Articles Posted in Arizona Supreme Court

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In this case involving substantial consequences for alleged violations of campaign finance laws, the same individual issued the initial decision finding violations and ordering remedies, participated personally in the prosecution of the case before an administrative law judge, and then made the final agency decision that would receive only deferential review. The court of appeals concluded that because Appellants made no showing of actual bias their due process rights were not violated by the individual’s role as both advocate and adjudicator. The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the court of appeals, holding that, although Appellants did not allege actual bias, the circumstances of this case deprived them of due process, as Appellants were entitled to a determination by a neutral decisionmaker. Remanded. View "Horne v. Polk" on Justia Law

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The Arizona State Retirement System (ASRS) operates a defined-benefit plan for state employees and participating political subdivisions. The City of Chandler operated a deferred-compensation plan in which it contributed money for its employees and permitted employees to defer additional amounts, which were held in trust until distributed to employees, generally at age seventy and one-half. Mary Wade and Marla Paddock, City employees, filed a complaint against ASRS and others on behalf of themselves, arguing that City-contributed payments into the deferred-compensation-plan trust constituted “compensation” for the purpose of calculating ASRS contributions and benefits. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the City. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the term “salary” included the City’s regular contributions to the deferred-compensation-plan. The Supreme Court largely affirmed, holding that the City’s contractually required contributions into the deferred-compensation-plan trust for the benefit of its employees formed part of their salary and was “compensation” under Ariz. Rev. Stat. 38-711(7). View "Wade v. Arizona State Retirement System" on Justia Law

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Arizona Water Company (AWC), a utility company, sought a rate increase and proposed a step-increase mechanism that would allow the Arizona Corporation Commission to adjust rates between full rate cases. The rate increase mechanism, called the system improvements benefit (SIB), would allow AWC to petition for a rate increase between rate cases to help AWC recoup the cost of newly-completed infrastructure projects. The Commission approved the SIB mechanism with some modifications. The court of appeals vacated the Commission’s approval of the SIB mechanism, concluding that the SIB mechanism did not comply with the state Constitution’s mandate that “the Commission determine a public service corporation’s fair value when setting rates[.]” The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals’ opinion and affirmed the Commission’s orders approving the SIB mechanism, holding that the SIB mechanism complied with the Constitution’s mandate that the Commission determine the fair value of a utility’s property when setting rates. View "Residential Util. Consumer Office v. Arizona Corp. Comm’n" on Justia Law

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Freeport Minerals Corporation (Freeport) filed applications with the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) to sever certain water rights appurtenant to land in Mohave County and transfer them to a wellfield to be used at a mining complex in Yavapai county. As required by Ariz. Rev. Stat. 45-172(A)(7), ADWR published notice of Freeport’s severance and transfer applications, stating that “any interested person” could file written objections. Mohave County filed objections. ADWR rejected the County’s objections. The superior court vacated ADWR’s final decision on the grounds that it was arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the superior court and affirmed ADWR’s final decision, holding (1) section 45-172 defines the only grounds on which ADWR can deny a properly filed application to sever and transfer a water right; (2) the “interested persons” entitled to object to a proposed severance and transfer are limited to those with an interest that is protected by section 45-172; and (3) ADWR in this case properly denied the County’s objections to the proposed transfers because those objections did not identify any violation of section 45-172 and because the County did not qualify as an “interested person.” View "Ariz. Dep’t of Water Res. v. Hon. Crane McClennen" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether a juvenile court can delegate discretion to the Arizona Department of Economic Security (ADES) to return a dependent child to his or her parents without first determining that return is in the child’s best interests. The juvenile court concluded that ADES has the discretion to determine when it serves a dependent child’s best interests to be returned to the child’s parent or guardian. The Supreme Court vacated the juvenile court’s order, holding (1) a juvenile court must specifically determine that return of a dependent child to his or her parents is in the child’s best interests before ordering the return; and (2) the juvenile court in this case erred by granting discretion to ADES to place dependent children with their parents without a prior judicial determination that reunification was in the children’s best interests. View "Alexander M. v. Hon. Lisa Abrams" on Justia Law

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In 1985, the Arizona Legislature established the Elected Officials’ Retirement Plan (“Plan”), which provides pension benefits for elected officials, including judges. Ariz. Rev. Stat. 38-818 establishes a formula for calculating pension benefit increased for retired members of the Plan. In 2011, the Legislature enacted S.B. 1609, which modified the formula set forth in section 38-818. Two retired judges, on behalf of themselves and as representatives of a class of retired Plan members and beneficiaries, sued the Plan and its board members, alleging that S.B. 1609 violated Ariz. Const. art. 29, 1(C). The trial court ruled in favor of Plaintiffs, concluding that S.B. 1609 violated Article 29, 1(C)’s prohibition against the diminishment or impairment of public retirement system benefits. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because the statute diminished and impaired the Plan’s retired members’ benefits, it violated the Pension Clause of Article 29, 1(C). View "Fields v. Elected Officials' Ret. Plan" on Justia Law

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The State of Arizona filed an interlocutory appeal from an order issued in the general stream adjudications of the Gila River System and Source and the Little Colorado System and Source. At issue was whether federal water rights were impliedly reserved on lands granted by the United States government to the State of Arizona to support education and other public institutions (State Trust Lands). The Supreme Court accepted review and affirmed the superior court's ruling that there was no withdrawal, no reservation for a federal purpose, and no congressional intent to reserve water rights for the State Trust Lands. View "In re Water Rights to Gila / Little Colorado" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs leased state trust land and owned all structures and improvements on the land. Under the terms of the lease, the improvements that existed on the land would become the state's property upon lease termination. After the leases were entered into, the legislature created a property tax classification ("Class Nine") in which property was taxed at a lower rate than that applicable to commercial property. For certain years, Maricopa County classified the improvements under the classification applicable to general commercial property and taxed Plaintiffs accordingly. The State Board of Equalization denied Plaintiffs' request for Class Nine classification. Plaintiffs then filed a declaratory judgment action in the tax court. The tax court granted summary judgment for the County based on Plaintiffs' failure to meet the requirements of Ariz. Rev. Stat. 42-12009(A)(1)(a), which provides that improvements on land leased from the state qualify for a reduced ad valorem tax rate if they become the property of the state on termination of the leasehold interest in the property. The Supreme Court remanded, holding that section 42-12009(A)(1)(a) applies when, at the time of taxation, improvements exist on the land that, under the terms of the lease, would become the state's property upon lease termination.