Luna v. Luna

Decision Date11 April 2019
Docket NumberNo. 20170994-CA,20170994-CA
Citation442 P.3d 1155
Parties Luis LUNA, Appellant, v. Maria LUNA, Appellee.
CourtUtah Court of Appeals

Daniel F. Bertch, Salt Lake City, Attorney for Appellant

Joel D. Taylor and Matthew D. Church, Salt Lake City, Attorneys for Appellee

Judge Ryan M. Harris authored this Opinion, in which Judges Kate Appleby and Jill M. Pohlman concurred.


HARRIS, Judge:

¶ 1 While giving her brother Luis Luna (Luna) a ride to work, Maria Luna (Sister) was involved in an automobile accident in which Luna was injured. Luna sued Sister for negligence, yet during depositions testified unequivocally that the traffic light was green in Sister’s favor. Sister contends—and we agree—that this testimony constitutes a binding judicial admission that Luna cannot contest at trial, and we therefore conclude that the district court properly entered partial summary judgment against Luna on the issue of whether the light was green. While this fact alone does not entitle Sister to complete summary judgment, the court’s entry of judgment in Sister’s favor was appropriate on the facts of this case, where Luna produced no evidence of negligence other than potential testimony about the color of the traffic light. We therefore affirm the district court’s summary judgment order, as well as a challenged discovery order.


¶ 2 Sister was giving Luna a ride to work one morning when their vehicle was struck by another driver (Driver) at an intersection controlled by a traffic light. Because Driver and Sister each entered the intersection perpendicular to one another, the light could not have been green for both of them. Luna sustained injuries from the accident, and eventually brought suit against both Driver and Sister for negligence and other related claims. In his complaint, Luna alleged that Driver had caused the accident by running a red light or, in the alternative, that Sister had caused the accident by running a red light. Luna also alleged that both drivers had failed to maintain a proper lookout and failed to yield to the other vehicle.

¶ 3 All parties to the suit were deposed, and Sister and Driver each testified that they had the green light when they entered the intersection. Luna was deposed twice and, during each deposition, his testimony was given through a Spanish-language interpreter. Each time, he testified—repeatedly—that the light was green for Sister when she entered the intersection. At his first deposition, he testified as follows:

Q. Did you see the color of the light as you were entering the intersection?
A. Yes. It was green.
Q. How long had the light been green before you entered the intersection?
A. Since we went through it until it hit us.
Q. How many seconds had the light been green before you entered the intersection?
A. I would not be able to tell you.
Q. You don’t know how far back you were from the intersection when you first noticed the color of the light?
A. I will repeat myself. It was green when we went through it.
Q. So what I want to know is exactly where was your car in relation to the intersection when you first noticed the color of the light. ... I’m just trying to figure out where you were when you first noticed the light.
A. Well we saw it—we were driving, we saw that it was green, and when we passed through the intersection it was already green. We were okay.
Q. Was the light always green from the moment that you first saw it until the moment of the impact?
A. Yes.

¶ 4 Three weeks later, Luna was again deposed. Though he stated that he did not give the road the same attention as he would have had he been the one behind the wheel, he again emphasized that the light was green when Sister entered the intersection:

Q. Now based on your previous testimony the last time we were here, you were absolutely adamant that the light was green as you proceeded through the intersection; is that correct?
A. Yes.
Q. You were in the car the day the accident happened; correct?
A. Yes, of course.
Q. You saw the light was green as you were going through the intersection; correct?
A. Well, I’ll tell you again, yes, I was looking, but I wasn’t looking to see who else was looking. I was merely focused on the idea that I was headed to work. So I’ll tell you again, all I had on my mind was what I would be doing when I got to work, and that’s what occupied my thinking. ... Any other type of question I couldn’t tell you, but my attorney could tell you.
Q. Did you see the light green as you proceeded through the intersection?
A. Yes.

¶ 5 During the second deposition, defense counsel asked Luna about his opinion of Sister’s driving on the day in question:

Q. So in terms of the accident, do you have any problems with the way your sister operated her vehicle on the day of the accident?
[Luna asks for the question to be repeated]
A. Well, no. To me, I mean, with all that’s happened to me, and I’ll tell you again, things have changed. So it was one thing before and now it’s different in terms of how I am. Everything has changed for me, and that’s why I am putting forth this suit with [Sister]. I don’t think I could say anything more. I would defer to my attorney.
Q. Well, you just answered my question, and I want to just confirm it that you just said that you had no problems with the way [Sister] operated her vehicle on the day of the accident. Is that what you said?
A. Yes.

¶ 6 Luna eventually reached a settlement with Driver, who was then dismissed from the case. Thereafter, Sister filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that there was no genuine dispute as to material facts between Luna and Sister, because each of them agreed not only that the light was green, but also that Sister was properly operating her vehicle. In opposition to Sister’s motion, Luna pointed only to the conflicting testimony of Driver regarding the color of the traffic light, arguing that,

[Luna’s] testimony is disputed by [Driver]. ... The jury is no more bound by [Luna’s] testimony than [Sister’s]. The jury might conclude that [Luna’s] testimony was protective of [Sister], and conclude that [Driver] was truthful .... Or the jury might attribute only a small percentage of fault to [Sister].

Luna offered no other evidence to show negligence, attaching only two pages of Driver’s deposition testimony in which Driver testified that his light was green. Specifically, Luna offered no evidence that Sister was driving improperly by, for instance, failing to keep a proper lookout, speeding, or driving while distracted.

¶ 7 The district court held a hearing, after which it requested supplemental briefing from the parties on whether some of the statements Luna made in his deposition should be considered binding admissions. Sister argued that Luna’s statements were "judicial admissions" that Luna should be precluded from contradicting. Luna acknowledged that he had consistently testified that the light was green, but argued that his testimony was ordinary testimony that a jury should be able to disregard in favor of Driver’s account of the relevant events. After oral argument, the district court determined that Luna’s deposition testimony—including both his statements about the color of the light as well as his statements about how Sister was driving her vehicle—contained judicial admissions that he was not free to contradict, and that therefore summary judgment was appropriate in favor of Sister.

¶ 8 During the course of the litigation, Luna designated his treating physicians as non-retained expert witnesses who may testify at trial in support of his claims. After some litigation about the propriety of those disclosures, Sister’s counsel noticed and took the depositions of two of Luna’s treating physicians. The parties were unable to agree on which party, if any, should pay the fees charged by the treating physicians for their time spent in deposition and, after the depositions were taken, Luna filed a statement of discovery issues asking the court to compel Sister to pay those fees. Luna argued that rule 26(a)(4)(B) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure required Sister to do so, because she had requested the depositions. Sister objected to the statement, arguing that the rule required a party to pay an expert’s professional fee for attending a deposition only if the expert was a retained expert. The court issued an order denying Luna’s statement of discovery issues on the same day it issued its grant of summary judgment in favor of Sister.


¶ 9 Luna appeals the district court’s orders, and asks us to consider three issues. First, Luna argues that the district court erred in treating his deposition statements as non-rebuttable judicial admissions. "We review the legal questions underlying the admissibility of evidence for correctness and the district court’s decision to admit or exclude evidence for an abuse of discretion." Rocky Mountain Power Inc. v. Marriott , 2018 UT App 221, ¶ 18, 437 P.3d 653 (quotation simplified); see also Caponi v. Larry’s 66 , 236 Ill.App.3d 660, 176 Ill.Dec. 649, 601 N.E.2d 1347, 1355 (1992) ("The determination of whether a party’s statement is sufficiently unequivocal to be considered a judicial admission is a question of law.").

¶ 10 Next, Luna argues that the district court erred in dismissing the entire action, because even if the traffic light is conclusively considered to be green, this fact did not necessarily establish that Sister was not negligent. "[W]e review a district court’s grant of summary judgment for correctness, affording no deference to the court’s legal conclusions." Poulsen v. Farmers Ins. Exch. , 2016 UT App 170, ¶ 8, 382 P.3d 1058.

¶ 11 Lastly, Luna argues that the district court abused its discretion when it did not require Sister to pay the hourly professional fee charged by Luna’s treating physicians for appearing at depositions taken by Sister. "We review discovery rulings for an abuse of discretion." Dahl v. Harrison , 2011 UT App 389, ¶ 11, 265 P.3d 139, abrogated on other...

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  • Luna v. Luna
    • United States
    • Utah Supreme Court
    • August 20, 2020 We reverse and remand.BACKGROUND1 ¶4 We appreciate the court of appeals’ recitation of the facts in its opinion. See Luna v. Luna , 2019 UT App 57, 442 P.3d 1155. We adopt many of those facts.¶5 Maria was driving her brother, Luis, to work, when both she and Antonio entered an intersect......

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