Discovery in Litigation

What is Discovery of Evidence?

During a lawsuit, each party has the opportunity to request formal “discovery” from the opposing party. These requests for discovery are accomplished by sending the opposing party three or four different “packets” with each requesting different types of information.  

stack of legal documents

Uniform Interrogatories:

Uniform interrogatories are a series of questions that are listed in the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure. Depending on the type of case there is a set of different questions for the opposing party.

Non-Uniform Interrogatories:

Non-uniform interrogatories are questions written by one party to a lawsuit. They send the questions to the opposing party and wait their response.

For example, a non-uniform interrogatory might ask, “Explain in detail why you did not make the payments as agreed”.

Request for Admissions:

“Requests for Admissions” allow one party to a lawsuit the opportunity to present statements to the opposing party in a way where they should respond in the affirmative. If the responding party does not respond in the affirmative then they must provide an explanation of why they denied the statement.

For example, a Request for Admissions could state, “Admit you did not pay back the money as agreed”. If the opposing party did not pay the money back as agreed then they to “Admit” the statement.

However, if a party denies a Request for Admissions they must explain why it is not a true statement. For example, if the statement reads, “Admit you did not pay back the money as agreed”. Answer, “Deny, We agreed that instead of paying you in cash, I could pay you back by putting a new roof your rental property.”  

Request for Documents:

We are given the opportunity to request up to 10 different sets of documents from the opposing party. In Arizona, the opposing party has 20 days–in a Superior Court case or 30 days in the Justice Court–to produce the documents requested and their written responses.

Lastly, similar to 26.1 initial discovery statements. These discovery requests are not submitted to the Court. In fact, the Judge will never see this information unless specifically and formally introduced as evidence at trial. So don’t worry about impressing the judge, we are simply exchanging all relevant information with the opposing party.

If you need help from an experienced Arizona attorney, then contact the Dunaway Law Group at 480-702-1608 or message us HERE.

* The information provided is informational only, does not constitute legal advice, and will not create an attorney-client or attorney-prospective client relationship. Additionally, the Dunaway Law Group, PLC limits its practice to the State of Arizona.

What is an Easement?

“An easement is the right to use real property owned by another person for a specific and limited use.”

how are easements created?

Easements are created by several methods but the two most common ways in which easements are created are by an “express” act or through use of the land.

1. Express Easement– An express easement is created by deed, contract, or other written agreement. Express easements are the fastest and most cost-effective way to establish access to a property.

2. Prescriptive Easement– Prescriptive easements are created through the circumstances and facts surrounding the use of land which indicates the parties intended for it to exist. In Arizona, implied easements are created after a dominant estate has used the servient estate’s property in a continuous, uninterrupted and open manner for more than 10 years. There is not an official contract or written agreement for prescriptive easements.

Arizona law (A.R.S. § 33-2401) recognizes easements that may be requested by a landlocked owner who is surrounded by land owned by the state (of Arizona) or any political subdivision of the state, and states that “Notwithstanding any other law, reasonable access to private property shall not be denied by this state or any political subdivision of this state.”

Arizona law (A.R.S. § 12-1202) also recognizes a private landlocked landowner’s right to seek an easement from a neighboring landowner upon a showing of “reasonable necessity.”

different types of easements

  • Right-of-Way. A right of way easement lets people travel across a property for a specific purpose.
  • Easements of Support. A easement of support prohibits other parties from digging too deep and affecting the foundation of the property’s structures.
  • Easements of “Light and Air”. This prevents a neighboring property from building too high and affecting the view from the dominant estate’s structure(s).
  • Aviation Easements. Aviation easements allow the use of aircraft above a particular property.

terminating an easement

How Can an easement be terminated? Who Can Terminate it? There are four (4) basic ways an easement can be terminated:

  1. Termination by Expiration: An easement can be terminated by the expiration of an agreed upon time event. For example, there could be an agreement that an easement will last for 10 years at which time the easement will automatically terminate.
  2. Termination by Agreement: This happens when the owner expressly conveys the easement back to the grantor. For example, if Simon owns an easement over Garfunkel’s land, and Garfunkel requests that Simon release the easement, Simon may then execute the termination agreement and convey the easement back to Garfunkel. Once this agreement is signed by Simon, the easement in land will terminate.
Old abandoned building and rail.

3. Abandonment of an Easement: Easements can be terminated when the owner abandons his right to it. Usually, mere nonuse of an easement is not enough to qualify for termination. An easement may be terminated by abandonment only if the owner makes a clear, unequivocal, decisive act to abandon the easement.

4. Abandonment by Decision: A decisive act to abandon an easement could include creating a new alternate road to enter the property or installing fencing or a wall or some other time of barrier across the easement.

5. Merger of Easement and Land: Easements can be terminated by a merger of the dominant and servient properties. Under the doctrine of merger, if one party acquires the property subject to and benefited by an easement. The easement will have been said to merge with the other rights held by the owner. This makes sense, because an easement is the right to cross over the property belonging to another person. However, if you own the land, the easement will merge into the land because it is not necessary to have permission to cross your own property.

landlocked properties in arizona

In Arizona, it’s not unheard of for a piece of property in an isolated and undeveloped area to not have legal access to the property. Meaning there are not roads leading to the property and there are not Express or Prescriptive easements.

In this scenario, the landlocked owner has several options. If the seller of the Arizona property sold a portion of his or her land without a formal access roadway, then Arizona law implies in the sale of the property an easement across the seller’s remaining property for access–and utilities. If the seller of the land refuses, the landlocked owner can ask a court to enter an order compelling the seller to grant an easement. Because Arizona law generally presumes that transfer of real property includes by implication that there is a way the property can be accessed and used.

private condemnation of properties

A landlocked property in Arizona may be able to file a “private condemnation” lawsuit, where the landlocked owner can ask a court for just enough of the neighboring property to build and maintain a roadway in order to access the property. The landlocked owner must prove that there is no sufficient alternative access to the property. As in public condemnation, private condemnation requires compensation to the owner of the property being taken.

Conclusion

Understanding real estate law can be very confusing, in particular easements on shared water wells. If you have questions about your real estate then contact the Dunaway Law Group at 480-702-1610 or by sending us a message HERE.

* The information provided is informational only, does not constitute legal advice, and will not create an attorney-client or attorney-prospective client relationship. Additionally, the Dunaway Law Group, PLC limits its practice to the State of Arizona.

Evictions and Ownership Disputes

Arizona law is clear that eviction cases are designed to address the issue of possession and not the issue of property ownership. The limited scope of a forcible entry and detainer action has been strictly defined by Arizona statute. A.R.S. § 12-1177(A) states in relevant part:

On the trial of an action of Forcible Entry or Forcible Detainer, the only issue shall be the right of actual possession and the merits of title shall not be inquired into.

A.R.S. 12-1177(A)

Evidence offered to the Arizona Superior Court showing anything other than who is entitled to possess the property will be excluded from an eviction hearing. This means that a defendant-tenant who claims ownership of the rental property must file a quiet title action and not raise the issue during an eviction hearing.

Proof of property Ownership 

The Arizona Superior Court’s inquiry into property ownership is limited to the extent that Plaintiff holds title to the property in dispute. If the Plaintiff – Arizona Landlord’s name appears on the trustee’s deed then the Court should not inquire into ownership any further.

The issuance of the Trustee’s Deed to Plaintiff is conclusive evidence that all statutory requirements for the Trustee’s Sale were satisfied and that Plaintiff has the right to possession of the Property.

A.R.S. § 33-811(B) further provides:

…the Trustee’s deed shall raise the presumption of compliance with the requirements of this chapter relating to the exercise of the power of sale and the sale of the trust property, including recording, mailing, publishing, and posting of the notice of sale and the conduct of the sale.

eviction cases are summary remedies

Arizona courts have held that litigation as to the validity of title “would convert a forcible detainer action into a quiet title action and defeat its purpose as a summary remedy.” Curtis v. Morris, 186 Ariz. 534, 535, 925 P.2d 259, 260 (1996).

For example, in Merrifield v. Merrifield, 95 Ariz. 152, 154, 388 P.2d 153, 155 (1963), the plaintiff held title to property pursuant to quitclaim deed which was valid on its face. The lower court nonetheless inquired into the merits of that title and refused to find the defendant guilty of forcible entry and detainer. The Arizona Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s ruling because plaintiff was entitled to possession as the title holder and pursuant to A.R.S. § 12-1177, the trial court was prohibited from considering the merits of the plaintiff’s title. Accordingly, any evidence offered by Defendants to raise extrinsic issues or disprove Plaintiff’s title must be excluded.

In another case demonstrating the Superior Courts inability to inquire into ownership in a forcible detainer (see Olds Bros. Lumber Co. v. Rushing, 64 Ariz. 199, 167 P.2d 394 (1946), the Arizona Supreme Court stated: “[T]he statutes of this state make that very plain and indicate quite clearly that the right to actual possession is the only issue to be determined in such an action.” Id. at 204, 397. The court also discussed the legislative intent in limiting the scope of a forcible entry and detainer action stating:

The object of a forcible entry and detainer action is to afford a summary, speedy and adequate remedy for obtaining possession of premises withheld by tenants, and for this reason this objective would be entirely frustrated if the defendant were permitted to deny his landlord’s title, or to interpose customary and usual defenses permissible in the ordinary action at law. And for the same reason, the merits of the title may not be inquired into in such an action, for if the merits of the title and other defenses above enumerated were permitted and the court heard testimony concerning them, then other and secondary issues would be presented to the court and the action would not afford a summary, speedy and adequate remedy for obtaining possession of the premises.

Olds Bros. Lumber Co. v. Rushing, 64 Ariz. 199, 167 P.2d 394 (1946))

Id. at 204-05, 397. Because the trustee’s deed is conclusive evidence of Plaintiff’s title under A.R.S. § 33-811(B), and because the court is prohibited from inquiring into the merits of that title under A.R.S. § 12-1177(A), judgment must be rendered in favor of Plaintiff regardless of any defense of ownership the Defendants may raise.

Ownership Disputes in the Justice Court

The ownership of property and their interaction with evictions can become very complex. The above article discusses issues of ownership disputes and evictions in the Superior Court, however, the rules that apply to ownership disputes and evictions in the Justice Court (where most evictions take place) are completely different.

A.R.S. § 22-201(D) addresses this issue:

Justices of the peace have jurisdiction to try the right to possession of real property when title or ownership is not a subject of inquiry in the action. If in any such action the title or ownership of real property becomes an issue, the justice shall so certify in the court record, at once stop further proceedings in the action and forward all papers together with a certified copy of the court record in the action to the Superior Court, where the action shall be docketed and determined as though originally brought in the Superior Court.

A.R.S. § 22-201(D)

A.R.S. § 22-201(F) adds further clarification:

In actions between landlord and tenant for possession of leased premises, the title to the property leased shall not be raised nor made an issue.

A.R.S. § 22-201(F)

Occasionally, when a case is sent to the Superior Court an Arizona landlord will respond, “but my tenant doesn’t own the property! It’s mine! They’re just lying! Why is the judge believing them? What could have been done to prevent this?”

While a landlords’ frustration is understandable it’s important to remember that the Justice Court judge is just following the law. Just because a Justice Court Judge moves a case into the Arizona Superior Court system does not mean they believe the tenant. Additionally, it does not mean that the tenant did something right or that we made some kind of a mistake. It simply means the Judge is following the law.

For help with your Arizona landlord – tenant matters contact the Dunaway Law Group at 480-389-6529 or message us HERE.

* The information provided is informational only, does not constitute legal advice, and will not create an attorney-client or attorney-prospective client relationship. Additionally, the Dunaway Law Group, PLC limits its practice to the State of Arizona.

Motion for Summary Judgment

What is a Motion for Summary Judgment?

A Motion for Summary Judgment is a pleading filed with an Arizona court where a party is asking the judge to rule on a single issue—or the whole case—without the need for a trial. In order for summary judgment to be granted, there must be “no genuine issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law”. This means that the undisputed facts presented in a particular case entitle one side to win because of the existing law relating to that issue.

When considering a Motion for Summary Judgment, the Arizona judges must view all “the evidence and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Rowland v. Kellogg Brown and Root Inc. Under Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure 56(c), only if the Arizona court makes a finding that no genuine issue of material fact exists can the moving party be granted a judgment as a matter of law. If issues of material fact exist then the Motion for Summary Judgment should be dismissed in its entirety.

Arizona courts are cautioned not to use summary judgment proceedings as a substitute for trials, the motion should be granted if the facts produced in support of the claim or defense have so little probative value, given the quantum of evidence required, that reasonable people could not agree with the conclusion advanced by the proponent of the claim or defense.

The burden of persuasion on the party seeking summary judgment is heavy and if there is any genuine issue as to a material factual issue is present, the motion should be denied.

Statement of Facts and Affidavit

There are two documents filed in conjunction with the motion for summary judgment; 1) a Statement of Facts and 2) an Affidavit in support of the facts.

  • Statement of Facts– For the movant (person filing the MSJ) they must file a Statement of Facts that out the facts as they see them.
    • Supporting Documents-In addition to just stating the “facts”, each Party must provide documentation that supports their facts.
  • Affidavit in Support– Both Parties must file an affidavit swearing that their statements are true.

Why File a motion for Summary Judgment?

Just because the opposing party filed a Motion for Summary Judgment it doesn’t mean that you did something wrong or they have an extraordinarily strong case where the judge will enter judgment in their favor without even going to trial.

It is quite common for Motions for Summary Judgment to be filed in Arizona cases. In part because a judge can rule on just one aspect of the case. This will allow the Movant to “chip away at the edges” of the lawsuit to see if they can get any of the claims for relief awarded.

response to the motion for summary judgement

A response to the Motion for Summary Judgment must be filed within 30 days of receiving the motion. A response gives a party the opportunity to respond to the allegations made in the Motion for Summary Judgment. As part of the response, a statement of facts and affidavit must also be filed. Similar to the opposing party’s statement of facts, the respondent must cite a source for every statement made to the court. Doing this is incredibly tedious and time consuming!

RULING ON THE MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

There are three basic ways an Arizona court can rule in response to the MSJ.

  1. The Arizona Judge may grant the opposing party a judgment summarily dismissing the whole case. If the Motion for Summary Judgment is completely awarded in its entirety, the case will continue moving towards trial as if the Motion for Summary Judgment had never been filed.
  2. The Arizona Judge may grant partial summary judgment. Meaning she may dismiss one or some of their requests and allow the others to move forward. The remaining issues will continue moving towards trial.  
  3. The Arizona Judge may completely rule against the Movant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. If it is completely rejected then, the case will continue moving towards trial as if the Motion for Summary Judgment had never been filed.

What If the Summary Judgment is Granted?

If the Motion for Summary Judgment is granted, the judgment on the issue or case is deemed to be a final judgment from which a party may appeal. An Arizona court of appeal can reverse the summary judgment and reinstate the claim in the Superior Court. However, this is rarely done and most summary judgments are upheld on appeal.

It is likely the winning party will be granted an award of their attorneys’ fees and court costs.

If you need help from an Arizona attorney then contact the Dunaway Law Group at or 480-389-6529 by sending us a message HERE.

Motion In Limine

What is a Motion in Limine?

A motion in limine is a pleading filed with the court where on party is asking the judge to prevent certain pieces of evidence from being used during a trial.

What is the Definition of Motion in limine?

The phrase, in limine is a Latin phrase that means “at the threshold”. Hence if granted a Motion in limine will stop certain evidence “at the threshold” or prevented from even being let “in the door”.

At What Point is a Motion in limine Filed?

In Arizona these Motions must typically be filed by a certain date established at an earlier time by the court. For instance, the judge may say, “all Motions in limine” must be filed by this certain date or you may not raise the argument at a later date.

What are the Factors Determined by the Judge?

Historically three elements must be met before a judge will grant the Motion in limine.

  1. When the evidence is not relevant to any of the issues at dispute in the current case.
  2. When evidence is extremely prejudicial to one party without helping the jury decide on the case in front of them.
  3. When admitting the evidence would violate a state or federal law or the rules of evidence. 

If you need help from an Arizona real estate attorney then contact the Dunaway Law Group at 480-389-6529 or send us a message HERE.