A central Nevada ranching family facing a $1 million judgment in a wrongful death case has received a reprieve.
Nye County District Judge Robert Lane on Wednesday set aside his own 2009 civil judgment against Susan Fallini, who co-owns Twin Springs Ranch near Tonopah.
“One cannot ignore the apparent injustice that (the) defendant has suffered throughout this matter,” Lane wrote in his order. “Ms. Fallini is responsible for a multi-million dollar judgment without the merits of the case even being addressed.”
For Fallini, her husband and their three children, Lane’s decision means one thing: Their 150-year old ranch will survive, at least for now.
“We feel unbelievable relief. Justice has finally prevailed,” said Susan Fallini’s daughter, Anna Fallini Berg. “We have renewed faith in our judicial system. Things were looking pretty dim there for a while.”
Lane’s decision is the latest twist in a legal odyssey that began in 2007 when the family of California geologist Michael Adams sued Susan Fallini after his death in a car wreck involving one of her cows.
The accident, on State Route 375 north of Rachel, was in open-range territory.
State law says ranchers aren’t liable for damages or deaths if cars hit their cattle on open range. But Fallini’s attorney, Harry Kuehn, never responded to court motions from plaintiff’s attorney John Aldrich asking Fallini to falsely admit her ranch wasn’t on the open range. Because of that lack of response, Fallini in the eyes of the court essentially admitted by default that her range wasn’t open.
As a result, Lane ruled in favor of Adams’ family, awarding $2.7 million in 2009. The Nevada Supreme Court later lowered the judgment to about $1 million.
Both sides were back in Lane’s courtroom July 28. Fallini’s new attorney, David Hague of Texas, argued that Aldrich knew open-range law and fraudulently accepted Fallini’s default admission.
On Wednesday, Lane agreed. He said Aldrich should have known based on Nevada Highway Patrol reports and even his client’s personal website that the accident happened in the open range.
“Instead of correcting this alleged known falsehood, Mr. Aldrich utilized Ms. Fallini’s admission that this area was not open range as grounds to obtain a favorable award of summary judgment,” Lane wrote.
Lane said on July 28 that he expected his decision to be appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court.
That is why the Fallinis, while saying they were ecstatic about Wednesday’s decision, remain somewhat circumspect about the future.
“It’s definitely not over until we find out whether he (Aldrich) intends to appeal,” Anna Fallini Berg said.
Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at email@example.com. Follow @J_Robison1 on Twitter.