Friday, February 29, 2008

Reviewing a Motion for Reconsideration: new Application to an old Standard?

Home Owners of Kai Nui Court v. City and County of HNL (ICA February 28, 2008)

Background. The City's garbage truck somehow hit the gate at the Kai Nui Court. Kai Nui sued for damages in the district court and went to trial. After Kai Nui presented its case, the City orally moved for dismissal. The district court granted it and concluded that Kai Nui failed to make a prima facie showing of damages thereby rejecting Kai Nui's argument that paying a bill presumes that incurred expenses were reasonable and necessary. Kai Nui filed a motion for reconsideration in which it cited authorities from this and other jurisdictions for the proposition that a plaintiff's payment of special damages is prima facie evidence of the amount and reasonableness of the claimed damages. The City argued, inter alia, that Kai Nui did not provide new evidence or argument that could not have been presented at trial. After a hearing, the district court granted Kai Nui's motion for recon., reopened the case, and Kai Nui prevailed at trial. The City appealed.

Evidence of Damages might be Presumed from Payments of Repairs by Plaintiff. The issue for reconsideration was whether evidence of payment by Kai Nui created a rebuttable presumption of the amount and reasonableness of damages. The ICA noted that there was no controlling case in Hawai'i and that the persuasive authorities from other jurisdictions were just that--persuasive. The ICA did not exactly adopt Kai Nui's proposition of this presumption. At best, it merely noted that it could be one of the many measures of damages to personal property and that the ultimate goal in assessing the evidence of damages is fully compensating the injured party. Richards v. Kailua Auto Machine Service, 10 Haw. App. 613, 623, 880 P.2d 1233, 1238-39 (1994). Thus, considering the payment as a presumption is not an abuse of discretion here. The main concerns of the ICA here were procedural ones: whether it was error to grant the motion for recon.

How new does it have to be? According to the ICA, the trial judge is free to correct itself when a party, in a motion for reconsideration, asserts error of a previous ruling. "If a court determines that it made a mistake in an oral ruling, upon review of persuasive legal authorities, it is not an abuse of discretion [which is the standard of review on appeal from a motion for recon.]." In a footnote, the ICA stresses that its holding does not "expand or otherwise modify the purpose of . . . a motion for reconsideration." The purpose of a motion for recon. is to present new evidence or advance new arguments, and not relitigate old matters. Amfac, Inc. v. Waikiki Beachcomber Inv. Co., 74 Haw. 85, 114, 839 P.2d 10, 27 (1992). The ICA, however, stated that these purposes are not designed to "inflexibly bind the hands of a judge who determines that he or she has made an error."

The issue could have been one on appeal, but instead the trial court was given the opportunity to correct itself, and it did. It seems like the district court here used the motion for reconsideration as a way to act as its own appellate court and reexamine the issue, and the ICA deferred to its discretion in doing so. Should the trial court get this 2d chance? There seems to be no harm in it since the same issue was preserved and went up to the appeals court anyways. The lower court, arguably, attempted to save the parties a lot of trouble and time in settling the matter in the district court. Then again, the ICA carefully noted that it did not expand or modify the purposes of a motion for recon.--present new evidence and advance new arguments. Thus, the arguments that the trial court exercised its discretion to hear were new ones, and the question of whether this is a "new argument" has been technically and implicitly been answered in the affirmative. What constitutes a "new argument" isn't fleshed out.

Editor's Note. As Howie Rose, the voice of New York Mets on WFAN, says, "put it in the books." This is the first published opinion authored by Judge Katherine G. Leonard. It's crisp, brief, and sharp.

1 comment:

line of flight said...

I would support the general idea of this ruling except that I've seen wealthy parties have their obnoxious Honolulu firms utilize Recon Motions to undo the law of the case -- all the time.

How about more usage of interlocutory appeals? That may be more honest than setting up a motion to have the trial court review its own rulings as an appeals court.