Articles Posted in New Mexico Supreme Court

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Edward McElveny (McElveny) died intestate in 1991. In April 2013, McElveny’s grandson, Michael Phillips, filed an application with the Santa Fe County Probate Court (Probate Court) to be informally appointed personal representative (PR) of McElveny’s estate. In his application, Phillips noted that the Department of Taxation and Revenue had custody of approximately $70,000 (the Property) that belonged to McElveny and which the Department held as unclaimed property. Phillips asked the Probate Court to order the Department to release the Property to him as PR. The Probate Court granted Phillips’ request, appointed him PR, and ordered the Department to release the Property to him. Phillips then filed an unclaimed property claim with the Department. Phillips left the claim form blank and attached to the blank claim form a copy of the Probate Court’s order. In June 2013, the Department wrote to Phillips, acknowledged receipt of his claim, but informed Phillips that it was “incomplete.” Phillips responded by letter, protested that he had submitted all documentation the Department required to process and approve his claim. The Department did not reply and did not release the Property. In August 2013, the Probate Court transferred the case to the First Judicial District Court. Phillips filed a motion with the district court asking it to enforce the Probate Court’s order and to issue sanctions against the Department. The Department moved to dismiss the proceedings and argued that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because Phillips failed to exhaust administrative remedies. Phillips responded and claimed that the exhaustion doctrine was inapplicable because he was “not suing the Department, i.e.[,] not attempting to obtain subject matter jurisdiction over the Department for the purpose of stating a claim.” The New Mexico Supreme Court held that the administrative claim filing provisions of the Uniform Unclaimed Property Act (UPA)were exclusive and mandatory and that individuals wishing to procure unclaimed property must exhaust the administrative remedies afforded them by the Act. Consequently, estate representatives like Phillips cannot circumvent the UPA’s claim filing provisions by invoking provisions of the Uniform Probate Code 11 (UPC). Although Phillips did not exhaust administrative remedies under the UPA, it the Court determined it was unnecessary to remand for further administrative proceedings, and ordered the Department to release to Phillips the unclaimed property in its custody that belonged to the estate. View "In re Estate of McElveny" on Justia Law

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Lenard E. Noice worked as a conductor for Petitioner BNSF Railway Company (BNSF). He fell from a BNSF train that was moving at speed and perished. Respondent, Lenard Noice II, acting as personal representative for Noice (the Estate), filed a wrongful death action against BNSF under the Federal Employee’s Liability Act (FELA), asserting, among other claims, that BNSF negligently permitted the train from which Noice fell to operate at an excessive speed. The undisputed facts established that the train from which Noice fell never exceeded the speed limit for the class of track upon which it was operating. BNSF moved for summary judgment arguing that the Estate’s FELA excessive-speed claim was precluded by the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA). The district court accepted this argument and dismissed the Estate’s FELA claim. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that FRSA did not preclude a FELA excessive-speed claim. Because FRSA contained no provision expressly precluding the Estate’s FELA excessive-speed claim and because permitting the Estate’s FELA claim to proceed furthered the purposes of both statutes, the New Mexico Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Noice v. BNSF Ry. Co." on Justia Law

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In July 2009, attorney Claude Convisser filed a petition to initiate a Santa Fe County grand jury proceeding. Convisser's petition sought an investigation of a "suspicion of criminal fraud" in connection with the activities of "[Jeffrey] Harbour and his cohorts" in obtaining a will from Frances Harwood shortly before her death in 2003 that gave Harbour control of Harwood's two nonprofit organizations, EcoVersity and Prajna Foundation. Convisser sought to compel a grand jury investigation through a citizens' petition after the New Mexico Attorney General and the Santa Fe District Attorney separately declined his requests to pursue the matter. When Convisser filed his grand jury petition in district court, he included the affidavit of the Santa Fe County Clerk, whom he asked to verify that his petition signatories were Santa Fe County registered voters. In her affidavit, the County Clerk stated (1) that Convisser needed the signatures of 1770 registered voters in order to meet the constitutional requirement; (2) that the names of 68% were the same as names of people who appeared on Santa Fe County's voter registration rolls; (3) the Clerk could not verify that any of the petition's signatories were actually registered voters, because the petition failed to include the signatories' addresses. The district court ultimately rejected the petition, and Convisser appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in this case by rejecting the grand jury petition whose signatories were not confirmed to be registered voters. View "Convisser v. Ecoversity" on Justia Law

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In 2002, Pojoaque Tribal Police Officer Kevin Schultz drowned while rescuing a twelve-year-old boy from the Rio Grande near Pilar. On the day of the accident, he had taken the day off from work to chaperone a group of children from his church on a recreational outing. This case arose when Schultz's widow, Cheryl, filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits resulting from her husband's death, but only after the statute of limitations had expired. Notwithstanding the late filing, Mrs. Schultz contended that the conduct of the Pojoaque Tribal Police Department caused her to file after the deadline, and thus, the Supreme Court should consider her complaint timely filed. Both the Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) and the Court of Appeals decided that Mrs. Schultz's complaint was not timely filed. However, upon review, the Supreme Court found that based on the fact of this case, the statute was tolled. Therefore the Court reversed and remanded the case back to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings. View "Schultz v. Pojoaque Tribal Police Department" on Justia Law

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Dean Durand crashed his Ford Bronco into a motorcycle driven by Daniel Gutierrez, ultimately resulting in Gutierrez's death. Defendant admitted that while at the business establishment operated by Defendant Meteor Monument, L.L.C., he had consumed seven twelve-ounce cans of beer and a twenty-four-ounce can of malt liquor. He also testified that he ingested heroin and crack cocaine shortly before the accident. Gutierrez's estate and family successfully sued both Durand and Meteor for Gutierrez's wrongful death. Only the verdict against Meteor was at issue in this appeal. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that the circumstantial evidence presented at trial was sufficient for a jury to find that it was reasonably apparent to Meteor that Durand was intoxicated at the time he was last served alcohol. Furthermore, the trial court did not err in holding that Meteor was on notice that the negligent supervision claim included Durand as an employee. In addition, "scope of employment" may be a factor in a negligent supervision claim; both Gutierrez and Meteor requested a scope-of-employment instruction and agreed with the trial court's answers to the jury questions regarding that instruction. As a result, that error was invited, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in rejecting Meteor's motion for a new trial. The Court remanded the case for the appellate court to address an unresolved issue regarding punitive damages. View "Estate of Gutierrez v. Meteor Monument, LLC" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved a loss-of-consortium claim brought by Plaintiff Bill Wachocki (Bill), the adult brother of Jason Wachocki (Jason). Twenty-two-year-old Jason was killed when his vehicle was struck by a speeding van driven by Willie Hiley (Willie), a corrections officer at the Metropolitan Detention Center. Bill argued his loss- of-consortium claim was "improperly foreclosed" by the application of the “mutual dependence” standard which was originally developed for spousal-type relationships. Upon review, the Supreme Court clarified that recovery for loss of consortium may extend to sibling relationships; however, the facts presented in this case did not exhibit the mutual dependence required for recovery. The Court affirmed the appellate court's conclusion.