Morton v. Maricopa County

In Morton v. Maricopa County, 177 Ariz. 147, 148, 865 P.2d 808, 809 (App.1993) police were alerted to unidentified and incomplete skeletal remains. 177 Ariz. 147, 148, 865 P.2d 808, 809 (App. 1993). Due to circumstances surrounding the person's disappearance and the body's condition, it was years before authorities identified the remains. Id. at 149, 865 P.2d at 810. The decedent's parents sued Maricopa County for negligence in identifying the body. Id. Unlike the immediate case, the Morton court noted that, "Neither the sheriff's office nor the Medical Examiner made any representations to the Mortons regarding their investigation." Id. at 150-51, 865 P.2d at 811-12. The Morton court held that "Maricopa County owed no legal duty to the Mortons either to submit dental records to the Department of Public Safety or to solve a homicide within any specific time frame." Morton, 177 Ariz. at 151, 865 P.2d at 812. In Morton v. Maricopa County, the county medical examiner's office admitted it had incinerated the deceased victim's remains despite the fact that "statutes in force at the time . . . required the interment or cremation of dead bodies." Id. at 151-52, 865 P.2d at 812-13. The Court affirmed the judgment of liability in plaintiffs' favor based solely on "negligence of the medical examiner's office" because, by incinerating the body when it should not have, it had prevented a proper burial of the body. Id. at 153, 865 P.2d at 814. Thus, liability in Morton did not arise from the failure of the county sheriff's office to identify the decedent, but rather from the actions of the medical examiner's office in handling the body, as we implicitly ruled it had a duty to do under A.R.S. 11-251(27), 11-599, and 11-600. Morton, 177 Ariz. at 151, 153, 865 P.2d at 812, 814.