Court of Appeals confirms that deemed denied provision in statute is no longer valid.

In the past, New Mexico’s rules governing post-judgment motions contained many “deemed denied” provisions.  For example, if a post-judgment motion were timely filed, and the district court did not act on the motion within 30 days, the motion was deemed denied, and the losing party would then have 30 days in which to file a notice of appeal.

The deemed denied provisions had the merit of expediting cases.  If you lost a case at trial, you would probably be in the Court of Appeals in short order.  That’s important in a jurisdiction like New Mexico, which imposes a whopping 15% annual post-judgment interest rate on tort judgments, and an 8.75% rate on non-tort judgments.

But the deemed denied provisions also had some disadvantages.  Most importantly, they were traps for the unwary.  Parties who filed post-judgment motions sometimes overlooked the deemed denied provisions, and lost their right to appeal while waiting for the district court to decide their post-judgment motions.  The deemed denied provisions also sometimes deprived busy district court judges of the ability to fix their own mistakes, resulting in an additional and unnecessary burden on the appellate courts.

In 2006 and 2007, the New Mexico Supreme Court began deleting the deemed denied provisions from the Rules of Civil Procedure.  The Court could not, of course, delete the statutory deemed denied provision from NMSA 1978, § 39-1-1, since that is the Legislature’s prerogative.  Section 39-1-1 provides that final judgments are within the district court’s control for 30 days, and allows the district court to consider motions to reconsider that are filed within that period, but also provides that “if the court shall fail to rule upon such motion within thirty days after the filing thereof, such failure to rule shall be deemed a denial thereof.”

In New Mexico, procedural rules supersede statutes to the extent of any conflict, and therefore the validity of the statutory deemed denied provision has been questionable, to say the least.  But its continued presence in the statute book continues to attract appellees who hope to rely on it.

Yesterday the Court of Appeals hammered another nail into the provision’s coffin in Rosales v. State of N.M. Taxation and Revenue Department, Motor Vehicle Division.  Rosales, who had been convicted several times of DWI, persuaded the district court to reinstate his driver’s license, and a written order to that effect was entered on February 23, 2011.  Thirty days later, on March 25, the MVD filed a motion to reconsider under Section 39-1-1.  The motion was not heard until June 2, but the district court ruled that it no longer had jurisdiction because over 30 days had passed since the motion was filed.

The Court of Appeals reversed.  Judge Cynthia Fry’s opinion makes it clear, if there were still any doubt, that Section 39-1-1’s deemed denied provision “no longer applies in any civil case.”  The case will now be remanded to the district court with instructions to consider the merits of the MVD’s motion.

I’d be interested to hear what you think . . . was getting rid of the deemed denied provisions a good idea?  Or not?


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