Slaughter v. Maricopa County (CA1 5/5/11)

A notice-of-claim case illustrating how not to do a number of things.

Slaughter, a security guard at the Superior Court and some Justice Courts, sued the County for discrimination. The County argued that she was not its employee but instead the State’s and moved for summary judgment. The trial court ruled that there was an issue of fact about whether the County acted as the State’s agent. Slaughter then amended her Complaint to name both the County and the State. The State moved to dismiss because her notice of claim had been directed to the County. She asked for time for discovery to prove that she had somehow asserted a valid State claim, which the court granted. But she never did any discovery. So the State eventually moved again on the notice-of-claim issue and both State and County moved to dismiss for failure to prosecute. The motion was granted. Slaughter appealed.

Having taken four years (that’s how long the case had lasted by that point) to not figure out who employed her, she then didn’t figure out how to appeal. Instead of including transcripts in the record on appeal she attached them to her brief. But the defendants didn’t object, so the Court of Appeals accepted them.

Slaughter argued that because the County was arguably the State’s agent for purposes of her employment it was also the agent for purposes of receiving a notice of claim. But the notice-of-claim statue requires service on the person identified by the Rules of Procedure, Rule 4.1 provides that the State is served by delivery to the attorney general, so serving the County didn’t satisfy the rule or statute. The court distinguishes Ames, which let a plaintiff bring in the DOT without a notice of claim because he had already sued the Corporation Commission in the same action and so the State had notice anyway. Lest anyone think it too mean, the court adds that Slaughter had been told of her mistake in 2005 and again in 2006 and had done nothing about it.

The Court upholds with little problem the dismissal for failure to prosecute. She hadn’t in four years done anything. Why the case clunked along so haphazardly for so long, and how it stayed on the active calendar, are the kinds of mysteries that turn up too often.

(link to opinion)