Starr v. Ariz. Bd. of Fingerprinting (8/5/2021)

August 12, 2021

Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One, holds that Arizona Board of Fingerprinting has no authority to review classifications of criminal convictions made by Department of Public Safety.

In 2016, a woman applied to the Arizona Department of Public Safety’s Fingerprinting Division to obtain a fingerprint clearance card.  The Department denied her application based on a 2002 felony conviction it classified as child neglect.  However, The Department also informed the woman that she may qualify for a good cause exception from the Arizona Board of Fingerprinting.  The woman neither challenged the Department’s classification nor sought a good cause exception from the Board.

In 2017, the woman again sought a clearance card and was again denied by the Department.  This time, however, the Department classified her conviction as child abuse, which rendered her per se ineligible for a good cause exception.  Nevertheless, the woman sought a good cause exception from the Board.  The Board informed the woman she was ineligible for such an exception.  The woman challenged neither the Department’s classification nor the Board’s response.

In 2019, the woman sought a clearance card for the third time.  The Department again denied her application, once again classifying her conviction as child abuse.  The woman sought a good cause exception from the Board, which the Board declined because she was ineligible for such an exception.  This time, the woman appealed the Board’s decision to the superior court under the Administrative Review Act, challenging the Board’s refusal to consider her application for an exception or to review the Department’s classification of her conviction.  The superior court dismissed the complaint, concluding it did not have jurisdiction because the woman was effectively seeking review of decisions from 2017, which she failed to timely appeal.

On appeal, the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One, affirmed.  The Court focused on the statutory and regulatory scheme that governed the Department’s and Board’s respective duties. Under that scheme, the Department had sole authority to classify prior convictions and determine whether an individual was eligible for a clearance card.  The sole duty reserved to the Board was to determine whether a good cause exception was warranted for those applicants eligible for such an exception.  Thus, the Department and the Board have “complementary but ultimately independent functions,” and nothing in the statutes authorized the Board to review or overturn the Department’s classifications.  Because the Board had no power to revisit the Department’s decision, the superior court lacked jurisdiction to hear an appeal from the Board.  As such, the Court determined dismissal was appropriate, although for different reasons than used by the superior court.

Judge McMurdie authored the opinion for the Court, joined by Judges Bailey and Winthrop.