Roubos v. Superior Court – 5/2/2006

May 2, 2006

Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two Holds That the Civil Enforcement of a Municipal Ordinance Is a “Civil Action” Under A.R.S. § 12-348 Entitling a Party That Prevails in an Action Against a Municipality to its Reasonable Attorneys Fees.

In this special action appeal, the petitioners successfully defended actions filed against them by the City of Tucson for various alleged ordinance violations. After prevailing in the actions, the trial court denied the petitioners’ request for attorneys fees under A.R.S. § 12-348. Noting that petitioners had no other way to appeal that ruling, the Court of Appeals accepted special action jurisdiction over the attorneys fees ruling and reversed the Superior Court. The Court of Appeals held that the civil enforcement of a municipal ordinance is a “civil action” under § 12-348(a)(1), not a criminal proceeding under § 12-348(H)(8). The Court discussed in detail the legislative structure pursuant to which the Legislature has enabled municipalities to enforce their ordinances through criminal or civil proceedings. In this case, the City of Tucson unambiguously exercised its option to enforce a violation of the ordinance at issue here through civil proceedings. Accordingly, the Court concluded that the action brought by the City against the petitioners was a “civil action” within the meaning of § 12-348. The Court rejected the City’s various arguments to avoid the applicability of § 12-348, noting that the Legislature saw fit to adopt various specific exceptions to § 12-348, but none applies here.

Justice Eckerstrom authored the opinion. Judges Brammer and Howard concurred.