By Linda Bentley | February 17, 2016

Lopez launches lost case against new defendants

‘Any claim that is not filed within one hundred eighty days after the cause of action accrues is barred …’

Gilbert Lopez

CAVE CREEK – After losing his defamation complaint against Sonoran News last year, Gilbert Lopez filed a new complaint alleging basically the same claims against former Town Manager Usama Abujbarah and his wife.

The complaint against Sonoran News focused on articles and editorials published about Lopez, a former Cave Creek councilman and vice mayor, promising approximately $10,000 to the Carefree-Cave Creek Chamber of Commerce in 2007 to fund a visitor information center.

Usama Abujbarah

Lopez, who was the only council member that voted in favor of providing the funds to the chamber, waited until 2013 to deny having made that promise, which was contrary to information provided to Sonoran News prior to the October 2007 council meeting by Abujbarah, who said Lopez came to him for the money because he was under the impression Abujbarah could authorize expenditures up to $10,000.

Abujbarah said he told Lopez he could authorize expenditures up to $10,000 but only if they are budgeted.

The $10,000 wasn’t budgeted so Abujbarah explained the matter had to go to council for approval.

Abujbarah told Sonoran News Lopez became upset and stated, “But I gave him my word,” referring to Chamber Director Ian Ellison.

Sonoran News published an editorial in 2008 touching on Lopez’s “promise.”

However, it wasn’t until the spring of 2013, Lopez raised the issue for the first time since 2007 during Call to the Public at a town council meeting, during which he denied making the promise 6 years earlier.

He filed his lawsuit on July 19, 2013.

As his lawsuit against Sonoran News was pending before Maricopa County Superior Court Judge David Talamate, Lopez filed a motion to add Abujbarah as a defendant, which Talamante denied.

So, after losing his case against Sonoran News for publishing information Abujbarah provided to the newspaper in 2007, he decided to sue Abujbarah directly.

Abujbarah filed an answer to the complaint in late January asking the court to dismiss the complaint and award his costs and attorneys’ fees.

Abujbarah claims the statements at issue are true or substantially true, were made in good faith belief in their truth and, the statements at issue are either non-actionable or otherwise privileged, and, since the claims arise from statements made in 2007 or 2008 they are untimely.

Abujbarah says Lopez failed to comply with A.R.S. §12-821.01, which, under Paragraph A, states anyone who has a claim against a public employee must file such claim within 180 days after the cause of action accrues.

While the claim must contain facts sufficient to permit the public employee to understand the basis on which the liability is claimed, the claim must also contain a specific amount for which the claim can be settled and the facts supporting that amount.

However, Paragraph B states: “Any claim that is not filed within one hundred eighty days after the cause of action accrues is barred and no action may be maintained thereon.”