Slaughter v. Maricopa County (5/5/2011)

May 24, 2011

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That A Notice of Claim Filed With the State’s Agent, Rather Than the State Attorney General, Does Not Comply With A.R.S. § 12-821.01(A).

n March 2005, Brenda Slaughter, a security guard at the Maricopa County Superior Court, filed a complaint against Maricopa County alleging that the County, as her employer, had discriminated against her on the basis of her sex and created a hostile work environment.  In February 2006, the County moved for summary judgment on the basis that Slaughter was an employee of the State’s “judicial branch of government” and not the County.  Slaughter disputed that she was employed by the State and, in the alternative, argued that if she was a State employee, then the County had acted as an agent for the State.  In January 2007, Slaughter amended her complaint to name the State as a defendant and add additional claims. 

The State then moved to dismiss on the basis that Slaughter had failed to file a notice of claim against it as required by A.R.S. § 12-821.01(A).  The Court denied the motion because Slaughter had alleged that she filed a timely notice of claim, but permitted limited discovery on the issue of whether she filed a timely notice of claim and whether the lawsuit was timely filed.  In April 2009, the State moved for summary judgment on the ground that Slaughter had not produced any evidence demonstrating that she had filed a notice of claim with the State.  Additionally, both the State and the County asked the Court to dismiss the case for failure to prosecute.  The Court granted the State’s motion for summary judgment on the ground that Slaughter had not created material of question of fact regarding whether she had filed a timely notice of claim with the State.  The Court also granted the County’s motion to dismiss for failure to prosecute.  Slaughter appealed. 

On appeal, Slaughter asserted that a genuine issue of material fact existed regarding whether the County served as the State’s agent and, therefore, Slaughter’s notice of claim served on the County satisfied her obligation to file a notice of claim with the State.  In support, Slaughter submitted an affidavit avowing that she had applied for employment with the County, was hired and paid by the County, understood she was a County employee and had never been notified of a change in her employment.  Slaughter also submitted employment documents she claimed evidenced that she was employed by the County.  The State argued that even if the County was its agent for purposes of Slaughter’s employment, the County was not the State’s agent for purposes of the notice of claim statute. 

The Court of Appeals noted that § 12-821.01(A) requires a claimant to file her notice of claim with the “person or persons authorized to accept service for the public entity or public employee as set forth in the Arizona rules of civil procedure.”  Additionally, the Court cited Rule 4.1(h) which states “service upon the state shall be effected” by delivery to the attorney general.  Accordingly, the Court determined that since Slaughter did not produce evidence that she served the notice on the State attorney general, the superior court correctly entered summary judgment against her. 

Slaughter contended that because she believed the County was her employer, it would be unfair to penalize her for not serving a notice of claim on the State.  The Court of Appeals rejected this argument and held that by serving her notice with an entirely different governmental body, the State did not have notice of Slaughter’s claim and did not have an opportunity to investigate and assess its liability prior to the litigation.  The Court further found that even after Slaughter became aware that the State might be her employer through the County’s motion for summary judgment, she did not attempt to file a notice of claim before amending her complaint to add the State as a party.  Accordingly, the Court affirmed the superior court’s grant of summary judgment and likewise found that the superior court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing Slaughter’s claims against the County for failure to prosecute. 

Judge Winthrop authored the opinion; Judges Hall and Thompson concurred