GORDON, Vice Chief Justice:
Judge Carl A. Muecke of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona has certified several questions of law to this Court. These questions concern the proper interpretation of the Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act, A.R.S. §§ 12-2501 to 12-2509 (1984) (hereafter "UCATA"). We have jurisdiction pursuant to A.R.S. § 12-1861 and Rule 27, Ariz. R.S.Ct., 17A A.R.S.
Several lawsuits were commenced by some of the limited partners in the United States District Court in Arizona during 1983.
During May and June of 1984, YSP filed third-party claims against Black Corporation in each of the cases. In addition to claiming rights of indemnity and contribution under federal law, YSP asserted common law indemnity and contribution on the pendent state law claims. On August 30, 1984 the newly enacted UCATA became effective in Arizona. Shortly thereafter YSP amended its third-party claims against Black Corporation to specifically seek relief under the provisions of that Act on the pendent state law claims. Its allegations were then designated as a cross-claim in the suit in which Black Corporation was a defendant.
Black Corporation subsequently filed motions to dismiss in each of the cases on the basis that YSP had no rights of indemnity or contribution under either federal or state law. After oral argument on November 19, 1984, the District Court dismissed the counts of YSP's third-party complaints and cross-claim for contribution under Federal law without prejudice, and the counts seeking indemnity under federal law with prejudice. It dismissed the counts for common law indemnity on the pendent State claims by order the following day. The Court did not rule on the remaining YSP claims for contribution under UCATA. Rather, it entered an order in each case severing and staying the YSP third-party claims and cross-claims pending a ruling by this Court on the State law questions certified to it.
There has not yet been any judgment or disposition on any of the underlying claims against YSP or Black Corporation.
The Statutory Provision at Issue
UCATA became effective on August 30, 1984. 1984 Ariz. Sess. Laws, Ch. 237. Section 3 of the Act provides that the provisions of the Act:
Questions of Law
1A. Concerning a contribution claim, does the word "actions" in Section 3 of UCATA refer to the underlying tort action against the party seeking contribution or does it refer to the subsequent action brought for contribution by a defendant in the underlying action?
1B. Does the UCATA creation of a statutory contribution claim against a joint wrongdoer violate the retroactivity prohibition of A.R.S. § 1-244 and unconstitutionally
1C. If a defendant in an underlying tort suit files a claim for contribution before the effective date of UCATA and subsequently amends its claim for contribution after the effective date of UCATA, is the amended claim for contribution barred?
2. Does the Arizona UCATA create a separate and distinct cause of action for contribution which does not accrue until after one of several joint tortfeasors has paid more than its share of their common liability?
1A. The Meaning of "Actions" in Section 3
Determining the meaning of "actions" in section 3 requires construing the statute in question. The cardinal rule of statutory construction is to ascertain the meaning of a statute and the intent of the legislature at the time the legislature acted. Putvain v. Industrial Commission of Arizona, 140 Ariz. 138, 680 P.2d 1199 (1984); City of Phoenix v. Superior Court, 139 Ariz. 175, 677 P.2d 1283 (1984). To arrive at legislative intent, this Court first looks to the words of the statute. State ex rel. Flournoy v. Mangum, 113 Ariz. 151, 548 P.2d 1148 (1976).
Looking only to the word "action" in UCATA, we find no legislative intent indicating whether "actions" in section 3 means tort actions or contribution actions. Black Corporation argues, however, that the Legislature's use of "action" throughout UCATA's substantive provisions indicates that it means tort actions in section 3.
This conclusion, however, does not end our inquiry into the legislature's intent. We next read the Act as a whole, looking to its subject matter, effects and consequences, reason, and spirit. State ex rel. Flournoy v. Mangum, supra. Both parties to this action have argued their positions seemingly assuming that UCATA concerns only contribution among joint tortfeasors. Though entitled "Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act", the Act also contains a comparative negligence law.
Indeed, a strong interdependence between contribution and comparative negligence in UCATA is amply demonstrated by examining several sections of the Act. A.R.S. § 12-2502 provides in relevant part:
Further, A.R.S. § 12-2503(F.) provides in pertinent part:
Finally, A.R.S. § 12-2506 states in relevant part:
A reading of these three sections, then, reveals an integral link between contribution and comparative negligence. That is, anytime a tort claimant's case is tried, the trier of fact shall determine the relative degrees of fault of the tort claimant and the defendant tortfeasors. A.R.S. § 12-2506. If a contribution action follows, the previous trier of fact determination regarding the defendant tortfeasors' degree of fault applies to that contribution action in determining the pro rata shares of the tortfeasors. A.R.S. §§ 12-2506, -2503 (F.), -2502(1). Thus, under the Legislature's statutory scheme, if a tort claimant's case goes to trial, no contribution action can occur unless the trier of fact has apportioned, at one time, the degrees of fault of the claimant and the tortfeasors.
We believe this statutory scheme reveals the meaning of "actions" in section 3: "actions" means only the underlying tort action. As stated above, no contribution action can occur following the trial of a tort action unless the trier of fact has determined the relative degrees of fault of all the parties. Thus, if the tort action is tried under pre-UCATA law, no comparative
Any other interpretation would render §§ 12-2506 (A.) and 12-2503 (F.) meaningless. Suppose, for example, that we held that "actions" in section 3 also meant contribution actions. In such a case, a joint tortfeasor could file a contribution action after UCATA's effective date although both the tort and the filing of suit occurred prior to UCATA's adoption. The underlying tort suit, therefore, would apply pre-UCATA law. Under pre-UCATA law, the trier of fact makes no finding of the parties' comparative fault. What, then, would occur if a subsequent contribution action were allowed? Simply put, the clear requirements of §§ 12-2506(A.) and -2503(F.) that the trier of fact determine degrees of fault and that such a determination binds the parties in the contribution action would be ignored. We will not interpret a statute so as to render its provisions meaningless. Peterson v. Flood, 84 Ariz. 256, 326 P.2d 845 (1958).
The unique characteristics of Arizona's UCATA, therefore, convince us that the Legislature intended that "actions" in section 3 mean tort actions. Thus, though convincing in their own right, the cases YSP cites do not interpret statutes linking contribution and comparative negligence in the same act. See, e.g., Augustus v. Bean, 56 Cal.2d 270, 14 Cal.Rptr. 641, 363 P.2d 873 (1961); Coniaris v. Vail Associates, Inc., 196 Colo. 392, 586 P.2d 224 (1978); Village of El Portal v. City of Miami Shores, 362 So.2d 275 (Fla. 1978).
We do not hold that contribution actions can only occur after a tort suit goes to trial. It is clear under UCATA that a contribution action can follow settlement. A.R.S. § 12-2503 (D.) (1) and (2). See also Unif. Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act, § 3(d), comment (d), 12 U.L.A. 57 (1975).
1B. Retroactivity and Impairment of Vested Rights
Our interpretation of question 1A forecloses the possibility that one could seek contribution in a case where the underlying tort suit was filed prior to UCATA's effective date. Thus, the particular retroactivity problem raised in question 1B is not an issue in Arizona. At this time, we decline to decide whether it is permissible to proceed under UCATA where the tort occurred prior to UCATA but where the tort suit was filed after UCATA's effective date.
1C. Amendments of Pre-UCATA Contribution Claims
If the underlying tort suit is filed before UCATA, the joint tortfeasors cannot seek contribution under UCATA. Thus, a joint tortfeasor in a pre-UCATA tort action cannot make UCATA applicable by amending his contribution claim after UCATA's effective date.
The Arizona UCATA creates a separate and distinct cause of action for contribution which does not accrue until after one of several joint tortfeasors has paid more than its share of the common liability. A.R.S. § 12-2501 (B.) provides:
A.R.S. § 12-2503(A.) provides:
That contribution is a separate action is set forth in other sections of UCATA as well. See A.R.S. §§ 12-2503(C.), -2503(D.)(1) and (2).
Because a contribution action following a tort action that goes to trial depends upon comparative fault findings in the tort trial, however, the above conclusion does not alter our interpretation of question 1A.
HOLOHAN, C.J., and HAYS and CAMERON, JJ., concur.
Note: Justice STANLEY G. FELDMAN did not participate in the determination of this matter.
We will treat memorandum decisions from the federal district court the same as memorandum decisions of our state courts. Furthermore, we do not believe judicial notice of memorandum decisions is warranted by Rule 201, Ariz.R.Evid., 17A A.R.S.
We will give no consideration to the memorandum decision Black Corporation has cited.
Thus, the Legislature modified the Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act so that it could work in a comparative fault system. The National Conference of Commissioner on Uniform State Laws designed the Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act to work in a non-comparative fault system. See Unif. Comparative Fault Act, Prefatory Note, 12 U.L.A. 39 (Supp. 1985). Thus, the Uniform Act provided for pro rata contribution shares based not upon comparative degrees of fault, but upon principles of equity. Unif. Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act, § 2, 12 U.L.A. 43 (1975). In addition, the Uniform Act has no provision for a comparative fault tort system.
The one exception our research reveals is Wyoming. Wyo. Stat. §§ 1-1-109 -1-1-113 (1977). This Act includes both a comparative negligence law and a contributory negligence law. Like Arizona, Wyoming determines the pro rata share of the tortfeasors' liability by considering their comparative fault.
Other states have both comparative negligence laws and contribution laws but not within the same Act. Even in those states, the contribution and comparative negligence laws are not interdependent as they are in Arizona. See discussion infra.