Lewis v. Ariz. State Personnel Board – 7/7/2016

August 18, 2016

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One holds that an agency may reverse or modify a decision of the State Personnel Board without giving deference to the Board’s findings.

A former parole officer for the Department of Corrections appealed from an order of the Department dismissing him from his position.  After the officer’s termination, a hearing officer recommended the officer’s dismissal be overturned because he found that the officer had not been afforded all due process rights and that only one of two charges against the officer were proved.  This recommendation was adopted by the State Personnel Board which then recommended that the officer be reinstated.  The Department’s Director rejected the Board’s recommendation.  The Department did not explain its reasoning other than finding it to be arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to the evidence.  The officer appealed the decision to the superior court, which affirmed.  The officer then timely appealed that order.  The Board filed an answering brief arguing that it was not a necessary party to the appeal and asking the Court of Appeals to determine whether it has the authority to hear appeals from law enforcement officers subject to the requirements of Title 38 of the Arizona Revised Statutes.

The Court of Appeals affirmed.  The Court found that the Department’s order satisfied statutory requirements and that the Department was only required to state its reason for rejecting the Board’s decision.  Unlike a court considering an appeal of an agency’s decision, the Department was not required to give deference to the Board’s decision because it has the statutory authority to accept, reject, or modify the Board’s decision.  The Court further determined that the Department’s decision was supported by sufficient evidence and that the officer’s due process rights had not been violated.  Turning to the issues raised by the Board, the Court determined that although the Board may be a party to an appeal of an agency’s personnel decision, the Board is not a necessary party to the appeal.

Judge Howe authored the opinion of the Court, which was joined by Judges Johnsen and Gould.