In a recent Utah County District Court Decision, the Court applied provisions of the Arizona Governmental Immunity Act under the judicial doctrine of comity to a Utah case. In that case, the City of Flagstaff, Arizona, sent a city employee to Utah. While acting within the course of her employment, the city employee was involved in a traffic accident, causing injuries to a Utah citizen. In Utah, a “Notice of Claim” must be served with the municipality within 365 days of the accident before suit can be filed against the municipality or its employees. However, under Arizona law, the Notice of Claim must be filed within 180 days.
The Utah citizen (the Plaintiff) served her Notice of Claim on the City of Flagstaff 364 days after the underlying incident. The Plaintiff further submitted her notice of claim on an official City of Flagstaff Notice of Claim form which expressly states directly beneath the signature line that, "In order for a claim to be valid, you must fully and completely comply with A.R.S. §12-821, et seq. Please understand that A.RS. §12-821 requires the claim be filed with the City of Flagstaff within 180 days after the cause of action accrues."
Because Utah requires strict compliance with the Governmental Immunity Act and all notice of claim requirements when filing suit against a governmental entity, we filed a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim and requested the court to extend the doctrine of judicial comity and apply the Arizona notice of claim requirements to bar suit.
Out of courtesy and respect for our sister state, Judge Taylor of the Fourth Judicial District Court of Utah exercised his discretion to extend comity and give full faith and credit to the sovereign State of Arizona’s 180-day notice of claim requirement. The court noted that:
The public policy evoked in both the Utah and the Arizona statute is that suit against the state is limited by the extent of the consent of the state to be sued. That policy results in a short 356 day window for suit in Utah and an even shorter 180 day suit in Arizona. There is no reason to think that Utah, in creating such a window of opportunity for suit against the State of Utah intended to also allow suits against a sister state within the same window. Indeed if this Court were to allow a suit which would be prohibited in Arizona to be pursued in Utah it would contradict the plainly expressed public policy of that state. The doctrine of judicial comity is an evocation of respect for the law and public policy of another court. The doctrine would require this Court to defer to the decision made by the State of Arizona regarding a waiver of immunity from suit as a matter of courtesy.
The case is currently on appeal to the Utah Court of Appeals.