Walker v. Shoshone County, 16233

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho
Citation739 P.2d 290,112 Idaho 991
Docket NumberNo. 16233,16233
PartiesNorman E. WALKER and Sonja Walker, husband and wife, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. SHOSHONE COUNTY, Idaho, Defendant-Respondent, and State of Idaho, Defendant.
Decision Date07 April 1987

Thomas A. Mitchell, and John T. Mitchell, Coeur d'Alene, and Michael J. Vrable, Coeur d'Alene, for plaintiffs, appellants.

Michael K. Branstetter, Wallace, for defendant-respondent.


This is an appeal by the appellants, Walkers, from a grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant, Shoshone County. The grant of summary judgment was based on the pleadings. As such, for purposes of this appeal, we must accept the truth of the appellants' allegations. Jones v. St. Maries, 111 Idaho 733, 727 P.2d 1161 (1986).

The parents of Michael Walker brought a wrongful death action against Shoshone County and the State of Idaho. 1 The relevant facts indicate that on January 11, 1983, Michael, then age 17, was confined to the Shoshone County Jail pursuant to an order of protective custody issued by Shoshone County Magistrate Judge Don Gumaer. The order stated in pertinent part:

"This Court does authorize any Health Officer, Peace Officer or Head of Hospital of the State of Idaho, to take Michael E. Walker into protective custody to wait further petition concerning the mental illness of Michael E. Walker, to protect against immediate and substantial injury to the proposed patient and others. Detention in a non-medical unit is authorized.

Two days later, on January 17, 1983, Michael was found, hanging from a light fixture in the jail, dead by strangulation.

Following the procedures outlined in the Idaho Tort Claims Act, I.C. § 6-901 et seq., the parents filed a claim with the county on April 21, 1983, alleging negligent supervision of Michael on the part of the county officers in charge of the jail. The county failed to act, and therefore, in effect, denied the claim pursuant to I.C. § 6-909. 2 This wrongful death action was commenced in district court on January 8, 1985, nearly eighteen months after the claim had been effectively denied by the county. The complaint alleged the following:

Various employees of Shoshone County and the State of Idaho were negligent in their manner of confinement of Michael Walker. These employees had the opportunity to observe Michael in a confinement-type setting and were aware of his propensity toward self-harm. But despite this knowledge, Michael was confined in a room alone and not supervised or monitored. As a result, he hung himself.

On May 1, 1985, Shoshone County moved for summary judgment on the grounds that: (1) the six-month statute of limitations in I.C. § 5-221 had expired; and (2) the county was immune from liability under I.C. § 6-904(1) of the Idaho Tort Claims Act. The district court granted the defendant's motion with respect to the immunity defense of I.C. § 6-904(1), but denied the statute of limitations defense. The Walkers have now appealed. We conclude that the statute of limitations defense is inapplicable to actions brought under the tort claims act, but that the summary judgment ruling on the immunity defense was erroneous. We therefore reverse and remand. We address each defense separately.

I Statute of Limitations

I.C. § 5-221 states:

"5-221. Actions on claims against county.--Actions on claims against a county which have been rejected by the board of commissioners must be commenced within six (6) months after the first rejection thereof by such board."

The Walkers raise two arguments as to why the statute is inapplicable: (1) the issue is not before the Court; and (2) the statute does not apply to actions brought under the Idaho Tort Claims Act, and is in fact, superseded by the two-year statute of limitations in I.C. § 6-911 of that Act.

The district court concluded that the immunity defense of I.C. § 6-904(1) applied, and that the statute of limitations in I.C. § 5-221 did not. The Walkers appealed, specifically raising the issue of the immunity defense. Shoshone County did not cross-appeal and, therefore, the Walkers contend that the statute of limitations defense is not before the Court.

Only final judgments are appealable as a matter of right. I.A.R. 11(a)(1). Nelson v. Whitesides, 103 Idaho 374, 647 P.2d 1246 (1982). A summary judgment ruling which ends the suit, adjudicates the subject matter of the controversy, and represents a final determination of the rights of the parties is a final judgment and appealable. Idah-Best, Inc. v. First Security Bank, 99 Idaho 517, 584 P.2d 1242 (1978). A grant of partial summary judgment may be certified by the district court as a final judgment, and thus appealable, when the trial judge makes the determination that there is no just reason for delay. I.R.C.P. 54(b); Large v. Mays, 100 Idaho 450, 600 P.2d 126 (1979).

The grant of summary judgment, absent an appeal by Shoshone County on the basis of the immunity defense, ended the litigation between the county and the Walkers. The ruling, however, had no effect on the State of Idaho, and thus, was not a final judgment. The trial judge determined, however, that there was no just reason for not allowing an appeal; and, therefore, certified its judgment as final and appealable. Now, the question is what issues can be argued on appeal? The answer turns on the relief sought by the respondent. I.A.R. 11(f), the rule which addresses cross-appeals and issues on appeal, states in pertinent part:

"(f) Cross-appeals and additional issues on appeal.--After an appeal has been filed from a judgment or order specified above in this rule, a timely cross-appeal may be filed from any interlocutory or final judgment order or decree. If no affirmative relief is sought by way of reversal, vacation or modification of the judgment, order or decree, an issue may be presented by the respondent as an additional issue on appeal under rule 35(b)(4) without filing a cross-appeal." 3

A cross-appeal is required only when the respondent seeks to change or add to the relief afforded below, but not when it merely seeks to sustain a judgment for reasons presented at trial which were not relied upon by the trial judge but should have been. Mortensen v. Chevron Chemical Co., 107 Idaho 836, 693 P.2d 1038 (1985), (Huntley, J., concurring); Waterman Steamship Corp. v. Gay Cottons, 414 F.2d 724 (9th Cir.1969).

Shoshone County pleaded the statute of limitations defense below to the trial court. It is not seeking any additional relief, only an affirmation of the trial court's granting of summary judgment. In fact, a reversal upon the statute of limitations does not add to or change the result reached by the trial court. For this reason we hold the statute of limitations defense is properly before this Court. There is no necessity for a cross-appeal in order to preserve that issue, to which we now turn.

The Walkers argue, as the district court ruled, that the statute only applies to contract actions and not to tort actions, because at the time of its enactment in 1881, counties could only be sued in contract and not in tort. Therefore, they argue that to now apply the statute to tort actions would give it a meaning it never had prior to the tentative abrogation of governmental tort immunity in Idaho in the early 1970's.

I.C. § 5-221 is a unique statute. It has been on the books since 1881 and has no counterpart with respect to suits brought against the state, cities or municipalities. This statute has never been discussed in any prior decision in Idaho, and therefore, the issue presented today is a question of first impression.

Historically, the doctrine of sovereign immunity barred suits brought against the government. This Court partially abolished the doctrine in tort actions in Smith v. State, 93 Idaho 795, 473 P.2d 937 (1970). There, we looked at the policy reasons disfavoring sovereign immunity and the doctrine's abolition by other jurisdictions. We established a rule that a governmental entity is liable for its proprietary acts, but not its governmental acts.

The legislature responded by enacting the Idaho Tort Claims Act, Idaho Sess. Laws, ch. 150, §§ 1-31, p. 743. I.C. § 6-911 of the Act contains a two-year statute of limitations. I.C. § 6-911 states in relevant part:

"6-911. Limitation of actions.--Every claim against a governmental entity permitted under the provisions of this act or against an employee of a governmental entity shall be forever barred, unless an action is begun within two (2) years after the date the claim arose or reasonably should have been discovered, whichever is later."

I.C. § 6-902 of the Tort Claims Act states in pertinent part:

"6-902. Definitions.--As used in this act:


"2. 'Political subdivision' means any county, city, municipal corporation, health district, school district, irrigation district, special improvement or taxing district, or any other political subdivision or public corporation....

"3. 'Governmental entity' means and includes the state and political subdivisions as herein defined." (Emphasis added.)

The statutory scheme in the Tort Claims Act sets up a procedure whereby an injured party must file a claim with the governmental entity. I.C. § 6-906 and 6-906A. Once the claim arises, the injured party has two years to bring suit. A county is specifically included within the definition of a governmental entity. However, I.C. § 5-221, which is contained in the limitations of action chapter, limits the time for bringing actions against counties to six months. This statute does not, as the trial court found, limit itself to contract actions, and would appear, by its terms, applicable to tort actions. These two statutes of limitations appear to be in conflict. Therefore, we must resort to the rules of statutory construction to ascertain legislative intent.

Absent a contrary contention, a specific statute will control over a more general one....

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