Hamblin v. State – 9/26/2006

September 28, 2006

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Elaborates on Causation Limits in Tort Cases Against Public Entities.

Russell Hamblin was shot and killed by Roy Salinas while the Salinas was on probation for assaulting a corrections officer. Hamblin’s estate sued the Probation Department, alleging that the Department breached its duty to supervise Salinas and was grossly negligent and willfully indifferent for failing to arrest Salinas for probation violations. The trial court granted summary judgment to the Probation Department on the grounds that the Hamblins presented insufficient evidence of causation and insufficient evidence of indifference exhibited by the Department. The Hamblins appealed.

In a unanimous memorandum decision, the appellate court affirmed on the grounds that the Hamblins could not satisfy both prongs of the causation requirement — causation in fact and proximate cause. Even if the Department’s failure to supervise or arrest Salinas was a case in fact of Hamblin’s death, the court determined that it would be “untenable to hold probation officers liable for all crimes committed by a person on probation.” Explaining that proximate cause requires a “natural and continuous sequence, unbroken by any efficient intervening cause,” the court held that the exercise of probation officer’s statutorily authorized discretion to bring probationers into court would be derogated if the exercise of such discretion was ruled a proximate cause of a subsequent tort.

Judge Thompson authored the opinion, in which Presiding Judge Winthrop and Judge Lankford concurred.