Barth v. Cochise County – 6/15/2006

May 19, 2006

Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two Holds That The County Employee Constructive Discharge Statute, A.R.S. § 23-1502, Does Not Displace The Notice Of Claim Requirement In A.R.S. § 12-821.01 For Constructive Discharge Claims.

Keith Barth was a sergeant with the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department. The Department demoted Barth to deputy sheriff on the basis that Barth “lacked the qualities to be a supervisor . . . .” Barth eventually filed a document titled “Notice of Claim” with the county board of supervisors. He claimed that “the county had subjected him to harassment, retaliation, retribution, and interference and that one supervisor had made defamatory remarks of him.” Several months later, he sent a letter to the county attorney “alleging he had been constructively discharged from his position.” Barth resigned over a month later and filed suit against the county. The trial court granted the county’s motion to dismiss Barth’s constructive discharge claim because he “had failed to file a proper notice of claim.”

The Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed. The court first held that, contrary to Barth’s position, the constructive discharge statute, A.R.S. § 23-1502, did not displace the notice of claim requirement in A.R.S. § 12-821.01 for constructive discharge claims. The two statutes did not conflict. The court then concluded that Barth’s notice of claim document failed to meet the statute’s specificity requirements. Finally, the court concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by awarding attorneys’ fees to the county because the county’s affidavit in support of the award set forth a reasonable basis for the hourly cost and listed the requisite billing information. See Schweiger v. China Doll Rest., Inc., 138 Ariz. 183, 673 P.2d 927 (Ct. App. 1983).

Judge Espinosa authored the unanimous opinion.