Watkins v. Arpaio (CA1 2/2/16)

We simplify the legal setting  a bit – this was actually an appeal of a remand from an earlier appeal – to focus on the holding

Sheriff Arpaio announced a criminal investigation of Watkins in 2005; his office gave the results to the County Attorney in 2007. But that office didn’t do much with them and, in 2010, formally dropped the  matter.  In September 2011 Watkins sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress, arguing that the investigation was baseless and politically motivated. Arpaio moved for summary judgment based on the statute of limitations; the trial court granted it; Watkins appealed.

The Court of Appeals affirms. 12-821 provides that the one-year statute against “public” (i.e., government) entities accrues when the injured party “knows or reasonably should know . . . the act [or] event . . . that caused or contributed to the damage.” The party needn’t know all the facts, just that some act caused some injury. Watkins knew that in 2005 so his Complaint was untimely..

Before reaching that conclusion, though, the court indicates that Watkins has justice on his side and should have won except for that nasty old statute. Watkins argued that the whole investigation was a “continuing wrong” that didn’t conclude until the investigation was dismissed in 2010. By that he does not mean the existing Arizona theory, which the court mentions and distinguishes, that you can sue for damages caused within the limitations period by continuing acts that began before it. Instead he refers to a theory developed in some other jurisdictions in recent years by which tort claims for multiple acts don’t accrue until the last act. The opinion says that this theory is “not without merit,” that it is part of the “common law,” and suggests that it would allow Watkins’ claim against Arpaio (though how that would work under the facts of this case is not immediately evident since Arpaio had done nothing in and had no control over the matter for several years).

The opinion includes a standard-of-review paragraph. It is just as useless as such paragraphs always are but, having mentioned several times that they result from the court’s mechanical methodology, we have stopped commenting on them. (We’ve also stopped praising opinions in which they don’t appear or appear for some actual purpose; mea culpa, even we get issue-weary.) So why mention this one? Because it is headed, not “Standard of Review,” but instead “Legal Principles.” The section after it is headed “Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.” Apparently, intentional infliction is no longer considered a legal principle. Or else it is a “legal principle” but not the sort of legal principle which, by some standard known only to the court, merits inclusion in a paragraph devoted to legal principles. Or else the court thinks of procedural principles as “legal” and substantive principles as . . . something else. Or else someone couldn’t bear typing “Standard of Review” for the 90th time but equally couldn’t bear just skipping the whole thing.

(link to opinion)