STATE OF ARIZONA, ex rel., DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMIC SECURITY, Petitioner/Appellee,
JOSE TORRES, Respondent/Appellant.
from the Superior Court in Maricopa County No. FC2001-001384
FC The Honorable Ronee F. Korbin Steiner, Judge The Honorable
Brian S. Rees, Judge Pro Tempore
Arizona Attorney General's Office, Phoenix By Carol A.
Salvati Counsel for Petitioner/Appellee
Office of Stacy Scheff, Tucson By Stacy Scheff Counsel for
Presiding Judge Diane M. Johnsen delivered the opinion of the
Court, in which Judge Maria Elena Cruz and Judge Randall M.
Jose Torres, an inmate in the state prison system, owed more
than $20, 000 in child support arrears. After his mother
wired a gift of $120 into his inmate trust account, the
Arizona Department of Economic Security ("ADES")
issued a withholding order seizing most of it and sent the
money to the child-support clearinghouse. Torres argues
non-wage monies in an inmate's account may not be seized
for child support and contends the withholding order violated
his due-process rights. For the following reasons, we affirm
the superior court's judgment denying Torres's appeal
of the administrative action.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
In 2001, the superior court ordered Torres to pay $173 a
month in child support for his son and $2, 941 in arrearages
that had accumulated since the child was born the year
before. In 2011, the court learned Torres was incarcerated
and terminated his monthly child support obligation pursuant
to Arizona Revised Statutes ("A.R.S.") section
25-503(E) (2018).The court's order, however, noted,
"Arrears are still owed."
In November 2016, Torres's mother wired $120 into his
inmate trust account. By that time, and even though
Torres's monthly payments had been terminated, he owed
child-support arrearages of $20, 645. Days later, acting
under Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 651-669, ADES issued a Limited Income
Withholding Order that directed the Arizona Department of
Corrections ("ADC") to withhold an unspecified
amount from Torres's account for application against his
arrearages. ADC withheld $90.07 from Torres's account,
and he requested administrative review. Torres argued the
order was improper because he was incarcerated and did not
have custody of his son. ADES issued a final determination
denying his challenge.
Torres appealed the ADES determination to the superior court.
ADES moved to dismiss Torres's appeal, arguing its order
was proper under A.R.S. § 25-505(A) (2018). Torres
responded that A.R.S. § 31-254 (2018) controls the
withholding of an inmate's funds for child support and
does not allow seizure of funds a prisoner receives as a
gift. The superior court granted the motion to dismiss and
Torres timely appealed. We have jurisdiction under Article 6,
Section 9, of the Arizona Constitution, and A.R.S.
§§ 12-120.21(A)(1) (2018), -913 (2018) and
-2101(A)(1) (2018). See Svendsen v. Ariz. Dep't of
Transp., Motor Vehicle Div., 234 Ariz. 528, 533, ¶
13 (App. 2014).
Section 31-254 Does Not Bar Use of a Withholding Order to
Take an Inmate's Non-Wage Monies for Child
The interpretation of a statute is a matter of law that we
review de novo. See State ex rel. Dep't of Econ. Sec.
v. Hayden, 210 Ariz. 522, 523, ¶ 7 (2005). In
construing a statute, we give effect to each word and
construe related statutes together. Id. We give a
statute's words their "usual and commonly understood
meaning unless the legislature clearly intended a different
meaning." See Bilke v. State, 206 Ariz. 462,
464-65, ¶ 11 (2003). If a statute's language is
clear, we apply it without using other methods of statutory
interpretation. See id. at 464, ¶ 11.
The statute on which Torres relies, A.R.S. § 31-254,
establishes a pay schedule for work performed by inmates and
mandates specified deductions from an inmate's pay,
including "[t]hirty percent of the prisoner's wages
for court ordered dependent care." A.R.S. §
31-254(D)(4). As Torres points out, there is no provision in
§ 31-254 for the withholding of non-wage monies from an
inmate's account for child support. Torres argues that
because § 31-254 mandates that child support be taken
from an inmate's wages but does not specify any other
deductions for child support, no other funds in an
inmate's account can be taken for child support.
Under A.R.S. § 25-504 (2018), a party owed child support
is entitled to an assignment of the obligor's
"income" and may obtain an order withholding a
specified amount from the obligor's monthly wages. A.R.S.
§ 25-504(A), (B). The legislature broadly has defined
"income" for this purpose as "any form of
payment owed." A.R.S. § 25-500(6) (2018). As
stated, when the obligor is an inmate who earns income -
wages - while ...