Yahweh v. Phoenix (CA1 7/11/17)

The stream of notice-of-claims cases has slowed to a trickle but never quite stops. This one doesn’t announce new law and was brought by a pro se, which would normally mean a memorandum opinion (on the theory, among others, that laypersons rarely brief issues adequately, which is true but shows a touching confidence in the profession), so the court must think it high time for another reminder.

Plaintiff was a former Phoenix policeman who left on bad terms and wanted to sue it. His notice of claim announced damages of $1.5 million, which he explained was his loss of income; it concluded: “In order to obtain an agreeable resolution to this matter, contact [his lawyer] promptly.” The city did not respond. When he filed suit it moved to dismiss because of the notice’s failure to state, as required by the statute (12-821.01), “a specific amount for which the claim can be settled.” The trial court granted the motion; Plaintiff appealed.

The Court of Appeals affirms. “Simply reciting the amount a claimant will demand in a complaint is insufficient . . . because such a statement does not express a willingness to accept a specific sum in settlement.”  Contact-the-lawyer language isn’t enough because the burden is the claimant’s: “a claimant must strictly comply with [the statute]” and “public entities . . . are not duty-bound to assist claimants with statutory compliance.”

This has been the law since Deer Valley (2007), which this opinion cites. Among its Deer Valley quotes:”[c]ompliance with this statute is not difficult.” Whether you agree with that or not, courts have now said it twice. This ties in with our past advice that “ trying to cut corners on this statute is the sort of thing you could end up telling your carrier about some day.” We trust that it was the claimant himself, and not the lawyer his notice referred to, who did that this time.

(Opinion: Yahweh v. Phoenix)