Romero v. Mervyn's, 18142

Citation109 N.M. 249, 1989 NMSC 81, 784 P.2d 992
Case DateDecember 19, 1989
CourtSupreme Court of New Mexico

RANSOM, Justice.

This is an appeal by defendant Mervyn's from a verdict in favor of plaintiff Lucy Romero for $2,041 in compensatory and $25,000 in punitive damages on a breach of contract claim. Romero cross-appeals the failure of the court to award certain witness fees as costs. We affirm.

On November 23, 1984, Romero and two of her adult daughters were shopping in Mervyn's Department Store in Albuquerque. It was the day after Thanksgiving and the store was crowded with Christmas shoppers. As Romero and her daughters were descending on an escalator, another customer either intentionally or accidentally pushed her. She fell to her hands and knees, hitting her jaw as she fell. One of her daughters testified that a commotion ensued. When Romero reached the bottom of the escalator, a salesperson at a temporary station helped her to her feet and out of the path of other shoppers. Either this employee or a security guard watching from a two-way mirror summoned the store manager to the scene.

Dennis Wolf, the acting store manager, came in response to this call. His usual job as operations manager of the store entailed responsibility for directing and training employees. It was also his duty to investigate and gather information on incidents involving customer injuries on the premises. Wolf testified that he could tell Romero was in pain and asked her whether she needed a wheelchair or ambulance. Romero replied that she did not. Wolf also testified that Romero's daughters were "very upset, a little bit hysterical," and kept asking who would pay for their mother's medical expenses. Wolf himself, according to Romero's testimony, "seemed to be kind of nervous and in a hurry since the store was busy." According to testimony by Romero and her daughters, Wolf told them that Mervyn's would pay any medical expenses. Wolf testified that, pursuant to company policy, he only told Romero that Mervyn's would submit the claim to its insurer, who would make the decision whether to pay any claims arising from the incident.

Immediately following this conversation, Romero's daughters helped their mother out of the store, brought the car around, and returned to their home in Santa Fe. The following Monday, Romero still was in pain and decided she should seek medical attention. She had another of her daughters, who lived in Albuquerque, call Mervyn's and confirm with Wolf his promise that Mervyn's would pay the expenses. She also asked him if any forms needed to be completed when her mother went to the doctor. He told her to come down to the store and pick up the necessary forms. When she did so, however, Wolf told her that he was out of the forms and then, according to her testimony, told her to go ahead and have her mother go to the doctor, and Mervyn's would pay the expenses. Wolf testified the "forms" in question were insurance claim forms. Romero's daughter confirmed that Wolf told her the forms were for the insurance company but insisted that Wolf reiterated the promise that Mervyn's would pay the bill.

Thereafter, Romero consulted a physician and underwent physical therapy. The cost of her treatment came to $2,041. Mervyn's, however, refused to pay the bills. Romero filed suit in Santa Fe District Court, alleging liability under theories of negligence and contract. She did not rely on a theory of promissory estoppel.1 At the first trial, the court granted summary judgment to Mervyn's on the contract claim and the jury returned a verdict in favor of Mervyn's on the negligence claim. The court based summary judgment on the lack of actual or apparent authority on the part of Wolf to bind Mervyn's to a contract. On appeal, this Court affirmed the jury verdict but reversed the summary judgment, holding that the question of Wolf's authority posed a genuine issue of material fact for the jury to decide. Romero v. Mervyn's, 106 N.M. 389, 390, 744 P.2d 164, 165 (1987).

On remand, the jury found in favor of Romero on her contract claim, and awarded punitive damages. Mervyn's appeals, arguing the court erred: (1) in submitting the contract claim to the jury because there was no evidence of consideration for Wolf's alleged promise to pay Romero's medical expenses; (2) in failing to set aside the award of punitive damages absent evidence of ratification of Wolf's acts by Mervyn's; (3) in submitting the question of Wolf's actual or apparent authority to the jury; (4) in failing to grant Mervyn's motion for a directed verdict when the court granted a directed verdict in favor of Wolf; (5) in submitting the issue of punitive damages to the jury when there was no evidence of malice on the part of Mervyn's in refusing to pay Romero's medical bills, or in refusing to grant Mervyn's motions for judgment n.o.v. or for a new trial because the award of punitive damages was based on sympathy, passion, and prejudice; and (6) in admitting the medical bills from Romero's physician and Lovelace Clinic absent expert testimony that the bills were both reasonable and necessary for the injuries Romero suffered in the incident at Mervyn's.

Issues (1) and (2) not properly preserved for appeal. Without objection, the jury was instructed under SCRA 1986, 13-802 (Express contracts; definition) and 13-803 (Implied contracts; definition). Mervyn's asserts on appeal, however, that there was no substantial evidence of consideration either having been expressly stated or having been shown in the surrounding circumstances, as, for instance, by the parties' words and actions, what they wanted to accomplish, the way they dealt with each other, and how others in the same circumstances customarily deal or would deal. See Trujillo v. Glen Falls Ins. Co., 88 N.M. 279, 540 P.2d 209 (1975) (mutual assent, necessary to formation of contract, may be manifested wholly or partly by written or spoken words or by other acts or conduct).

Although the court improperly instructed the jury (without objection) that Mervyn's had the burden of proving its claim of no consideration for any promise, there was no further definition or reference to consideration in the instructions. Mervyn's had tendered and objected to the refusal of an instruction that "The mere fortuitous presence of circumstances that might constitute consideration for an agreement is not enough, but consideration, like every other element in a contract, must be bargained for by the parties, and their minds must meet upon the consideration which is to support a promise." See Knoebel v. Chief Pontiac, Inc., 61 N.M. 53, 294 P.2d 625 (1956) (consideration, like every other element in contract, must be bargained for and agreed upon by the parties). Mervyn's did not object in the trial court that substantial evidence of consideration was lacking,2 and does not renew on appeal its argument that it was error not to give the tendered instruction defining consideration.

Mervyn's also claims it was error to deny its motion for a directed verdict when there was no evidence of any consideration for the promise. However, the record on Mervyn's motion for a directed verdict is devoid of reference to absence of evidence of consideration. We conclude the consideration issue is not before us in this appeal. We similarly do not consider a ratification issue raised for the first time on appeal. See Samedan Oil Corp. v. Neeld, 91 N.M. 599, 577 P.2d 1245 (1978) (liability of principal for punitive damages for the acts of an agent requires proof of ratification, participation, or authorization); SCRA 1986, 13-1826.

(3) Trial court correctly submitted issue of actual or apparent authority to jury. The jury received instructions on actual authority (express or implied) and on apparent authority. In its motion for directed verdict, Mervyn's raised the issue of substantial evidence of actual authority. Mervyn's also objected there was no substantial evidence to support the submission of an instruction of apparent authority. We conclude the court did not err in instructing the jury on the issue of agency.

"Authority is the power of the agent to affect the legal relations of the principal by acts done in accordance with the principal's manifestations of consent to [the agent]." Restatement (Second) of Agency Sec. 7 (1958). To warrant an instruction on the issue of Wolf's actual authority to enter into a contract with Romero, substantial evidence must have been introduced that such conduct lay within the scope of Wolf's employment.

Besides being liable for acts within the actual authority of an agent, a principal also is responsible for the acts of the agent when the principal has clothed the agent with the appearance of authority. Chevron Oil Co. v. Sutton, 85 N.M. 679, 682, 515 P.2d 1283, 1286 (1973). Romero's claim of apparent authority was based on Mervyn's alleged placement of Wolf in a position that would lead a reasonably prudent third party to believe Wolf possessed authority to bind Mervyn's in a contract to pay medical bills. While actual authority is determined in light of the principal's "manifestations of consent" to the agent, apparent authority arises from the principal's manifestations to third parties, Restatement (Second) of Agency Sec. 8 (1958), and can be created by appointing a person to a position that carries with it generally recognized duties. Id. Sec. 27 comment a.

We believe substantial evidence was presented on the issue of Wolf's actual authority. When Romero was hurt, Mervyn's other employees called for the "manager." Wolf was both acting manager and operations manager. When he appeared on...

To continue reading

Request your trial
114 cases
  • Tyler Grp. Partners, LLC v. Madera, CIV 19-0777 JB/SMV
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • September 30, 2021
    ...952 F.Supp.2d 979, 1030-31 (D.N.M. 2013) (Browning, J.). As the Supreme Court of New Mexico stated in Romero v. Mervyn's, 1989-NMSC-081, 109 N.M. 249, 784 P.2d 992 : "Our previous cases clearly establish that, in contract cases not involving insurance, punitive damages may be recovered for ......
  • Buffett v. Jaramillo, 11759
    • United States
    • New Mexico Court of Appeals of New Mexico
    • May 25, 1993
    ...verdict instruction. See First Nat'l Bank in Albuquerque v. Sanchez, 112 N.M. 317, 320, 815 P.2d 613, 616 (1991); Romero v. Mervyn's, 109 N.M. 249, 253, 784 P.2d 992, 996 (1989) (to preserve for appeal a challenge to a jury instruction, challenge below must call trial court's attention to t......
  • Freeman & Mills, Inc. v. Belcher Oil Co., S042831
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • August 31, 1995
    ...[damages for mental anguish permitted for breach of home remodeling contract].) The New Mexico Supreme Court, in Romero v. Mervyn's (1989) 109 N.M. 249, 784 P.2d 992, 999-1001, citing Seaman's with approval, upheld a punitive damage award against a department store, which had entered into a......
  • Coker v. Bank of America, 96 Civ. 9698 (JFK)(AJP).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • November 14, 1997
    ...118 N.M. 203, 880 P.2d 300, 307 (1994); see also, e.g., Flores v. Baca, 117 N.M. 306, 871 P.2d 962, 968-69 (1994); Romero v. Mervyn's, 109 N.M. 249, 784 P.2d 992, 998 (1989). "A mental state sufficient to support an award of punitive damages will exist when the defendant acts with reckless ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT