Tempel v. Benson

Tempel v. Benson, 2015 MT 84 (April 21, 2015) (Baker, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether Tempel waived her right to appeal the jury verdict by accepting the benefits of the judgment; and (2) whether the district court abused its discretion in determining that Benson’s conduct did not warrant discovery sanctions.

Short Answer: (1) Yes, and (2) no.

Affirmed

Facts: Tempel sued Benson for negligence after the two were in a car accident. During discovery, Tempel sent Benson a request to admit violating certain traffic laws, and Benson denied the request. Tempel moved for summary judgment on negligence, and the district court granted her motion. Tempel also moved for Rule 37 sanctions for Benson’s failure to admit violating traffic laws; the district court denied the motion.

After a trial on damages, the jury awarded Tempel $168,851.94 in past medical expenses, $40,000 in future medical expenses, $35,000 for pain and suffering, $21,830 for loss of earning capacity, $2,754 in loss of household services and $0 for past loss of earnings, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.

The district court entered judgment for Tempel in the amount of $268,435.94. Benson paid the full amount plus interest, and Tempel accepted the funds and signed a document entitled, “Acknowledgement of Payment of Judgment Reserving Claims for New Trial.”

Procedural Posture & Holding: Tempel moved for a new trial on the issues of damages for emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and future medical expenses for Cymbalta. Benson opposed the motion and moved for entry of satisfaction of judgment. The district court denied Tempel’s motion for new trial and entered an order of satisfaction of judgment. Tempel filed a notice of appeal, and Benson moved to dismiss, arguing Tempel waived her right to appeal by accepting the benefits of the judgment.

Reasoning: (1) The right to enjoy the benefits of a judgment and the right to appeal a judgment are inconsistent. When an appellant accepts the benefits of a judgment but appeals part of the judgment, the appeal may not relate to the benefits already accepted. The parties tried a single issue: Tempel’s damages caused by Benson’s negligence. She was awarded and accepted economic and non-economic damages arising from Benson’s negligence. Tempel has waived her right to appeal by accepting the judgment’s benefits.

(2) However, accepting the judgment’s benefits did not mean Tempel accepted the district court’s decision on her Rule 37 motion. After reviewing the record, the Court concludes the district court acted within its discretion in determining that Benson’s discovery responses did not give rise to an order for sanctions under Rule 37.