The Idaho Supreme Court recently issued an opinion that reveals the critical importance of case preparation. See Hilliard v. Murphy Land Company, LLC, No. 42093-2014 (May 21, 2015).
In Hilliard, millions of dollars were at stake. The plaintiffs sold their farm to the defendant. Three million dollars of the sale price was placed in trust to be available to compensate the purchaser for any loss resulting from an anticipated delay in its ability to take possession. The sale closed in December 2010, and the purchaser obtained possession in May 2012. The sellers then filed an action seeking the money held in trust. The purchaser filed a counterclaim seeking those same funds.
The purchaser filed a motion for summary judgment supported by a 182-page affidavit in which the purchaser’s expert opined that the purchaser suffered damages in excess of $3 million on account of the delay in possession. The sellers filed four affidavits in opposition to the purchaser’s motion. The purchaser objected to the sellers’ affidavits, and the district court struck various portions of those affidavits. The district court then found there was no genuine issue of material fact as to damages and entered judgment in favor of the purchaser, awarding it all $3 million held in trust.
The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the judgment, finding no error on the part of the district court. The Court ruled, with respect to a key affidavit, that the district court did not err in striking a portion of it because the sellers did not supplement a discovery response in which they stated they had “[n]ot yet decided” on who they would call as an expert witness. Without the affidavits, the sellers could not show a disputed issue of material fact.
In his concurrence, Justice Jim Jones remarked that “the courts can only act upon the evidence competently presented and are not in a position to rescue litigants from cases that are inadequately prepared and conducted.”
This case serves as a reminder that the appellate court can only decide the case before it, and the litigants must make every effort to support their case before the trial court and on appeal. Among other things, a party must supplement its discovery responses to identify its expert witnesses, see I.R.C.P. 26(e), and a party’s failure to do so may result in the exclusion of that expert’s testimony, see id. Also, affidavits supporting or opposing a motion for summary judgment must “set forth such facts as would be admissible in evidence” and “shall show affirmatively that the affiant is competent to testify to the matters stated therein.” I.R.C.P. 56(e).