Brown case: Superior Court dismisses negligence claims against Paradise Valley

Howard Brown

The Honorable Jo Lynn Gentry of the Maricopa County Superior Court has ruled the Paradise Valley Police Department had no duty of care to perform an investigation into a fatal accident at the intersection of Invergordon and Horseshoe roads that left Howard Brown dead in April 2016.

In her July 11 ruling, Judge Gentry asserts the Paradise Valley Police Department — or any other police department — does not owe any person an investigation into any matter who has a vested interest of a particular outcome.

“The Supreme Court has held that the police have no duty to persons who may be interested in the outcome of an investigation to conduct the investigation in any particular manner,” Judge Gentry said in her July 11 summary judgment.

A police photograph of the car that struck Paradise Valley resident Howard Brown. (PVPD photograph)

“In a negligence case, a plaintiff must allege a defendant’s duty, defendant’s breach of that duty, causation and damages.”

The Maricopa County Superior Court has cleared the Town of Paradise Valley — and its subsequent defendants — of any and all civil negligence claims that could leave taxpayers liable, town officials say.

“We are pleased with Judge Gentry’s decision and believe it is consistent with the law in Arizona,” said Paradise Valley Town Attorney Andrew Miller in a July 13 statement to the Independent.

Mr. Miller confirms the July 11 Superior Court ruling clears the Town of Paradise Valley from each of the initial gross negligence claims.

“Closed until we see whether an appeal is filed,” he said. “And, that will likely have to wait until after the remaining counts of the complaint against other defendants are completed as the appeals courts do not typically accept interlocutory appeals.”

In her ruling, Judge Gentry explains case law — Robertson v. Sixpence Inns of America, Guerra v. Arizona and Vasquez v. State — has set precedent that no duty of care exists in this matter when related parties are seeking a certain outcome.

“The court determined that in exercising their duties, the police do not create a ‘special relationship’ from which duty is born,” Judge Gentry said in her ruling. “The police did not owe the plaintiffs a duty of care in the manner in which they conducted the investigation.”

The case and subsequent legal maneuvers stem from an April 2016 notice of claim filed against the Town of Paradise Valley on behalf of Judith Brown, the surviving spouse of Howard Brown, a Town of Paradise Valley resident.

Schmitt Schneck Smyth Casey & Even Attorneys at Law have filed a notice of claim against the Town of Paradise Valley alleging the municipality’s police department did not properly handle the investigation into a fatal accident that claimed the life of Mr. Brown.

The accident also involved the daughter of an elected leader of the community.

The lawsuit named the Town of Paradise Valley, Police Officer Steve Hovorka, Police Cpl. Mark Garrity and Paradise Valley Councilman Paul Dembow and sought a payout ranging from $3.8 million to $4.2 million.

According to court records, on Feb. 22 Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry dismissed the case against Councilman Dembow that alleged he interfered or influenced the police investigation into the car accident that killed Mr. Brown. The automobile that struck Mr. Brown was operated by Paige Dembow, the councilman’s daughter.

The Town of Paradise Valley was represented by William H. Doyle of the Phoenix-based The Doyle Firm, while Ms. Dembow is represented solely by Benjamin C. Thomas of the Law Firm of Thomas Markson Rubin & Kelly, court records show.

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.