James v. City of Peoria – 7/18/2022
Arizona Supreme Court holds that a claimant’s attempt to shorten a public entity’s 60-day response window under A.R.S. § 12-821.01(E) does not invalidate an otherwise valid notice of claim under § 12-821.01(A).
After a vehicle struck and killed her son, a mother timely filed a notice of claim with the City of Peoria. The notice also attached a letter from the mother’s attorney stating that the settlement offer contained in the notice would expire in 30 days. The City did not respond to the notice, and more than six months after the notice was served, the mother filed suit in superior court.
The superior court dismissed the mother’s claim. It ruled that A.R.S. § 12-821.01 barred her claim because she failed to keep the settlement offer open for at least 60 days which, under § 12-821.01(E), is the period of time after which a notice is deemed denied if the public entity does not deny it sooner. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling in a memorandum decision relying on Drew v. Prescott Unified School District, 233 Ariz. 522, 526 ¶ 14 (App. 2013), which held that a notice of claim with a 15-day response window failed to comply with the statute.
The Arizona Supreme Court granted review, overruled Drew, and reversed the court of appeals’ decision. The Court held that a claimant’s attempt to shorten a public entity’s 60-day response window under § 12-821.01(E) does not invalidate an otherwise valid notice of claim under § 12-821.01(A). None of the statutory prerequisites for a valid notice of claim under § 12-821.01 includes a requirement to keep a settlement offer open for a particular period of time. Instead, § 12-821.01(E)’s 60-day window creates a deadline for the public entity, not for the claimant. Any attempt to shorten the public entity’s statutory 60-day response window is therefore a legal nullity that affects neither the public entity’s time to respond, nor the validity of the claimant’s otherwise valid notice of claim.
Justice King authored the opinion, in which Chief Justice Brutinel, Vice Chief Justice Timmer, and Justices Bolick, Lopez, Beene, and Montgomery joined.