Noriega v. Town of Miami (10/26/2017)

December 5, 2017

The Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two holds that A.R.S. § 12-820.02(A)(1) affords public employees qualified immunity when the “essence” or “core” of a claim is that the public employee failed to make an arrest.

A resident was shot by a neighbor.  The resident then initiated a lawsuit against the town for negligence and gross negligence by failing to fully investigate the neighbor before the shooting.

With regard to the negligence claim, the town asserted that it was entitled to qualified immunity under A.R.S. § 12-820.02(A)(1), which immunizes public employees who fail to make an arrest or fail to retain an arrested person in custody.  The court of appeals reasoned that the resident’s claim, at its core, was that the town failed to arrest the neighbor.  It thus concluded that the qualified immunity statute applied and affirmed dismissal of the resident’s negligence claim.

With regard to the gross negligence claim, the court of appeals concluded that there was a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether there was a special relationship between the resident and the town such that the town had a duty to protect the resident.  It further concluded that causation and whether the town acted in a sufficiently reckless or wonton manner were also questions for the factfinder.  The court, therefore, reversed the entry of summary judgment against the resident’s gross negligence claim.

Judge Vasquez authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Judge Eckerstrom and Judge Eppich concurred.