Batty v. Glendale Union High School District (CA1 6/2/09)

This is yet another notice-of-claim case, this time involving service of the notice, with a startling feature in a footnote.

Batty was injured at one of the District’s high schools. He served his notice of claim on the school Principal and on the Districts’ Superintendent. The District moved for summary judgment, arguing that they were the wrong people to serve. The trial court granted it; the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The notice-of-claim statute, A.R. S. 12-821.01, requires service on the person who would be served under the Rules of Civil Procedure. Under Rule 4.1, service on a government subdivision is made on the “chief executive officer, the secretary, clerk, or recording officer thereof.” The District had adopted a rule saying that the Superintendant was its “chief administrative officer.”

In Falcon ex rel. Sandoval v. Maricopa County, 213 Ariz. 525, the Supreme Court had found that a county manager is not a county’s CEO for purposes of service since the county’s Board of Supervisors, not the County Manger, is ultimately responsible for the operation of the county. The Batty court agreed with the District that the relationship between Board of Supervisors and County Manager is analogous to that between the school district board and its superintendent.

The court speculated that it might be possible for a school district to delegate enough power to its superintendent to create a CEO but decided that it didn’t need to rule on that in this case.

And now for the footnote. At oral argument, the District pointed out that some school districts don’t even have a Superintendent. The opinion mentions that and decides to cite, in a footnote, the authority for it.  That authority is a web site for the Hackberry School District. The Hackberry SD runs a Kingman elementary school and its web site says that it has no Superintendent.

There are several problems with this, perhaps the least of which is that the web site doesn’t say that. At least, it didn’t when we read it. Reading between the lines of what it does say, that might be true. On the other hand, the site says that it has an “Administrator,” whose duties are not described and who, for all we know from reading the web site, is a “Superintendent” in all but name (or maybe, for that matter, even a CEO).

And since when can a court find facts by reading them on web sites? Isn’t it notorious that the web is full of mistakes, omissions, and insanities of every conceivable description? What happened to the rules of evidence? Does the court really mean to suggest that it can, in making and interpreting the laws of Arizona, rely on unsworn, unsubstantiated hearsay so long as it appears on a web page?

We hope not. We like to think that the fault lies with an overzealous and inexperienced clerk and that the footnote would not have appeared had the opinion been adequately edited (which they almost never are). Otherwise, we may be heading into the Post-Evidentiary Age.