Curtis v. Richardson – 3/23/2006

March 24, 2006

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That The Superior Court Properly Upheld The Arizona Department Of Real Estate’s Denial Of Plaintiff’s Application For A Real Estate License.

William A. Curtis appealed the superior court’s judgment affirming the denial of his application for a real estate salesperson’s license. After the Arizona Department of Real Estate denied Plaintiff’s application, he filed an administrative appeal. The administrative law judge, however, agreed with the Department and recommended to the Department’s commissioner, Elaine Richardson, that she uphold the Department’s denial, which she did. The superior court affirmed the license denial, and Plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, Plaintiff raised numerous claims, but the Arizona Court of Appeals rejected all of them and affirmed. First, the court held that the superior court did not abuse its discretion by denying Plaintiff’s motion to change venue from Maricopa County to Yuma County, where Plaintiff and witnesses resided. Because the superior court ruled that neither an evidentiary hearing nor a trial were necessary, the venue did not inconvenience the witnesses.

Second, contrary to Plaintiff’s contention, the superior court was not required to hold an evidentiary hearing under A.R.S. § 12-910 because the court did not deem it necessary to resolve the questions before it—namely, whether the Department’s determination was arbitrary, capricious, contrary to law, or not supported by substantial evidence.

Third, the administrative law judge did not abuse his discretion by denying Plaintiff’s request to change venue. The applicable statutes, A.R.S. §§ 41-1092.01.03, and .05, do not specify the location of the hearing. Furthermore, the location of the hearing was not unreasonable because the administrative law judge offered “to allow [Plaintiff’s] witnesses to testify telephonically, seven witnesses appeared at the hearing, and [Plaintiff] provided letters and affidavits from ten others.” See Burri v. Campbell, 102 Ariz. 541, 434 P.2d 627 (1967).

Fourth, Plaintiff was not denied procedural due process because he “had notice of the Department’s reasons for denying his application, appealed that decision, and presented evidence to an independent decision-maker,” and he “has not shown that affidavits and telephonic testimony were inadequate methods of presenting evidence.” See Johnson v. Mofford, 181 Ariz. 301, 890 P.2d 76 (Ct. App. 1995).

Fifth, the administrative law judge did not deny Plaintiff equal protection on the ground that “a party who appeals an administrative action and lives in Phoenix or Tucson is treated differently than one who lives in Yuma.” Plaintiff failed to show that he “was treated differently than others in the same situation.” Furthermore, the classification bears a rational relation to a legitimate state interest: “The agency has a legitimate interest in holding the hearing near its location and the location of the [administrative law judge].”

Sixth, substantial evidence supported the administrative law judge’s conclusion that the Department properly denied Plaintiff a license. Plaintiff had not shown present “good character.” See A.R.S. § 32-2153(B)(7). Between 1987 and 1997, Plaintiff had been convicted of six crimes, including two felony drug convictions. In 2000, despite his history of substance abuse, Plaintiff consumed alcohol, “became ill, and was terminated from his employment.” Furthermore, the administrative law judge “was skeptical of [Plaintiff’s] honesty, his ability to accept full responsibility for his actions, and the relatively short period of sobriety compared to the longevity of [Plaintiff’s] alcohol and substance abuse problems.” These findings indicated lack of good character and were supported by substantial evidence.

Finally, the court held that the “good character” standard was not unconstitutionally vague. See A.R.S. § 32-2153(B)(7). The court noted that “an ordinary person would understand that misconduct, such as that involved here, shows a lack of good character.” Furthermore, section 32-2153 has standards as it “lists twenty-five specific acts that permit suspension, revocation, or denial of license.” Courts had upheld similar standards, and the standard was not impermissibly vague as applied to Plaintiff because he had used “‘abusive language, [and had engaged in] belligerent behavior, [that revealed] disrespect for the rights of others, and disrespect for lawful authority,’” and “had inflicted violence on family members[,]” in addition to lacking complete candor at his administrative hearing.

Judge Lankford authored the unanimous opinion.