Madden-Tyler v. Maricopa County

Decision Date06 March 1997
Docket NumberMADDEN-TYLER,CA-CV,No. 1,1
Citation943 P.2d 822,189 Ariz. 462
Parties, 25 A.D.D. 677, 9 NDLR P 240, 238 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 12 Bonnie, a married woman, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. MARICOPA COUNTY, a body politic; Tom Rawles, John Katsenes, Betsy Bayless, Ed King, Mary Rose Wilcox, in their official capacities as members of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors; Judith Allen, in her official capacity as Clerk, Maricopa County Superior Court Clerk's Office; the Honorable C. Kimball Rose, Presiding Judge of the Maricopa County Superior Court; Jackie Crawford, a married woman, in her individual capacity, Defendants-Appellees. 96-0162.
CourtArizona Court of Appeals

RYAN, Judge.

Congress did not enact specific statutes of limitations for claims brought under § 1983 of the Civil Rights Act, § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, or Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Instead, the time limits of the most appropriate state statute are to be applied. In this appeal, we hold that the most appropriate statute of limitations for all three acts is Arizona Revised Statutes Annotated ("A.R.S.") § 12-542, setting a two-year limit for personal injury actions. Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court erred in applying different statutes of limitations and thus reverse the judgment dismissing appellant's claims on statute of limitations grounds.


Bonnie Madden-Tyler ("appellant") was employed by the office of the Clerk of the Maricopa County Superior Court as director of information services. In October 1992 she was assigned to a project to reorganize the office's file room. The project involved placing files in boxes and moving shelving units.

During a project planning meeting, appellee Jackie Crawford, appellant's supervisor, informed appellant and other staff members that the County could not afford to hire outside labor to assist with the project, and therefore the office staff would be required to do the work. Appellant informed Crawford that she could not do the physical labor involved because she had a very weak lower back and had undergone medical treatment for it in the past. Crawford told appellant that she still would have to perform the work required to complete the project.

On October 22, 1992, appellant worked from about 6 p.m. until midnight moving and unboxing files. When she left the office, she felt pain in her back. The next morning, she informed appellee Judith Allen, clerk of the superior court, that she had hurt her back and needed help to complete the project. Allen did not provide appellant with more help.

Appellant received medical treatment for her back pain. On December 22, 1992, she had surgery for a ruptured lumbar disk.

After using all her accrued sick and vacation leave and compensatory time, appellant returned to work. Because of her back condition, she could work only part-time. Appellant resigned from her job on April 1, 1993, because she could not control her work flow and her back pain made it difficult for her to concentrate. She filed a workers' compensation claim and received benefits.

Appellant wrote to the U.S. Department of Justice ("DOJ") and requested a waiver of the 180-day period for filing a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). The DOJ granted the waiver. On March 31, 1994, appellant filed the lawsuit from which this appeal arose. Appellant filed a charge of handicap discrimination with the EEOC on April 5, 1994; the EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter on April 22, 1994.

In her amended complaint, appellant brought claims against the defendants 2 for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 to 12213; violation of § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794; wrongful constructive discharge in violation of public policy; and violation of her civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. She also brought a claim against Crawford for tortious interference with contract.

Appellees asked for dismissal of appellant's wrongful discharge and tortious interference claims on grounds that she had failed to raise those claims with the Maricopa County Merit Commission and that workers' compensation was her exclusive remedy for tort claims arising out of her work-related injury. The trial court dismissed those two claims.

Next, appellees requested summary judgment on the remaining claims, arguing that they had been untimely filed under the applicable statutes of limitations. Appellees separately asked for summary judgment on the basis that, as a matter of law, appellant was not disabled at the time she was injured.

The trial court found a genuine issue of fact as to whether appellant was disabled under the ADA and denied that motion for summary judgment. However, the court concluded that appellant's Title I ADA claim was barred by the federal 180-day claim statute, that the appropriate limitations period for her Title II ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims was the 180-day limit under Arizona's Civil Rights Act ("ACRA"), and that her claims were filed later than 180 days after the claims accrued and the DOJ did not waive that limitations period. It therefore granted summary judgment on those claims. The court requested supplemental memoranda on the statute of limitations governing appellant's § 1983 claim.

The court subsequently ruled that a one-year statute of limitations applied to appellant's § 1983 claim, and it granted summary judgment in favor of appellees on that claim. The court entered final judgment in favor of appellees and appellant timely appealed. We have jurisdiction. A.R.S. § 12-2101(B).

A. Limitations Period for § 1983 Claim

Appellant first argues that under federal law, her § 1983 claim is governed by the two-year statute of limitations in A.R.S. § 12-542(1) for personal injury actions. Appellees respond that the one-year statute of limitations in A.R.S. § 12-821 should apply because appellant's personal injury action is against public employees, and § 12-821 controls in such actions.

Federal statutes contain no specific limitation period for civil rights claims brought under § 1983. Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 266, 105 S.Ct. 1938, 1941, 85 L.Ed.2d 254 (1985). If no limitation period exists for a federal cause of action, a local time limitation will apply unless it conflicts with federal law or policy; federal interests must predominate. Id. at 266-67, 105 S.Ct. at 1941-42; see also Baker v. Board of Regents of State of Kan., 991 F.2d 628, 630 (10th Cir.1993). In 42 U.S.C. § 1988, Congress implicitly endorsed this approach for civil rights claims. Wilson, 471 U.S. at 266-67, 105 S.Ct. at 1941-42.

Before Wilson, § 1988 required courts to select the "most analogous" or "most appropriate" state statute of limitations as the governing statute. Blake v. Dickason, 997 F.2d 749, 750 (10th Cir.1993). In Wilson, "the Supreme Court abandoned that uncertain and confusing practice in favor of a simple, bright-line rule." Id. In deciding that § 1983 claims "are best characterized as personal injury actions," the Wilson Court held that the general personal injury statute of limitations of the forum state should be applied to all § 1983 claims. 471 U.S. at 280, 105 S.Ct. at 1949; Blake, 997 F.2d at 750. "The characterization of all § 1983 actions as involving claims for personal injuries minimizes the risk that the choice of a state statute of limitations would not fairly serve the federal interests vindicated by § 1983." Wilson, 471 U.S. at 279, 105 S.Ct. at 1949.

Although appellees acknowledge that a personal injury statute of limitations applies to the § 1983 claim, they urge us to apply A.R.S. § 12-821 rather than A.R.S. § 12-542(1). Section 12-821 requires that a person who wishes to file a claim against a public entity or employee must do so within one year after the cause of action accrues. 3

Two factors work against appellees' position. First, in Wilson, a § 1983 case against a New Mexico state police officer and police chief, the defendants argued that the action was barred by the statute of limitations in the New Mexico Tort Claims Act. That Act provided that any action "against a governmental entity or a public employee for torts shall be forever barred, unless such action is commenced within two years after the date of occurrence." 471 U.S. at 263 n. 2, 105 S.Ct. at 1940 n. 2 (citing N.M.Stat.Ann. § 41-4-15(A) (1978)). The Wilson Court noted that the plaintiff's claim could have been characterized "as governed by the special New Mexico statute authorizing recovery against the State for the torts of its agents." Id. at 273, 105 S.Ct. at 1945. But the Court rejected the special statute of limitations and instead applied New Mexico's three-year general statute governing actions for "injury to the person or reputation of any person." Id. at 280, 105 S.Ct. at 1949.

Second, in revisiting the question of the applicable statute of limitations for a § 1983 claim, the Supreme Court in Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 109 S.Ct. 573, 102 L.Ed.2d 594 (1989), clarified the rule from Wilson. In Owens, the police officer defendants argued that because the plaintiff had alleged intentional torts, New York's one-year statute of limitations for intentional torts should govern. The Court rejected this argument and held that "where state law provides multiple statutes of limitations for personal injury actions, courts considering § 1983 claims should borrow the general or residual statute for personal injury actions." 488 U.S. at 249-50, 109 S.Ct. at 582.

We conclude that applying a statute specific to tort actions against governmental entities and employees...

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