NM Court of Appeals: Statutes mean what they say

Two recent decisions by our Court of Appeals, both written by Judge Bustamante, and both issued on February 9, have rejected attempts by parties to expand statutes beyond their plain meaning.

In Wells Fargo Bank N.A. v. Pyle, a foreclosure defendant was unable to redeem his property because he did not file a motion to extend the redemption period “before judgment,” as required by NMSA 1978, Section 39-5-19. The appellant argued that requiring a property owner to demonstrate an intent to redeem the property before judgment “restricts the opportunity to redeem such that it is no longer a reasonable one and hence is contrary to the legislature’s intent.” The Court correctly rejected appellant’s argument, because the statutory language is unambiguous.

In Bodley v. Goldman, the decedent’s brother in a wrongful death action argued that the decedent’s children should not share in the proceeds from a settlement of the action because they supposedly abandoned the parent-child relationship by allegedly not visiting their father for a decade before his death and not attending his funeral. The Court correctly rejected this claim because the Wrongful Death Act provides that a decedent’s children will share in the distribution, and contains no language depriving children of their right to share in the proceeds due to a failure to provide emotional support or comfort.

Of course, one could reasonably argue that foreclosure redemption procedures should be structured in some other way, and that ungrateful and neglectful children should not enjoy proceeds from wrongful death cases, but in our system of government, it is primarily the legislature’s duty to make policy. A judge’s duty is to faithfully apply statutes to the case at hand, not to second-guess the legislature.

 

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