Legacy Foundation Action Fund v. Citizens Clean Elections Commission – 1/25/2018

February 7, 2018

Arizona Supreme Court holds that a party’s failure to timely file an appeal from an agency decision deprives the appellate court of jurisdiction to hear the appeal, even when the agency’s jurisdiction is challenged.

In 2014, a complaint was filed with the Clean Elections Commission (the “Commission”) against Appellant Legacy Foundation Action Fund (“LFAF”) based on a television ad funded by LFAF.  After administrative proceedings, the Commission found that LFAF failed to file certain disclosure reports required by the Clean Elections Act (the “Act”) and assessed a civil penalty against LFAF.  After an administrative hearing before an ALJ, the Commission affirmed its penalty order and entered a final administrative decision against LFAF on March 27, 2015.  LFAF filed an appeal in the superior court eighteen days after the Commission’s final order was issued.  The superior court dismissed LFAF’s appeal, because LFAF did not file its appeal within the fourteen day time frame set forth in the Act, A.R.S. § 16-957(B).  The Court of Appeals affirmed. 

The Supreme Court accepted review and affirmed.  Although LFAF argued that its untimely filing did not preclude it from challenging the Commission’s jurisdiction, the Court held that “[f]ailure to file a timely appeal from an agency decision deprives the [superior] court of jurisdiction to hear the appeal, including issues of agency jurisdiction.”  LFAF claimed that it should be permitted to challenge the Commission’s jurisdiction because, it argued, A.R.S. §12-902(B) provided an open-ended exemption for a party to challenge the jurisdiction of an administrative agency.  The Court rejected this argument, noting that §12-902(B) does not apply where, as here, “a statute creating an agency prescribes its own time limits for appeals.”  The Court further concluded that, even if § 12-902(B) did apply, its plain language does not support the interpretation advanced by LFAF and expressly disavowed contrary language from two Court of Appeals opinions relied upon by LFAF. 

Justice Bolick authored the unanimous opinion of the Court.