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City of Phoenix v. Lane

Supreme Court of Arizona

November 13, 1953


[76 Ariz. 241] William C. Eliot, City Atty., and George T. Fike, Asst. City Atty., Phoenix, for petitioner.

Ross F. Jones, Atty. Gen., and Earl E. Weeks, Asst. Atty. Gen., for respondent.

Harry L. Buchanan, City Atty., and F. Dale Healy, Asst. City Atty., Tucson, amicus curiae.

UDALL, Justice.

Original application by the City of Phoenix, a municipal corporation, herein [76 Ariz. 242] referred to as petitioner, seeking a writ of prohibition against C. L. Lane Superintendent of the Motor Vehicle Division, Arizona State Highway Department, herein referred to as respondent. The matter comes before us as a result of respondent's interpretation of the provisions of the Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act, being Chapter 122, Laws 1951, as amended by Chapter 68, Laws 1952 (now appearing as Article 13, Chapter 66, 1952 Cumulative Supplement, A.C.A.1939) to the effect that

Page 303

drivers of motor vehicles owned by the state or a political subdivision thereof are not exempt from the security and suspension provisions of the Act.

The stipulated facts are that one Kenneth Kunselman is employed by petitioner as a fire engineer. On July 28, 1953, in responding to a fire alarm and in the regular course of his employment, he was operating a fire truck owned by the City of Phoenix, and at the intersection of 15th Avenue and Buckeye Road he collided with a truck owned by the Cudahy Packing Company. Pursuant to law a report of said accident was filed with respondent and in due time the driver, Kunselman, was notified that he must deposit security in the sum of $700 on or before October 4, 1953 or his operator's license would be suspended. It was further stipulated

'That Kenneth Kunselman had not and has not complied with the financial security provisions of the Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act with respect to his duties in driving fire apparatus owned and operated by the City of Phoenix, * * *.'

Pursuant to his aforesaid interpretation of the Act, respondent is taking steps to suspend the operator's license held by Kunselman. Petitioner claims this attempted exercise of quasi-judicial powers will deprive it of a valued employee without authority of law, because in the circumstances set forth Kunselman is exempt from the provisions of the Act. The writ of prohibition is a proper remedy if in fact respondent is acting without or in excess of his jurisdiction, see, Hislop v. Rodgers, 54 Ariz. 101, 92 P.2d 527; Johnson v. Betts, 21 Ariz. 365, 188 P. 271; 50 C.J., Prohibition, sections 3, 20, and 41; 73 C.J.S., Prohibition, §§ 6, 8, 11(a), and 11(j)--subdivision (11), and section 17.

Because the matter is of statewide concern, affecting the operation of all motor vehicles owned by the United States, the State of Arizona, and any political subdivision thereof, we have assumed original jurisdiction and issued an alternative writ of prohibition. These political divisions acting--as here--in their governmental capacity and discharging their functions as such, ought not be hampered by a lack of licensed drivers unless the statute expressly applies to this situation.

The question for our determination has been ably briefed by counsel for the respective parties, including counsel appearing as amicus curiae, and oral arguments [76 Ariz. 243] were presented before the case was ordered submitted for decision.

There are certain rules for our guidance which may be laid down, viz.:

1. As the safety responsibility Act carries penalties for its violation it is penal in character in the aspect here presented and not remedial. Such a law is to be interpreted strictly against the state and liberally in favor of the citizen. 50 Am.Jur., Statutes, sections 14, 15, 16, 407, 408, and 409. See also Tavegia v. Bromley, 67 Wyo. 93, 214 P.2d 975.

2. If the law be found to be clear, there is nothing to interpret, as it is not our prerogative to rewrite the law to accomplish what counsel for respondent considers the prime object of the Act, i. e., full and complete insurance coverage for the public under any and all circumstances, where injury or damage results from an automobile accident.

3. In this jurisdiction, since our decision in State v. Sharp,21 Ariz. 424, 189 P. 631, the law is well settled that the state is vested with immunity from liability for acts of negligence by its agents arising out of purely governmental activities. With certain well-defined exceptions not here involved, this is also true of other political subdivisions including municipalities. See, Jones v. City of Phoenix,29 Ariz. 181, 239 P. 1030; City of Phoenix v. Greer,43 Ariz. 214, 29 P.2d 1062. For later cases setting forth the exceptions, see: Industrial Commission v. Navajo County,64 Ariz. 172, 167 P.2d 113; Ruth v. Rhodes,66 Ariz. 129, 185 P.2d 304; Taylor v. Roosevelt Irr.Dist.,72 Ariz. 160, 232 P.2d 107. In Hartford Accident, etc., Co. v. ...

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