Sanchez ex rel. Gordon v. City of Tucson

In Sanchez ex rel. Gordon v. City of Tucson, 191 Ariz. 128, 131-33, PP15-22, 953 P.2d 168, 171-73 (1998), the plaintiff was injured while crossing a street maintained by the state. Id. at 129, P2, 953 P.2d at 169. The plaintiff sued the driver of the vehicle, the City of Tucson and the State. Id. at P3. The plaintiff sued Tucson and the state based on the absence of a traffic light at the intersection and her argument that both entities had a duty to place a light there. Id. Tucson moved for, and was granted, summary judgment under the theory that it had no duty to the plaintiff because the roadway was under the state's control. Id. at PP4-5. The Arizona Supreme Court reversed, finding that "if the City exercised control over the roadway in question, it would owe a duty to plaintiff to keep it in a reasonably safe condition." Id. at 130, P10, 953 P.2d at 170. The court further held that there were issues of fact as to whether the City exercised actual control over the intersection at issue. It noted for example that prior to the accident the State had approved a request by Tucson to install a traffic light at the intersection in question. Id. at 131, P14, 953 P.2d at 171. That plan had subsequently been abandoned, but there was no evidence in the record suggesting that the state's authorization for Tucson to install a traffic light at the intersection had lapsed. See id. Further, the plaintiff established that there was an IGA between the city and the state governing the maintenance and operation of street lighting and traffic lights on specified intersections of state routes within the city. Id. at PP15-16. Although the intersection at issue was not explicitly contained in the IGA, the IGA arguably contemplated that traffic lights would be placed at additional intersections upon Tucson's input in determining the need for additional lights. See id. at P16. The plaintiff further pointed to city of Tucson memoranda suggesting that it viewed the control of traffic at the location of the accident to be a joint problem shared by it and the state, and to a joint traffic study conducted by Tucson and the state designed to alleviate these problems. Id. at P13. The court concluded that under such facts, "even if a jury finds that the City had no right to exercise control under the IGA, it could alternatively find that the City in fact exercised control over the roadway and assumed a duty to the public to keep the roadway in a reasonably safe condition." Id. at 132-33, P22, 953 P.2d at 172-73. The supreme court thus vacated the summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings, holding that "a governmental entity which exercises control over a roadway, even though it has no statutory or express contractual right of or duty to control the roadway may, in appropriate circumstances, be held liable for negligence in the exercise of that control." Id. at 134, P28, 953 P.2d at 174.