McKee v. State (12/30/2016)

February 3, 2017

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One holds that an agency may approve an intergovernmental agreement with a perpetual duration without passing a separate resolution extending the duration of the agreement.

Plaintiff’s son was one of nineteen Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew members who died in the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire.  The Hotshot Crew was created pursuant to an intergovernmental agreement (“IGA”) between the Prescott Fire Department and the State Forestry Division.  Plaintiff brought claims for wrongful death and intentional infliction of emotional distress against both the State and the State Forestry Division.

The superior court dismissed Plaintiff’s claims on the basis that, absent willful misconduct, workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy for compensation against an employer for work-related injuries or death under Arizona law.  Because Plaintiff’s son was working pursuant to an IGA, the court concluded that he was an “employee” of both the Prescott Fire Department and the State for purposes of the exclusive remedy provision of workers’ compensation.

A.R.S. § 11-952(F) requires a governmental body to take “[a]ppropriate action,” such as an ordinance or resolution, to “approv[e] or extend[] the duration” of an IGA “before any such agreement, contract or extension may be filed or become effective.”  Plaintiff argued that the IGA was ineffective because the City’s resolution approving the IGA did not expressly approve the duration of the IGA under A.R.S. § 11-952(F).  The Court of Appeals disagreed, reasoning that the text of § 11-952(F) allows agencies to enter into an IGA of perpetual duration without the need to pass a separate resolution extending the duration of the IGA.  The court then held that Plaintiff failed to allege that the defendants engaged in “willful misconduct,” an exception to the exclusive remedy provision of workers’ compensation, and reaffirmed established case law holding that a decedent’s parents are bound by the decedent’s election to receive workers’ compensation benefits.  The court therefore concluded that the exclusive remedy provision of workers’ compensation barred Plaintiff’s claims against the State.

Presiding Judge Gould delivered the opinion, in which Judges Swann and Orozco joined.