The proper place to file notice of one’s intent to appeal an administrative decision of the Arizona Registrar of Contractors (“ROC”) is the subject of the Court of Appeals’ recent decision in Johnson v. Arizona Registrar of Contractors, 242 Ariz. 409 (App. 2017). Specifically, the Court was tasked with deciding whether it was sufficient for a homeowner seeking to appeal the ROC’s denial of her recovery fund claim to file her notice of appeal with the ROC, rather than the superior court. The Court concluded that the homeowner’s filing was insufficient, holding that the notice must be filed in the superior court pursuant to A.R.S. § 12-904. As a result, the Court ultimately upheld the dismissal of the homeowner’s ROC appeal. The takeaway from Johnson is clear—those appealing an administrative decision of the ROC must file their notices of appeal in superior court.
In Johnson, a homeowner discovered a roof leak after she purchased her home. As a result, she filed an ROC complaint against the roofing contractor hired by the home’s previous owner. The ROC investigated the complaint and issued a “Corrective Work Order” giving the contractor 15 days to remedy its deficient work. The contractor failed to comply and its license was ultimately suspended.
The homeowner subsequently filed a recovery fund claim with the ROC, which was summarily denied. The homeowner then sought a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) of the Office of Administrative Hearings (“OAH”) to challenge the ROC’s denial. After the hearing, the ALJ determined that the ROC had properly denied the recovery fund claim and the ROC accepted the ALJ’s decision. The ROC’s acceptance of the ALJ’s ruling became the final administrative decision (the “Decision”) in the case on September 15, 2015.
The homeowner attempted to appeal the Decision by filing a notice of appeal (the “First Notice”) with only the ROC on October 14, 2015. Indeed, it was not until October 27, 2015 that the homeowner filed a subsequent notice of appeal (the “Second Notice”) in the superior court. The ROC moved to dismiss the appeal, arguing that the Second Notice was untimely under A.R.S. § 12-904(A). The superior court granted the motion and the homeowner appealed.
A.R.S. § 12-904(A) provides the procedure and deadlines for filing an action to review a final administrative decision of the ROC. It states, in pertinent part, that:
An action to review a final administrative decision shall be commenced by filing a notice of appeal within thirty-five days from the date when a copy of the decision sought to be reviewed is served upon the party affected…
On appeal, the homeowner in Johnson did not contest that the Second Notice was not filed within the time frame established by § 12-904(A). Rather, she argued that the statute was silent as to where a notice of appeal must be filed, such that her First Notice (which was filed with the ROC) was proper and timely.
The Court of Appeals rejected the homeowner’s argument, holding that A.R.S. § 12-904(A) is not, in fact, silent on where an appealing party must file his or her notice. Instead, the Court found that the statute dictates that a notice of appeal of a final administrative decision must be filed in the superior court. The Court first noted that § 12-904(A) “directs the appealing party to ‘commence’ an ‘action’ by filing a notice of appeal.” (Emphasis added). The Court then noted that, by statute, “an ‘action’ is ‘any matter or proceeding in a court, civil or criminal.'” In short, the Court found that use of the word “action” in § 12-904(A) renders the superior court the proper forum in which to file notices of appeal from final administrative decisions.
The Court of Appeals also found, among other things, that the homeowner’s argument was at odds with the statutory scheme for judicial review of administrative decisions. For instance, A.R.S. § 12-905(B) states that “‘an action to review a final administrative decision may be commenced in the superior court of any county’ that meets certain specified conditions.” (Emphasis in original). Moreover, A.R.S. §§ 12-904(B) and 12-906 respectively require the appealing party to file a “notice of the action” with the OAH and to serve the notice of appeal on the administrative agency. The Court concluded that these statutes would be meaningless if the appealing party could file his or her notice of appeal with the administrative agency.
In sum, the Court of Appeals found in Johnson that A.R.S. § 12-904(A) requires a party appealing a final administrative decision of the ROC to timely file his or her notice of appeal in the superior court. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the superior court’s order dismissing the homeowner’s appeal of the Decision. Those seeking to appeal an administrative decision of the ROC should, therefore, be mindful of the decision in Johnson and the plain language of § 12-904(A), and file their notices of appeal in the superior court.