from the Superior Court in Maricopa County Nos.
CV2014-007698, CV2014-009071 CONSOLIDATED The Honorable J.
Richard Gama, Judge Retired
& Roberts, PC, Scottsdale By Craig A. Knapp, Dana R.
Roberts, David L. Abney Counsel for Plaintiffs/Appellants
Arizona Attorney General's Office, Phoenix By Brock J.
Heathcotte, Daniel P. Schaack Stinson Leonard Street, LLP,
Phoenix By Michael L. Parrish, Brandon R. Nagy Co-Counsel for
Presiding Judge Kent E. Cattani delivered the opinion of the
Court, in which Judge Lawrence F. Winthrop and Judge Peter B.
Residents of Yarnell and surrounding areas (the
"Residents") appeal from the superior court's
ruling dismissing their negligence claims against the State
of Arizona and the Arizona State Forestry Division
(collectively, "State") arising from damage caused
by the Yarnell Hill Fire. Because the superior court
correctly concluded that the State did not owe a duty to
protect the Residents' property against naturally caused
wildfires, we affirm.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
On the afternoon of June 30, 2013, the Yarnell Hill Fire
burned out of control, killing 19 local firefighters and
destroying structures and property throughout Yarnell.
Lightning had sparked the wildfire two days earlier in
mountainous wildlands near Yarnell, and the State, acting
through the Forestry Division, was in charge of the
firefighting efforts for the first three days, including when
it hit Yarnell. This case arises only from the property
damage caused by the fire; the tragic loss of life is not at
The Residents asserted civil claims against the State,
alleging that the State had negligently managed the
firefighting efforts, negligently failed to protect Yarnell
from the fire, and negligently failed to provide a timely
evacuation notice, all leading to the destruction of their
property. On the State's motion, the superior
court dismissed the complaints on the basis that the State
did not owe the Residents a duty as required to state a cause
of action for negligence. The Residents appealed, and we now
We hold that the State did not owe the Residents a legal duty
in connection with its efforts to combat a wildland fire
resulting from a natural occurrence on public land in natural
condition. To hold otherwise would effectively require the
State to act as an insurer against naturally-occurring
calamities affecting private property throughout the state.
And imposing such a duty (with its corresponding potential
for liability) based on the State's undertaking to
coordinate wildland firefighting would create a
self-defeating incentive not to engage in such important
efforts. Thus, the Residents' claims fail as a matter of
Dismissal under Arizona Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for
failure to state a claim is proper "only if 'as a
matter of law [ ] plaintiffs would not be entitled to relief
under any interpretation of the facts susceptible of
proof.'" Coleman v. City of Mesa, 230 Ariz.
352, 356, ¶ 8 (2012) (citation omitted and alteration in
original). We consider only the pleading itself, and we
"assume the truth of all well-pleaded factual
allegations and indulge all reasonable inferences from those
facts, but mere conclusory statements are insufficient."
Id. at ¶ 9. We review de novo the superior
court's dismissal for failure to state a claim on which
relief can be granted. Id. at 355, ¶ 7.
A negligence claim requires proof of four elements: "(1)
a duty requiring the defendant to conform to a certain
standard of care, " (2) breach of that standard of care,
(3) causation, and (4) actual damages. Gipson v.
Kasey, 214 Ariz. 141, 143, ¶ 9 (2007). The
existence of a duty is a threshold question; "absent
some duty, an action for negligence cannot be
maintained." Id. at ¶ 11. This threshold
question of whether a duty exists is a question of law for
the court, which we consider de novo. Guerra v.
State, 237 Ariz. 183, 185, ¶ 7 (2015).
A duty is an "obligation, recognized by law, which
requires the defendant to conform to a particular standard of
conduct in order to protect others against unreasonable risks
of harm." Markowitz v. Arizona Parks Bd., 146
Ariz. 352, 354 (1985). A duty may arise from a variety of
sources, including a special relationship between the parties
- whether contractual, familial, or based on "conduct
undertaken by the ...