' truck, they followed their respective routes taken to get to Anselmi's truck, Perez again going "through" and between the power lines and Anselmi crawling under them at a point further from his truck. It was on this second pass through the power lines that Perez came into contact with one and received the injuries complained of.

The poles, guy wires, and power lines in the accident area were installed in 1958 and had never been inspected or otherwise maintained by defendant CEC. In fact, at all times relevant, CEC did not have a maintenance schedule to test wires, guy wires, or poles, and it is undisputed that the guy wire in question was not in compliance with the Rural Electric Association (REA) safety code.

The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of defendants CEC and the Koenigs. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's entry of summary judgment as to all defendants. We granted certiorari and affirm that portion of the Court of Appeals' memorandum opinion which reverses the summary judgment entered in favor of CEC. We reverse that portion of the Court of Appeals' memorandum opinion which reverses the summary judgment entered in favor of the Koenigs. The result is that the cause is remanded to the trial court for reinstatement on its docket for further proceedings against defendant CEC only, and remanded for entry of summary judgment in favor of the Koenigs.

Summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. NMSA 1978, Civ.P.R. 56(c) (Repl.Pamp.1980); Westgate Families v. County Clerk of Los Alamos, 100 N.M. 146, 667 P.2d 453 (1983).

An issue presented to this Court on certiorari is what standard is to be applied on appeal in ruling on the propriety of a trial court's entry of summary judgment. In the present case the Court of Appeals held that the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants was inappropriate because not "all doubt as to the existence of [an issue of] material fact" had been satisfied. We hold that the Court of Appeals misinterpreted the " 'slightest doubt' " language of Frontier Leasing, Inc. v. C.F.B., Inc., 96 N.M. 491, 632 P.2d 726 (1981) (quoting Fisher v. Mascarenas, 93 N.M. 199, 200, 598 P.2d 1159, 1160 (1979)) in determining that "all doubt as to the existence of [an issue of] material fact" must be resolved for summary judgment to be appropriate.

In Goodman v. Brock, 83 N.M. 789, 498 P.2d 676 (1972), this Court recognized that New Mexico appellate courts "have repeatedly equated a 'genuine issue as to any material fact' with a 'slight doubt' or the 'slightest doubt.' This equation of terms has resulted in a disregard of the clear language and a departure from the meaning and purpose of Rule 56(c), Rules of Civil Procedure." Id. at 792, 498 P.2d at 679 (citations omitted). The Court in Goodman clarified the standard, stating:

"Though it has been said that summary judgment should not be granted if there is the 'slightest doubt' as to the facts, such statements are a rather misleading gloss on a rule which speaks in terms of 'genuine issue as to any material fact,' and would, if taken literally, mean that there could hardly ever be a summary judgment, for at least a slight doubt can be developed as to practically all things human. A better formulation would be that the party opposing the motion is to be given the benefit of all reasonable doubts in determining whether a genuine issue exists. If there are such reasonable doubts, summary judgment should be denied. A substantial dispute as to a material fact forecloses summary judgment."

Id., (quoting 3 W. Barron & A. Holtzoff, Federal Practice and Procedure with Forms Sec. 1234, at 124-26 (C. Wright ed. 1958) (emphasis added).

"The burden on the movant does not require him to show or demonstrate beyond all possibility that no genuine issue of fact exists. To place this burden upon him would be contrary to the express provisions of Rule 56(e) * * * and would make Rule 56 almost, if not entirely, useless." Id. at 793, 498 P.2d at 680 (citations omitted). In essence, NMSA 1978, Civ.P. Rule 56(e) (Repl.Pamp.1980) contemplates that the movant need only make a prima facie showing of entitlement to summary judgment. Once a prima...

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    ...facts are not in dispute," a court's only task is to determine the "legal effect of [those] facts." Koenig v. Perez , 1986-NMSC-066, ¶ 10, 104 N.M. 664, 726 P.2d 341.II. The District Court Did Not Err by Granting Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment{7} We affirm the district court's entr......
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