Allstate v. O'Toole

In Allstate v. O'Toole, 182 Ariz. 284, 896 P.2d 254 (1995), the plaintiffs failed to file a timely Rule 26.1 disclosure statement during a period of time after their original attorneys had withdrawn but before they had obtained new representation. Id. at 285-86, 896 P.2d at 255-56. After Allstate filed a motion for sanctions for non-disclosure, plaintiffs' new counsel filed a late disclosure statement. The trial court sanctioned the plaintiffs by precluding them from conducting any further discovery or using any witnesses or exhibits not listed in their late disclosure statement, but refused Allstate's request to bar the plaintiffs from presenting at trial any witnesses or exhibits listed in their disclosure statement. Id. at 286, 896 P.2d at 256. Allstate sought special action relief in the court of appeals, which accepted jurisdiction and held that then-existing Rule 26.1(c) compelled the exclusion of evidence unless a party seeking relief showed "good cause" for the failure to timely disclose it. Id. Accordingly, the court of appeals vacated the trial court's order and remanded with instructions to exclude the evidence listed in the late disclosure statement. Id. at 287, 896 P.2d at 257. Rule 26.1(c), insofar as relevant, provided: "In addition to any other sanction the court may impose, the court shall exclude at trial any evidence offered by a party that was not timely disclosed as required by Rule 26.1, except by leave of court for good cause shown . . . ." The supreme court disagreed with the court of appeals' conclusion that Rule 26.1(c) compelled the mandatory exclusion of evidence when no "good cause" had been shown. Id. (stating "we cannot subscribe to the view that Rule 26.1(c) was meant to deprive judges of all discretion to do what may be right and just in particular circumstances"). Instead, the court interpreted the "good cause" language in Rule 26.1(c) as "giving trial judges a modicum of discretion to ensure that cases are not ordinarily won or lost on the basis of harmless missed deadlines." Allstate, 182 Ariz. at 287-88, 896 P.2d at 257-58. In vacating the court of appeals' opinion and remanding to the trial court for further proceedings, the court rejected the idea that any delay in providing disclosure is prejudicial: Delay, standing alone, does not necessarily establish prejudice. Every late disclosure will involve some delay, but the relevant question must be whether it is harmful to the opposing party or to the justice system. A slight delay in a case such as this, where the trial date has not yet been set, clearly may be less prejudicial than that resulting from an attempt to disclose new witnesses just before trial. Each situation must necessarily be evaluated on its own facts. In Allstate, the delay at the outset of the case was "slight" under circumstances that were not "harmful to the opposing party or the justice system."