ARS 12-820 Interpretation

The historical and statutory notes to A.R.S. 12-820 provide, in relevant part: Section 1. Legislative purpose and intent The legislature recognizes the inherently unfair and inequitable results which occur in the strict application of the traditional doctrine of sovereign immunity. on the other hand, the legislature recognizes that, while a private entrepreneur may readily be held liable for negligence within the chosen scope of his activity, the area within which government has power to act for the public good is almost without limit and therefore government should not have the duty to do everything that might be done. Consequently, it is hereby declared to be the public policy of this state that public entities are liable for acts and omissions of employees in accordance with the statutes and common law of this state. All of the provisions of this act should be construed with a view to carry out the above legislative purpose. In Walls v. Ariz. Dep't of Pub. Safety, 170 Ariz. 591, 826 P.2d 1217 (App. 1991), the plaintiffs alleged that a DPS officer was negligent in failing to stop a motorist after the officer observed the motorist's vehicle weaving in traffic and before the motorist collided with the plaintiffs' vehicle. Walls, 170 Ariz. at 593, 826 P.2d at 1219. DPS moved for summary judgment on the basis that A.R.S. 12-820.02 provided qualified immunity for the officer's acts. Id. The plaintiffs disputed that the statute applied, arguing that their claim was based on the officer's failure to make an investigatory stop, not his failure to arrest the motorist, as specifically addressed in the statute. Id. After evaluating the historical note to A.R.S. 12-820 (2003), the Court found that although it was clear that "the legislature intended to limit sovereign immunity to certain specific, enumerated circumstances, it is also clear that the legislature recognized that sovereign immunity is sometimes necessary given the breadth of the government's exercise of power." Walls, 170 Ariz. at 594, 826 P.2d at 1220. Recognizing that an investigatory stop is often a precursor to an arrest, the court held that no distinction should be made between an investigatory stop and an arrest for the purpose of determining the applicability of the qualified immunity statute. Id. The court therefore interpreted the phrase "failure to make an arrest" to include a failure to make an investigatory stop and held that DPS was entitled to qualified immunity. Id. at 595, 826 P.2d at 1221. Noting that the plaintiffs' evidence was not sufficient to create a question of fact regarding whether the officer acted with gross negligence, this court affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment for DPS. Id. at 596, 826 P.2d at 1222.