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Watkins v. Arpaio

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division, Department T

July 11, 2013

LEE WATKINS, an individual, Plaintiff/Appellant,
v.
SHERIFF JOSEPH M. ARPAIO, in his individual and official capacities as Sheriff of Maricopa County, Defendant/Appellee.

Not for Publication – (Rule 28, Arizona Rules of Civil Appellate Procedure

Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County Cause No. CV2011-017980 The Honorable Mark H. Brain, Judge

Robbins & Curtin, PLLC Joel B. Robbins Anne E. Findling Attorneys for Plaintiff/Appellant

Audilett Kastner, PC Daryl A. Audilett Rebecca A. Parker-Perry Attorneys for Defendant/Appellee

MEMORANDUM DECISION

RANDALL M. HOWE, Judge.

¶1 Watkins appeals the dismissal of his lawsuit against Sheriff Arpaio. For the following reasons, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

¶2 In March 2005, Arpaio obtained and executed criminal subpoenas against Watkins and Cactus Towing, a company Watkins founded. In connection with the service of those subpoenas, Arpaio seized Watkins' computers, business records, banking accounts, cash, and trucks. Watkins alleged that Arpaio "orchestrated a media circus" to announce the charges against Watkins and Cactus Towing, and that for years thereafter, Arpaio "continued to make statements that the investigation was ongoing." In October 2010, the County Attorney closed the investigation and declared that he had nothing to prosecute Watkins for. Nearly one year later, in September 2011, Watkins brought suit against Arpaio.

¶3 Arpaio moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim and also argued that the one-year statute of limitations barred all the claims. The trial court dismissed Watkins' claims as time-barred and entered judgment in Arpaio's favor and did not determine whether Watkins' complaint stated a claim against Arpaio. Watkins appealed. We have jurisdiction pursuant to Arizona Revised Statutes ("A.R.S.") section 12-2101(A)(1) (West 2013).[1]

DISCUSSION

I. Did Watkins Bring His Claims Within the Statute of Limitations?

¶4 Watkins maintains that his claims should not have been dismissed because they are not time-barred. We review de novo questions of law related to the statute of limitations. Logerquist v. Danforth, 188 Ariz. 16, 18, 932 P.2d 281, 283 (1996). Arizona law requires that all actions against public employees be brought within one year after the cause of action accrues. See A.R.S. § 12-821. Such a cause of action accrues "when the damaged party realizes he or she has been damaged and knows or reasonably should know the cause, source, act, event, instrumentality or condition that caused or contributed to the damage." A.R.S. § 12-821.01(B).

¶5 Arpaio contends that Watkins' claims accrued on March 31, 2005, the date that he executed the search warrant and seized Watkins' assets. On this date, Watkins knew that he had been damaged, and he knew the cause of the damage was Arpaio's service of the allegedly improper warrant and seizure of his property. Watkins argues, however, that his claims accrued on October 20, 2010, the date the County Attorney announced the end of its investigation of Cactus Towing. Watkins claims that the five-year investigation and attendant media attention that Arpaio initiated after the improper search and seizure constitutes a continuing violation, so the claim accrues for statute of limitation purposes on the last date giving rise to the tort claim.

¶6 We need not reach Watkins' "continuing violation" argument, however, because he filed his complaint within one year of Arpaio's alleged commission of the tortious acts. The claims are all premised, at least in part, on Arpaio's alleged media statements about Watkins' criminal wrongdoing. Watkins alleges that Arpaio accused Watkins of criminal wrongdoing in the media "even after the Maricopa County Attorneys' Office indicated that it was discontinuing its prosecution" in October of 2010. Watkins filed his lawsuit in September of 2011, less than one year later. The trial court erred in holding that the complaint contained no specific allegations about the media coverage within the year ...


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