R. L. WHITMER, Plaintiff/Appellant,
HILTON CASITAS HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION, et al., Defendants/Appellees.
from the Superior Court in Maricopa County No. CV2016-055080
The Honorable Aimee L. Anderson, Judge
Whitmer, Scottsdale Plaintiff/Appellant
& Lines LLC, Phoenix By Augustus H. Shaw IV, Patrick J.
Whelan Counsel for Defendants/Appellees
Kent E. Cattani delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
Presiding Judge James B. Morse Jr. and Judge Lawrence F.
R.L. Whitmer appeals from the superior court's judgment
dismissing his complaint against Hilton Casitas Homeowners
Association ("Hilton Casitas") for lack of subject
matter jurisdiction. Whitmer's complaint sought to
enforce a final decision resulting from a prior
administrative dispute resolution proceeding, part of a
process to adjudicate disputes between an owner and a
homeowners' association concerning compliance with
condominium documents and governing statutes. See
Ariz. Rev. Stat. ("A.R.S.") §§ 32-2199 to
-2199.05. Given the statutory directive that such decisions
are "enforceable through contempt of court
proceedings," A.R.S. § 32-2199.02(B), and absent
any authority establishing that the administrative tribunal
itself has jurisdiction to enforce such orders by contempt or
otherwise, we hold that the superior court has subject matter
jurisdiction to do so. Accordingly, and for reasons that
follow, we reverse the dismissal and remand for further
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Hilton Casitas is the homeowners' association for a
property in Scottsdale subject to Arizona's laws
governing condominiums. See A.R.S. tit. 33, ch. 9.
Whitmer is a residence owner and a member of Hilton Casitas.
In 2014, Whitmer filed an administrative petition alleging
that Hilton Casitas had violated statutory provisions
governing procedures for adopting or amending a budget
(specifically, that Hilton Casitas had overspent on legal
fees without receiving owners' approval of the
increase). See A.R.S. § 33-1243(D). The
dispute went to a hearing before an administrative law judge
("ALJ") in the Office of Administrative Hearings
("OAH"), and the ALJ issued a decision in
Whitmer's favor concluding that Hilton Casitas had failed
to comply with the statutory provision for amending its
budget, and ordered Hilton Casitas to "fully comply with
the [statutory requirement] in the future." Hilton
Casitas did not seek judicial review, see A.R.S.
§ 32-2199.02(B), and the ALJ's order became final.
Two years later, Whitmer filed this complaint in superior
court alleging that Hilton Casitas had failed to comply with
the ALJ's order and seeking enforcement of the decision
by contempt. Hilton Casitas answered, then moved to dismiss
for (as relevant here) lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
See Ariz. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). Whitmer opposed the
motion and included as an exhibit an informational article
from OAH, which included the following statement explaining
OAH's view that the superior court was the proper forum
for enforcement proceedings:
If the petition item has been decided by a court or
previously has been addressed in a hearing before the OAH, it
cannot be revisited. OAH has no authority for contempt
proceedings or enforcement of prior decisions. However,
failure by a party to comply with a decision issued by the
OAH may result in the other party seeking enforcement of the
Administrative Law Judge's decision through a contempt of
court proceeding in Superior Court.
full briefing, the superior court granted the motion to
dismiss, reasoning that the court's jurisdiction was
limited to judicial review of the ALJ's ruling (not at
issue here) and did not include authority to consider an
action to enforce an administrative order by contempt. The
court acknowledged the statutory provision stating that the
ALJ's order "is enforceable through contempt of
court proceedings," see A.R.S. §
32-2199.02(B), but concluded that the proper forum for such
contempt proceedings "is the Administrative Courts, not
the Superior Court."
Whitmer then emailed OAH, noting the court's ruling and
requesting information regarding where to file his contempt
complaint. In response, OAH's acting director stated that
"there is nothing in OAH's enabling statutes (ARS
§ 41-1092 et. seq.), that would enable OAH to enforce
its own decisions through contempt proceedings that it would
hold." Whitmer then filed a timely motion for
reconsideration in superior court, attaching as exhibits his
correspondence with OAH. After the superior court denied
reconsideration, Whitmer filed a motion for new trial, which
the court also denied.
The superior court awarded attorney's fees to Hilton
Casitas and entered a final judgment dismissing the case.
Whitmer timely appealed, and we have ...