Myers v. City of Tempe – 2/24/2006

February 24, 2006

Arizona Supreme Court Holds City Cannot be Liable for Actions of Emergency Responder Under Mutual Assistance Agreement.

The surviving spouse of a woman who died in Tempe in 2002 from an allegedly improper medical treatment by the Guadalupe Fire Department (“GFD”) brought suit against the City of Tempe (“the City”) and others. The GFD had treated the woman while responding to an emergency call pursuant to an agreement with Tempe and five other cities to provide mutual fire protection and emergency services. Under the aid agreement, dispatchers send to an emergency whichever participating responder’s vehicle is closest to the emergency. The trial court granted summary judgment to the City, finding that the City was entitled to absolute immunity because joining the mutual aid agreement was a “fundamental policy decision” under A.R.S. § 12-820.01(A)(2). The court of appeals reversed the judgment in a memorandum decision holding that the City could be liable for implementation of the policy decision, and could not relieve itself of liability by delegating emergency services to another entity.

The Arizona Supreme Court granted review and vacated the court of appeals’ decision. Under A.R.S. § 12-820.01(A)(2), as the Plaintiff conceded, the decision to join the mutual aid agreement could not subject the City to liability because it was “the exercise of an administrative function involving the determination of fundamental governmental policy.” The decision to dispatch GFD to the emergency flowed automatically from joining the agreement (and the resulting automatic dispatch of the nearest unit to the emergency) and thus was not the sort of “implementing decision” that could subject the City to liability. Finally, the City could not be held liable under the non-delegable duty doctrine of vicarious liability because neither the common law nor any statute, regulation, contract, franchise or charter imposed on Tempe a duty to provide emergency services. See Ft. Lowell v. Kelly, 166 Ariz. 96, 101, 800 P.2d 962, 967 (1990).

Chief Justice McGregor wrote the opinion for the unanimous court.