Seisinger v. Siebel – 6/17/2008

June 24, 2008

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That A.R.S. § 12-2604(A) Violates the Separation of Powers Provision of the Arizona Constitution.

In August 2004, Seisinger filed a medical malpractice action against Dr. Siebel relating to a spinal epidural.  Seisinger disclosed an expert witness and Siebel filed a motion in limine to preclude his testimony because the expert did not meet the requirements of A.R.S. § 12-2604 which governs the qualifications of expert witnesses in medical malpractice cases.  Seisinger argued that A.R.S. § 12-2604 conflicts with Arizona Rule of Evidence 702, and therefore violates the separation of powers clause of the Arizona Constitution.  The trial court granted Siebel’s motion, ruling that the statute was not unconstitutional.   Seisinger did not produce another expert witness and the trial court granted Seibel’s motion to dismiss.  Seisinger timely appealed.

Judge Irvine, writing for a unanimous panel, reversed the trial court’s ruling, holding that § 12-2604(A) conflicts with Rule 702, and therefore violates the doctrine of separation of powers included in the Arizona Constitution.  Under Article 6 §5(5) of the Arizona Constitution, the Arizona Supreme Court is authorized “to make rules relative to all procedural matters in any court.”  Therefore, the legislature cannot limit the Court’s rulemaking powers by statutory enactment.  Because § 12-2604(A) provides additional qualifications for expert witnesses in medical malpractice cases above and beyond those included in Evidence Rule 702, an expert witness qualified under the rule could nonetheless be precluded from testifying under the statute.  Therefore, the statute directly conflicts with the rule and infringes on the Court’s rulemaking authority.  The Court went on to determine that § 12-2604(A) does not establish substantive rights, which the Legislature would have power to do because it solely prescribes the method by which existing rights can be enforced.

Judge Irvine authored the opinion, Judges Weisberg and Norris concurred.