United States District Court, D. Arizona
ORDER AND OPINION [Re: Motion at Docket 3]
JOHN W. SEDWICK, District Judge.
I. MOTION PRESENTED
At docket 3, defendant Arizona City Sanitary District ("the District") filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff John Freels' ("Freels'") state law claims. At docket 4, Freels filed his response. The District filed a reply at docket 5. The District has requested oral argument, but it would not assist the court so the District's request is denied.
Based on the allegations in the complaint, Freels purchased property in Arizona City intending to promptly resell it. Freels then secured a buyer who was ready and able to purchase the property. Before purchasing the property, Freels had investigated whether there were any liens against the property and found none.
In September 2012 the District notified Freels that the property's former owner owed outstanding sewer fees and penalties, that the District had disconnected the property's sewer service because of that debt, and that the District would not restore sewer service to the property until the debt was paid. As a result, Freels' buyer backed out. For nearly a year, Freels attempted to find another buyer without success. Eventually, in September 2013, Freels paid the debt and sold the property.
On November 1, 2013, Freels filed a notice of claim with the District pursuant to A.R.S. § 12-821.01. Freels filed his complaint in Pinal County Superior Court on January 21, 2014. The complaint sets forth two causes of action: First, a claim that the District lacked authority under Arizona law to assess the prior owner's debt against him; Second, a claim that the District's actions violated Freels' right to due process and equal protection under both the Arizona and U.S. Constitutions. The District removed the case to federal court on February 12, 2014.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The District's motion seeks dismissal of Freels' state law claims for two reasons. First, the District argues that Freels' claims for damages are barred by A.R.S. § 12-821.01(A) because Freels failed to file a notice of claim within 180 days of their accrual. Second, the District argues that all of Freels' state law claims are barred by A.R.S. § 12-821's one-year statute of limitation. As discussed below the second argument is dispositive, so the court need not address the notice of claim argument.
The District's statute of limitation argument may be raised in a motion to dismiss. This court concludes that such a motion is properly brought under Rule 12(b)(6). Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a plaintiff's claims. In reviewing such a motion, "[a]ll allegations of material fact in the complaint are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." To be assumed true, the allegations, "may not simply recite the elements of a cause of action, but must contain sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively." Dismissal for failure to state a claim can be based on either "the lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory." "Conclusory allegations of law... are insufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss."
The District's argument hinges on the question of when Freels' causes of action accrued. Ordinarily, this is a question of fact reserved for the fact finder. If resolution of this question "hinges solely on a question of law rather than resolution of disputed facts, " however, it may be resolved as a matter of law.
In Arizona, any action against a public entity must be brought within one year after the cause of action accrues. 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 which caused or contributed to the damage."
"A plaintiff need not know all the facts underlying a cause of action to trigger accrual. But the plaintiff must at least possess a minimum requisite of knowledge sufficient to identify that a wrong occurred and caused injury." The relevant inquiry is at what point did the plaintiff's "knowledge, understanding, and acceptance in the aggregate" provide "sufficient facts to constitute a cause of action." Thus, in order to ...