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Simmons v. Briones

Supreme Court of Nevada

March 2, 2017

GENEVA M. SIMMONS, INDIVIDUALLY, Appellant,
v.
JESUS MANUEL BRIONES, Respondent.

         Appeal from a district court order denying a petition for judicial review of an administrative agency determination refusing to suspend a driver's license for failure to pay a judgment. Eighth Judicial District Court, Clark County; Rob Bare, Judge.

          Bailey Kennedy and Sarah E. Harmon, Dennis L. Kennedy, and Amanda L. Stevens, Las Vegas; GEICO Staff Counsel and Eric A. Daly, Henderson, for Appellant.

          Cliff W. Marcek, P.C., and Cliff W. Marcek, Las Vegas, for Respondent.

          Thomas & Springberg, P.C., and Andrew Thomas, Las Vegas, for Amicus Curiae Nevada Justice Association.

          BEFORE HARDESTY, PARRAGUIRRE and PICKERING, JJ.

          OPINION

          HARDESTY, J.

         In this appeal, we are asked to determine whether a judgment for attorney fees and costs against an insured driver in an action that arises out of a motor vehicle accident is a "judgment" for purposes of the NRS Chapter 485[1] nonpayment of judgment statutes. Although respondent successfully sued appellant for damages arising out of a motor vehicle accident, he failed during a trial de novo to obtain an award that sufficiently surpassed the amount of damages that he was previously awarded in arbitration; as a result, appellant's attorney fees and costs were assessed against him. We are now asked to determine whether the judgment for these penalty attorney fees and costs constitutes a "judgment... upon a cause of action" arising out of the use of a motor vehicle, such that its nonpayment may result in the suspension of driving privileges under NRS 485.302. We conclude that it does not and we thus affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In August 2010, appellant Geneva Simmons and respondent Jesus Manuel Briones were involved in a motor vehicle accident. Briones filed a complaint against Simmons as a result, asserting negligence and claiming personal injury and property damages. The action was diverted to the mandatory court-annexed arbitration program. The arbitrator found in favor of Briones but reduced Briones' damages award by half, finding Briones 50 percent negligent. Briones requested a trial de novo.

         The case was placed in the short trial program, where a jury found in favor of Briones and awarded him damages. The jury also found Briones 50 percent negligent, and his award was reduced by half. Because Briones' award failed to exceed the arbitration award by 20 percent, Briones was liable for Simmons' attorney fees and costs under NAR 20(B)(2)(a) (providing that when "the party requesting the trial de novo fails to obtain a judgment that exceeds the arbitration award by at least 20 percent of the award, the non-requesting party is entitled to its attorney's fees and costs associated with the proceedings following the request for trial de novo").

         The short trial judge offset the damages and attorney fees and costs awards and entered a net judgment in favor of Simmons (the Simmons Judgment). After Briones failed to pay the judgment, Simmons notified the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and requested that Briones' driving privileges be suspended until the judgment was satisfied pursuant to NRS 485.302. The DMV suspended Briones' driving privileges.

         Briones then requested an administrative hearing to contest the suspension, arguing that NRS 485.302 did not apply because he was never an uninsured driver and the Simmons Judgment was not for personal injury or property damages. The administrative law judge (ALJ) agreed and dismissed and rescinded the suspension. Simmons then filed a petition for judicial review of the decision. The district court denied the petition, agreeing with the ALJ that NRS 485.302 did not pertain to judgments against insured drivers for attorney fees and costs. Simmons appeals, arguing that Briones' driving privileges should have remained suspended because a judgment for attorney fees and costs is within the scope of NRS 485.302.

         DISCUSSION

         "When reviewing a district court's denial of a petition for judicial review of an agency decision, this court engages in the same analysis as the district court." Rio All Suite Hotel & Casino v. Phillips,126 Nev. 346, 349, 240 P.3d 2, 4 (2010). Specifically, we "review the evidence presented to the agency in order to determine whether the agency's decision was arbitrary or capricious and was thus an abuse of the agency's discretion." United Exposition Serv. Co. v. State Indus. Ins. Sys.,109 Nev. 421, 423, 851 P.2d 423, 424 (1993). However, issues of statutory construction are ...


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