Ahmad v. State – 11/13/2018

December 12, 2018

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One holds that a remittitur order must either state with particularity the trial court’s grounds for granting it or be supported by substantial evidence in the record.

A man died after a criminal suspect struck him during a police pursuit.  The man’s parents sued the State for wrongful death.  After a trial, the jury awarded $30 million in damages and found that the State was 5% at fault.  The trial court granted the State’s Rule 59 motion for a remittitur or a new trial on damages.  The court’s order stated that damages were excessive and found that the reasonable amount of damages was $10 million. 

The parents appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed in Ahmad v. State (“Ahmad I”), 240 Ariz. 380 (App. 2016).  The Court of Appeals held that remittiturs in wrongful death cases must be based on a palpable defect in the evidence or verdict.  In a later case, the Supreme Court rejected the palpable defect standard articulated in Ahmad I.  Soto v. Sacco, 242 Ariz. 474 (2017).  The Supreme Court vacated Ahmad I and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for reconsideration in light of Soto.

On remand, the Court of Appeals again reversed the trial court’s order.  Wrongful death is a statutory cause of action that broadly empowers the jury to “give such damages as it deems fair and just.”  A.R.S. § 12-613.  Soto held that a court “should be circumspect in interfering with a jury verdict,” and “may not substitute its judgment for the jury’s.”  The trial court must state the grounds for a remittitur with particularity.  Absent such particularity, the appellee bears the burden to show that the order is supported by substantial evidence and is not an abuse of discretion.  Here the trial court’s order lacked particularity and the record did not provide substantial evidence to support the remittitur.     

Judge Swann authored the opinion; Judges Winthrop and Thumma concurred.