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In re Cortez

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

December 3, 2019

In the Matter of: VALERIA CORTEZ, Applicant/Appellant.

          Appeal from the Superior Court in Yuma County No. S1400CV201900124 The Honorable Lawrence C. Kenworthy, Judge

          ACLU Foundation of Arizona, Phoenix By Molly Patricia Brizgys Co-Counsel for Appellant

          Southern Arizona Gender Alliance, Inc., Tucson By Abigail Jensen Co-Counsel for Appellant

          Judge David D. Weinzweig delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Presiding Judge Randall M. Howe and Judge Maurice Portley [1] joined.

          OPINION

          WEINZWEIG, Judge

         ¶1 This case requires us to decide whether an applicant must show good cause to change names under A.R.S. § 12-601. The superior court here summarily denied-with prejudice-Valeria Cortez's application to change names for lack of good cause. We reverse and remand because good cause is not required under the statute.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Cortez completed, signed and filed an Application for Change of Name for an Adult in the Yuma County Superior Court, wanting to change his name from "Valeria Stephany Cortez" to "Sebastian Tomas Valentine." Yuma County supplied the four-page form.

         ¶3 The form directed Cortez to provide his current name, requested name and other names he has used. By marking five boxes on the form, Cortez swore "[u]nder penalty of perjury" that he (1) wanted a name change "solely for [his] benefit and in [his] best interests," (2) understood the name change would "not release [him] from any obligations incurred or harm any rights of property or action in any previous name," (3) did not request the name change "for the purpose of committing or furthering any offense of theft, forgery, fraud, perjury, organized crime or terrorism or any other offense involving false statements," (4) had never been convicted of a felony, and (5) faced no pending criminal charges. Beyond that, the form asked Cortez to explain why he "requested] this name change." His hand-written answer explained: "I am transitioning and want my documents to match my identity."

         ¶4 Six days later, the superior court denied Cortez's application "with prejudice" for "fail[ure] to show good cause." The court held no hearing and supplied no explanation. Cortez timely appealed. We have jurisdiction pursuant to A.R.S. §§ 12-120.21(A)(1) and 12-2101(A)(1).

         DISCUSSION

         ¶5 We review the superior court's denial of a name change application for abuse of discretion, Pizziconi v. Yarbrough, 177 Ariz. 422, 426 (App. 1993), but we review de novo the court's interpretation and application of the statute, In re Estate of Wyatt, 235 Ariz. 138, 139, ¶ 5 (2014). A court "may be regarded as having abused [its] discretion" when it "commits an 'error of law[] in the process of reaching [a] discretionary conclusion.'" Twin City Fire Ins. Co. v. Burke, 204 Ariz. 251, 254 ¶ 10 (2003).

         ¶6 A.R.S. § 12-601 sets forth the discrete requirements and procedure for "person[s] who desire[] to change [their] name and to adopt another name[.]" A movant must file an application in the county of residence and state the "reasons for the change of name and the name the person wishes to adopt." A.R.S. § 12-601(A).

         ¶7 The statute lists various "criteria" the "court shall consider" in determining whether to grant the application, including whether the movant (1) has a felony conviction or faces felony charges, (2) is knowingly changing his name to commit or "further [] the commission of" various criminal offenses, including those "involving false statements," and (3) seeks a name change "solely for [the movant's] best interest." A.R.S. § 12-601(C)(1)-(4). The movant must provide the court with this information "under penalty of perjury." Id. (C). The movant must further "acknowledge[]" that the proposed name change "will not release [the movant] from any obligations incurred or harm any rights of property or actions in the original name." Id. (C)(5). Based on ...


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