Whitmer v. Hilton Casitas Homeowners Ass’n (7/10/2018)

July 23, 2018

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One holds that the superior court, and not the Office of Administrative Hearings, has jurisdiction to enforce an Administrative Law Judge’s order by contempt.

A homeowner filed an administrative petition against his homeowners’ association for overspending on legal fees without the owners’ approval.  An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) in the Office of Administrative Hearings (“OAH”) entered judgment for the homeowner.  Two years later, the homeowner filed a complaint in superior court, alleging that the association had failed to comply with the ALJ’s order and seeking enforcement of the decision by contempt.  The superior court dismissed the complaint, reasoning that only OAH had authority to enforce an ALJ’s order by contempt.  The homeowner appealed.

The Court of Appeals held that jurisdiction in the contempt action lay with the superior court, not OAH.  The Court reasoned that the superior court is a court of general jurisdiction and has inherent contempt authority.  By contrast, an agency such as OAH only has the authority delegated to it by the Legislature.  OAH’s statutory authority is limited to adjudicating “contested cases” and “appealable agency actions,” neither of which includes contempt proceedings to enforce legal rights adjudicated in prior actions.  Moreover, OAH itself takes the position that it lacks authority to hold contempt proceedings. 

The Court therefore reversed and remanded. 

Judge Cattani wrote the opinion; Judges Morse and Winthrop joined.