Falcon v. Maricopa County – 10/26/2006

October 30, 2006

Arizona Supreme Court Holds that Under Rule 4.1(i), Notice of Claim Must be Delivered to all Members of the Board of Supervisors Before a County May Be Sued.

After Guadalupe Falcon died while receiving care at Maricopa County Medical Center, a facility owned and operated by Maricopa County, her surviving children sued Maricopa County, among others, for medical malpractice. Attempting to comly with A.R.S. 12-821.01, which requires a plaintiff to file of a notice of claim on a person authorized to accept service for the public entity, and Rule 4.1(i), which authorizes service on public entities through “the chief executive officer, the secretary, clerk or recording officer thereof,” they delivered a notice of claim letter to one member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. It is unclear whether that member actually received the notice. The Board did not respond to the notice and the children sued. The County filed for summary judgment, arguing that no notice of claim letter had been filed as required by A.R.S. 12-821.01. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment to the County. A divided appellate court reversed, holding that while the Board of Supervisors is the chief executive officer of the county, service on one member of a county board satisfies Rule 4.1(i).

The Supreme Court reversed in part. Though the Court agreed that the Board of Supervisors is the “chief executive officer” of the county, the Court then rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that service upon one Board member qualifies as service on the “chief executive officer.” The Court noted that the Board acts collectively and not through its individual members. Pointing out that one member of the Board could not accomplish, by herself, an important goal identified in A.R.S. 12-821.01 (consider the claim and possibly settle it), the Court held that to comply with Rule 4.1(i), the notice of claim must be served on each member of the Board.

Unanimous opinion authored by Justice Ryan.