Pinal County v. Fuller (CA2 8/28/18)

Yet another notice-of-claim case. Its unfortunate that these still happen.

Plaintiff’s notice of claim against Pinal County was signed by Plaintiff’s lawyer. The county denied it; Plaintiff filed suit. The county moved to dismiss because the statute requires that the notice be “executed by the person [bringing the claim] under penalties of perjury.” The trial court denied the motion but ordered Plaintiff to comply with the statute, which it then did. The county filed a special action anyway.

The Court of Appeals accepts it and grants relief. A mere signature, even by an attorney, is not execution under penalty of perjury. It does not constitute “substantial compliance”; those cases involved notice — the government had actual notice even though the notice was addressed to the wrong bureaucrat, for example — and, anyway, the idea of substantial compliance has “effectively been superseded by more recent decisions requiring strict compliance.”

What if the lawyer signs under penalty of perjury? The court raises the issue even though the parties didn’t — and for that reason declines to answer it. One assumes that there was a point to the footnote other than allowing the court to pretend to superior intellect; it would be interesting to know what the court imagines that was.

Plaintiff also argued that the county was estopped because its denial of the claim didn’t specifically mention the signature issue. “We assume, without deciding, that it is possible for a county to waive noncompliance . . . based on its prelitigation conduct” but “courts are not inclined to find estoppel based on government conduct.” Finding estoppel would shift the burden of compliance from the claimant to the government, which is — citing a passage we cited from Yahweh — “not duty-bound to assist claimants with statutory compliance.”

“[W]ith so many notice-of-claim cases on the books now, if you have to argue waiver then you made a mistake. Trying to cut corners on this statute is the sort of thing you could end up telling your carrier about some day.” That’s not the court — that’s us, four years ago.

(Opinion: Pinal County v. Fuller)



Chula Vista HOA v. Irwin (CA2 7/27/18)

The question presented is whether a supersedeas bond should include the amount of a fee award. City Center (2015) settled that; this case follows it, adding a bit of additional discussion of exceptions that don’t apply here.

Plaintiffs sued their homeowners association. They won, receiving some declaratory relief, $5000 damages, costs, and $35,000 attorney’s fees on a contract claim. The HOA file a notice of appeal. It argued that the amount of its supersedeas bond should not include the fee award; the trial court ruled that it should. So the HOA filed this special action.

The Court of Appeals accepts review and grants relief. The part of Rule 7 at issue here bases the bond on the “total amount of damages.” It is hornbook law that attorney’s fees are not “damages.”

But there are exceptions. The trial court apparently followed Desert Mountain (2010): “when one party’s breach of contract places the other in a situation that ‘makes it necessary to incur expense to protect his interest, such costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees, should be treated as the legal consequences of the original wrongful act and may be recovered as damages.'” But Desert Mountain was a claim against an insurer to recover amounts — including fees — paid by an insured for claims the insurer refused to cover. The holding was that in that context the fees fell under the policy language of things the insured was “legally obligated to pay as damages.” The fees in this case didn’t arise from litigation with a third party. (It might be worth noting, though the court does not utilize the distinction, that Desert Mountain also did not use the standard legal definition of “damages”; instead it used the “plain and ordinary meaning” standard applied to insurance policies.)

Some provisional remedies are also exceptions, so Plaintiffs argued that their slander-of-title claim was “akin” to a provisional remedy. The court points out that the claim is statutory and that the statute (33-420), although allowing fees, does not define them as part of the “damages.”

(Opinion: Chula Vista Homeowners v. Irwin)

MacDonald v. Napier (CA2 10/18/17)

We weren’t going to blog this one but were then persuaded that we couldn’t just let it go by.

Plaintiff was bitten by a sheriff’s K-9 after leading deputies on an extended car chase. He sued for negligence and won. Defendant appealed.

They argued that the only proper cause of action was battery, the deputy having deliberately released the dog, and that negligence does not lie for the unlawful use of force.

Instead of answering that question the court “begin[s] with the proposition that, in bringing suit, it is the plaintiff’s prerogative to identify particular harms a defendant has caused and the plaintiff is free to connect those harms to particular theories of liability as he or she sees fit.” It cites a case saying that the labels on a Complaint “have no great significance” but that “theories of liability still have substance,” from which it seems to have drawn the conclusion that labels have some significance in defining substance. “Appellants cite no Arizona authority barring McDonald from styling this case as a negligence action rather than a battery action, and we are aware of none.” (There’s no authority against “styling” the case as a foreclosure, either; apparently this court would have let him repossess the dog.)  It then cites two police-dog cases in which negligence was pleaded and not argued about on appeal. That means they are “consistent with the proposition that a plaintiff may bring an action sounding in negligence against” law enforcement. They are of course equally consistent with the proposition that the moon is made of Velveeta. Or else the wording of old Complaints that people didn’t make an issue of is now legal precedent to be cited in our courts.

To give it some credit, the majority does seem to realise that there might be something just a teeny bit wrong with that analysis. So it brings in the big gun: the District Court in and for the District of Columbia. It cites a case in which that trial court allowed a person shot by the D.C. police to sue for negligence.

The Restatement excludes from negligence ““conduct which creates liability because of the actor’s intention to invade a legally protected interest.” But that doesn’t apply because, it seems, Plaintiff was suing not for the intention to release the dog but for negligently forming that intention. This simplifies the law by eliminating the pesky category of intentional torts, which actually result from negligent decisions to commit them.

The court insists that it isn’t creating a tort of “negligent use of excessive force.” The “only cause of action at issue” is “common-law negligence.” For the use of force. But not for the negligent use of excessive force. And not, we assume, for the negligent use of non-excessive force. But the problem isn’t the court’s slipshod use of a word or two but its apparent belief that some substantive difference exists between applying the rules of negligence to a use-of-force case and “creating a tort” — more slipshod wording — of “negligent use of [excessive] force.”

The dog bite statute (11-1025) expands on common-law liability for dogs but specifically says that nothing in it creates liability for bites by police dogs. The court says that Plaintiff alleged common-law negligence, not a statutory action, so the statute doesn’t apply. (The policy implications of the legislature’s obvious belief that negligence doesn’t go that far would be an interesting analysis, though one we’re glad this particular opinion didn’t try to make.)

Also at issue were the instructions. The trial court told the jury that Defendants had the burden to prove that using the dog was justified. Defendants wanted it to be Plaintiff’s burden. The statute (13-409) says that “No person in this state shall be subject to civil liability for engaging in conduct otherwise justified pursuant to the provisions of this chapter” and speaks directly to use-of-force cases. But the court decides that it needn’t decide, that justification doesn’t apply to negligence. Because it isn’t the use of force that’s at issue, you see, but instead the “negligent misperception of fact contributing to one’s decision to threaten or use force.” So much for 409.

(What, you’re wondering — and this time we know someone who is indeed wondering — about the law of arrest, about the privilege, about qualified immunity? We don’t know whether they make no appearance here because the parties didn’t talk about them or because the court didn’t perceive them as the route to the appropriate result.)

There’s more but you get the gist. Judge Espinoza, dissenting, briefly says he doesn’t agree with the negligence analysis. But mostly he criticizes the jury instructions which, from the sound of it, did get rather mixed up, perhaps in part because of the present belief that giving substantive instructions at more than one point during the trial is just a dandy idea. He also discusses why the trial court was wrong to let Plaintiff’s expert opine about the legal standard for the use of force and, specifically, about a U.S. Supreme Court case on the subject, which the majority spends several paragraphs justifying.

(Opinion: McDonald v. Napier)