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Viniegra v. Town of Parker Municipal Property Corp.

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

October 6, 2016

LUIS ANGEL VINIEGRA and SYLVIA DE LA HUERTA-VINIEGRA, husband and wife, Plaintiffs/Appellants,
v.
TOWN OF PARKER MUNICIPAL PROPERTY CORPORATION, an Arizona non-profit corporation, Defendant/Appellee.

         Appeal from the Superior Court in La Paz County No. S1500CV2014-00037 The Honorable Samuel E. Vederman, Judge

          Parker Law Firm PLC, Phoenix By John D. Parker, II Counsel for Plaintiffs/Appellants

          Popham Law Group PLC, Avondale By Gary L. Popham, Jr. Counsel for Defendant/Appellee

          Judge Donn Kessler delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Presiding Judge Kenton D. Jones and Judge Randall M. Howe joined.

          OPINION

          KESSLER, JUDGE

         ¶1 Luis Angel Viniegra ("Viniegra") and Sylvia De La Huerta- Viniegra (collectively, "Plaintiffs") appeal the superior court's order dismissing their case with prejudice as barred by the one-year statute of limitations applicable to public entities, Arizona Revised Statutes ("A.R.S.") § 12-821 (2016). [1] Plaintiffs contend that the statute is unconstitutional and that on the facts of this case the statute should be equitably tolled. We conclude that the one-year statute of limitations for bringing actions against public entities does not violate equal protection or the anti-abrogation clause of the Arizona Constitution and that principles of equitable estoppel do not apply here. Accordingly, we affirm the superior court.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2 On April 14, 2012, Viniegra slipped and fell at a funeral at the Town of Parker Cemetery, a property owned and operated by the Town of Parker Municipal Property Corporation ("Town").[2] Viniegra suffered severe, ongoing injuries and immediately began treatment. The Town asked Viniegra to complete and submit a notice of claim in accordance with A.R.S. § 12-821.01(A) (2015). Viniegra timely submitted his notice of claim. Then, Berkley Risk Administrators, L.L.C. ("Berkley"), the Town's risk adjudicator, opened a claim, assigned a claim number, and received billing statements from Viniegra's physicians. In fall 2013, Viniegra finished treatment but allegedly will need treatment in the future. However, the Town never responded to the notice of claim.

         ¶3 On April 10, 2014, almost two years after the date of injury, Plaintiffs filed a complaint and alleged the Town and Doe Defendants'[3]negligence was the direct and proximate cause of Plaintiffs' injuries and damages, and that the Town's and Berkley's[4] conduct created an implied promise they would resolve Viniegra's claim without him having to file a lawsuit. The Town filed a motion to dismiss, and argued Plaintiffs' action was barred by the one-year statute of limitations set forth in A.R.S. § 12-821, which provides for a one-year statute of limitations for actions against public entities and employees, [5] and the statute was not tolled by the notice of claim process. Plaintiffs claimed the statute should have been tolled because Viniegra was still actively treating his injuries one year after he slipped and fell, and that § 12-821 was unconstitutional.

         ¶4 The superior court granted the motion to dismiss and filed a signed judgment on March 26, 2015. On April 13, 2015, Plaintiffs moved to alter or amend the judgment, and asked the court to address their argument that § 12-821 is unconstitutional as it applies to personal injury cases. The court rejected the constitutional argument and denied the Rule 59 motion in a signed order.

         ¶5 On May 27, 2015, Plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal from the judgment and order. We have jurisdiction pursuant to A.R.S. §§ 12-2101(A)(1), (2) (Supp. 2015) and 12-120.21(A)(1) (2003).[6]

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶6 We review a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal de novo. Coleman v. Cityof Mesa,230 Ariz. 352, 355, ¶ 7 (2012). Dismissal is appropriate under Rule 12(b)(6) only if, as a matter of law, the "plaintiffs would not be entitled to relief under any interpretation of the facts susceptible of proof." Id. at 356, ¶ 8 (quoting Fid. Sec. Life Ins. Co. v. State Dep't of Ins.,191 Ariz. 222, 224, ΒΆ 4 (1998)). When determining whether a complaint states a claim on which relief can be granted, courts "must assume the ...


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