In our continuing coverage of the bad opinions of Justice Jim Johnson, we have another example of his bad opinions. This is another opinion I have a close tie to. In Magana v. Hyundai, Hyundai essentially hid, until trial, remand, and a renewed discovery request, several instances of “other similar incident evidence”. When Magana found out about the evidence, he found from the people holding the physical remnants that they had just discarded it, or held it waiting for someone to contact them, but it went in the trash. The trial court sanctioned Hyundai with a default for such a blatant violation. What did Jim Johnson think? Well, courtesy of the Stan Rumbaugh campaign, here’s his take on the whole situation:
July 27, 2010
Contact: Brendan Williams: (360) 791-3979
The 2009 Washington Supreme Court decision in Magaña vs. Hyundai Motor America involved a car accident victim, Jesse Magaña, who was paralyzed after being thrown out the rear window of a Hyundai Accent during an accident. Evidence showed Jesse’s injuries could have been avoided had it not been for a defective seat-reclining design- a defect that was well known to Hyundai, but that they failed to correct..
Jesse brought a lawsuit against Hyundai, but the company refused to participate in the discovery process. Instead, they spent years ignoring, providing incomplete answers, or outright lying to Jesse and the trial court. Included in this were attempts to hide evidence of similar past accidents. Ultimately, this denied Magaña the ability to adequately prepare his case, and the trial court found Hyundai willfully and deliberately abused the court’s rules.
Following appeals, the case ended up before the Washington State Supreme Court which found, “Hyundai refused to directly answer Magaña’s requests but reworded and limited their scope…evidence was spoiled and forever lost” as a result of Hyundai’s stalling tactics.
Thus the trial court had found and the Court upheld an $8million verdict against Hyundai. The Court said,”we hold that the trial court appropriately diagnosed Hyundai’s willful efforts to frustrate and undermine truthful pretrial discovery efforts…”
Doing so, the Supreme Court noted it “can disturb a trial court’s sanction only if it is clearly unsupported by the record.” It was not. And so twelve years after Jesse Magaña became a paraplegic, seven justices ruled he was entitled to his $8 million default judgment.
However, in Justice Jim Johnson, the Court has a judicial activist well-practiced at substituting his judgment for those who really should be exercising it He leapt at the chance to play the trial judge’s role and bestow favorable treatment upon Hyundai.
In dissent, Justice Johnson suggested a wrist slap was more appropriate for a “multibillion dollar corporation” that plays legal games with a paralyzed man. He further belittled Magaña by accusing him of submitting “sweeping” discovery requests “ and tried to claim that, ”Money is the heart of Magaña’s case, and substantial fines could affect Hyundai and its litigation strategies.”
Over the last decade, Jessie Magana has belied this claim by being one of the mosr dedicated advocates in the state for the rights of the disability community. He chaired Governor Locke’s Blue Ribbon committee for people with disabilities. He has championed the ADA and pushed to open facilities all over the state so that people with disabilities could enjoy the rights the 20 year old Americans With disabilities Act bestowed on them- the same act celebrated this week by the President. Jesse did this on his own dime and out of his own commitment while Hyundai and their legions of lawyers fought to deny him justice. The Supreme Court finally put those efforts to rest- but only over the objections of Justice Johnson, who would have denied these basic dignities to Jessie. (See McClarty, day two of our list.)
Of course, the intent of the legal rules that protect against discovery abuse like in this case are to specifically keep monied interests from escaping justice. Indeed, the majority reminds that the sanction is designed “to appropriately compensates the other party, punishes Hyundai, and hopefully educates and deters others so inclined.”
Instead, Johnson thought twelve years was not enough time for Magaña to await justice: “More time would allow further investigation of the discovery,” he wrote –despite the fact that the majority had clearly found additional time would not have mattered because the evidence was ruined by Hyundai’s tactics.
While the twelve years of waiting were long for Jesse Magaña waiting in his wheelchair, and losing his job and health care, they were good for Hyundai as U.S. sales soared. But abuse of the legal system is commonplace from large corporations that know how to work the system and make money while delaying legitimate payments to victims; as the Court put it, “Hyundai is a sophisticated multinational corporation, experienced in litigation.” Even in 2009, as Jesse awaited over 300 agonizingly long days for the Court’s decision while Justice Johnson wrote his dissent, Hyundai doubled its profit from 2008.
Time and time again, Johnson demonstrates his deep commitment to fighting for corporations rather than those they victimize. His performance is profitable for them, but costs too much for Washington’s citizens.
For the Magaña case, see http://caselaw.findlaw.com/wa-supreme-court/1500342.html
For a compelling story on Jesse Magaña, see http://www.king5.com/home/Wash-court-reinstates-8M-award-against-Hyundai-74299717.html
For more information on Johnson’s Injustice click “here“
Visit Stan Rumbaugh at www.rumbaughforjustice.com