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Watkins v. Arpaio

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

February 2, 2016

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

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

Robbins & Curtin, PLLC, Phoenix, By Joel B. Robbins, Anne E. Findling, Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellant.

Sacks Tierney, PA, Scottsdale, By James W. Armstrong, Jeffrey S. Leonard, Counsel for Defendant/Appellee.

Presiding Judge Diane M. Johnsen delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Judge Kent E. Cattani and Judge John C. Gemmill joined.

OPINION

Page 73

Diane M. Johnsen, Judge

[¶1] Lee Watkins argues the superior court erred by dismissing on limitations grounds his claims against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for intentional infliction of emotional distress and false-light invasion of privacy. He argues the torts were " continuing wrongs" that did not finally accrue until less than a year before he filed his complaint. We hold that, under the circumstances, the statutes governing accrual and limitations of a claim against a public employee preclude application of the " continuing wrong" doctrine to save either of Watkins's claims.

Page 74

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

[¶2] Watkins is the founder and owner of Cactus Towing, which did business in Maricopa County for more than 15 years. Watkins supported a political opponent of Arpaio in the 2004 election and alleged that, under Arpaio's direction, the Sheriff's Office sought to punish him and his company by launching a groundless " sweeping investigation" of them in March 2005. Deputies seized the company's computers, business records, banking accounts, cash and trucks. At the same time, according to the complaint, the Sheriff's Office " orchestrated a media circus" to announce the false charges against him, triggering a " media festival [that] had no law enforcement purpose but was designed to cause injury to its victims without any due process." According to the complaint, " For years Sheriff Arpaio continued to make statements that the investigation was ongoing," until, in October 2010, the Maricopa County Attorney " finally concluded the investigation by declaring that there was nothing that could be prosecuted against Mr. Watkins."

[¶3] Watkins sued Arpaio and Maricopa County in September 2011, alleging abuse of process, intentional interference with contractual and economic relationships, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and false-light invasion of privacy, all premised on the alleged politically motivated investigation. The superior court dismissed all of the claims, finding them barred by the one-year statute of limitations in Arizona Revised Statutes (" A.R.S." ) section 12-821 (2016).[1]

[¶4] On appeal, this court affirmed the dismissal of the intentional-interference claim but reversed dismissal of the claims alleging false-light invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.[2] We held those claims were not barred by the one-year limitations period because the complaint alleged Arpaio made public statements accusing Watkins of criminal wrongdoing after the county attorney announced in October 2010 that he was dropping the investigation.

[¶5] On remand, Arpaio moved for summary judgment, arguing no evidence supported the allegation that he made any public statements about Watkins after the investigation was dropped. The superior court granted Watkins's request for additional discovery pursuant to Arizona Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f). In due course, the court granted summary judgment in Arpaio's favor, dismissing the two remaining claims.

[¶6] Watkins timely appealed. We have jurisdiction pursuant to A.R.S. § § 12-120.21(A)(1) (2016) and ...


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