Edwards v. Board of Supervisors of Yavapai County – 3/30/2010

June 22, 2010

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That A.R.S. § 12-820.03 Does Not Include a “State of the Art” Standard for Establishing Qualified Immunity.

In 2004, Plaintiffs were leasing a house located in Havasupai Trail in Dewey Arizona.  The house was constructed in 1974, at which time no applicable building codes or zoning regulations were in effect.  In 1985, the development where the house is located hired an engineer to design roads and drainage infrastructure, including a culvert that ran near the Plaintiffs’ home.  The culvert was built to withstand a twenty-five-year water event.  In 1987, these roadways were dedicated to Yavapai County.  In 1997, the County sent the homeowners a letter advising that their property could potentially flood from water backing up behind the culvert.  In the summer of 2004, two significant rainfalls caused the culvert to overflow, flooding Plaintiffs’ home and causing damage to their landscape and personal property.  Plaintiffs sued the County on theories of negligence and gross negligence.  The County moved for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity under A.R.S. § 12-820.03, which the trial court granted.  Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the County failed to provide evidence to support immunity. 

On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that the County had not established that (1) the roads and culvert were “state of the art” and (2) the County had provided adequate warning under A.R.S. § 12-820.03.  The Appellate Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the County.  Pursuant to A.R.S. § 12-820.03, the County was required to establish that the drainage was prepared in conformance with the generally accepted engineering or design standards in effect at the time and that the public was given adequate warning of any unreasonably dangerous hazards. 

The Court found that the County had established both elements, thereby providing the County with immunity.  Specifically, the Court reasoned that the “state of the art” standard asserted by Plaintiffs is not the applicable standard under A.R.S. § 12-820.03 and that the County had presented sufficient evidence that the culvert was built according to the generally accepted engineering and design standards in effect at the time it was built (the proper standard).  Because Plaintiffs did not offer any disputing evidence, no genuine issue of fact existed.  The Court further found that the 1997 letter gave adequate warning of the potential for flooding and allowed the property owners to take suitable precautions, thus meeting the statutory requirement.  The Court explained that the letter did not need to provide suggestions of potential precautions to the homeowners to comply with the statute.  Plaintiffs did not offer any disputing evidence regarding the warning given.  Accordingly, no genuine issue of fact existed.   

Judge Orozco authored the opinion, Judges Weisberg and Norris concurred.