Shea v. Maricopa Cnty. – 5/3/2023

June 1, 2023

Arizona Supreme Court holds that a document satisfies the Administrative Review Act’s requirement for a notice of appeal if its substance (1) provides notice of the appeal, (2) identifies the decision being appealed, and (3) states the issues presented on appeal.

A county’s Board of Adjustment affirmed a fine against certain landowners for building certain structures on their property without proper permits. The landowners filed a complaint for special action to appeal the Board’s decision.

The superior court entered final judgment against the landowners. The superior court reasoned that the landowners did not file a “notice of appeal,” as required by A.R.S. § 12-904(A), and instead filed a special action complaint. The court of appeals agreed. It reasoned that the landowners also did not comply with the other jurisdictional requirements of A.R.S. § 12-904(A). Those requirements provide that the notice of appeal shall identify the final administrative decision sought to be reviewed and include a statement of the issues presented for review.

The Arizona Supreme Court reversed. It implicated the principle that courts should look to substance rather than to form when interpreting procedural devices. It further reasoned that a notice of appeal broadly encompasses any document filed with a court and served on the other parties that states an intention to appeal. Thus, the Arizona Supreme Court found that although not titled a notice of appeal, the landowners’ complaint gave notice of their intention to appeal the Board’s decision and was filed with the appellate court and served on the opposing parity. The Court also found that the complaint sufficiently identified the decision being appealed and included a statement of the issues. Accordingly, the Court held that A.R.S. § 12-904(A) does not preclude jurisdiction where a timely filing’s substance (1) provides notice of the appeal, (2) identifies the decision being appealed, and (3) states the issues argued on appeal.

Although the Court held that the statute’s requirements turn on substance, not form, to facilitate efficient handling of appeals and to provide notice to interested parties, the Court urged parties appealing administrative decisions to avoid potential jurisdictional pitfalls by following the Court’s clear instructions in the Arizona Rule 4(c) of Procedure for Judicial Review of Administrative Decisions (“JRAD”) and JRAD Form 1.

The dissent noted in part that the legislature specifically required a notice of appeal, and a complaint for special action is not an appeal.

Justice Lopez authored the opinion, in which Vice Chief Justice Timmer and Justices Beene and King joined.  Justice Bolick dissented.

Posted by: Brandon T. Delgado