State of Arizona v. City of Kingman – 2/14/2008

February 20, 2008

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds that City Does Not “Actually Control” a State Roadway For Purposes of Establishing Liability for Failing to Keep It Safe By Merely Offering Design Suggestions.

Maria Minjares was injured at an intersection in Kingman, Arizona, and sued both the City and the State for their negligent operation and maintenance of the intersection.  The parties agreed that the intersection is wholly within the State’s jurisdiction and control under ARS 28-332(A), which vests “exclusive control and jurisdiction over state highways [and] state routes … in the department of transportation.”  The trial court granted the City’s motion for judgment as a matter of law, observing that the City did not exercise control over the intersection.  The jury returned a verdict in favor of Minjares and against the State.  The State appealed. 

The State argued that the City exercised control over the intersection and could be held liable to Minjares under Sanchez ex rel. Gordon v. City of Tucson, 191 Ariz. 128, 953 P.2d 168 (1998), which held that a city may assume joint liability for a failure to keep a roadway safe even absent the existence of an intergovernmental agreement.  The State pointed out that the City participated in design meetings with ADOT regarding solutions for traffic problems at the intersection and objected to some solutions offered by ADOT.  The Court of Appeals disagreed that this participation amounted to “actual control” over the intersection, holding that before a city can be held liable for actual control of a roadway it “must assume responsibility for the planning or design…or it must actually participate in maintaining or operating it.” 

Judge Snow authored the opinion, with Presiding Judge Ehrlich and Judge Hall concurring.