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State, Department of Game and Fish v. Rawlings

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

December 7, 2018

STATE OF NEW MEXICO DEPARTMENT OF GAME AND FISH, Appellee-Petitioner,
v.
TIMOTHY L. RAWLINGS, Appellant-Respondent.

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF SANTA FE COUNTY Raymond Z. Ortiz, District Judge

          Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General Regina Ryanczak, Assistant Attorney General Santa Fe, NM for Appellee

          The Simons Firm, LLP Quinn Scott Simons Santa Fe, NM for Appellant

          OPINION

          JULIE J. VARGAS, JUDGE.

         {¶1} The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (Game and Fish) appeals from the district court's order reversing Game and Fish's decision to deny Respondent's application for a New Mexico outfitter's license. Game and Fish raises four issues on appeal. First, Game and Fish argues that its hearing officer's decision to deny Respondent's application for an outfitter's license was supported by substantial evidence in accordance with NMSA 1978, Section 17-2A-3(C)(2) (2001) and 19.30.8.9(A)(6) NMAC. Second, Game and Fish claims that the district court acted arbitrarily and capriciously when it reversed Game and Fish's decision. Third, It contends that the district court erred when it applied Section 17-2 A-3 (C)(3), rather than Section 17-2A-3(C)(2) to the evaluation of Respondent's outfitter application. Finally, Game and Fish claims that the district court erred when it concluded that Game and Fish violated the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact (the Compact), NMSA 1978, Section 11-16-1 to -12 (2001). Because we conclude that the actions of the Arizona Commission on which Game and Fish relied to deny Respondent a license are akin to a suspension under our relevant statute and regulations and the Legislature intended for Game and Fish to treat the Respondent's Arizona license "revocation" as if it had occurred in Arizona, pursuant to the Compact, we affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         {¶2} After working as a licensed hunting guide in New Mexico for three years, Respondent submitted an application for a New Mexico outfitter's license to Game and Fish. Game and Fish denied his application pursuant to Section 17-2A-3(C)(2), which precludes an individual from working as a registered outfitter "if the person has had a guide or outfitter license, registration, permit or certificate revoked in another state." In support of its denial, Game and Fish pointed to a February 21, 2003, action by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, which unanimously concluded:

That the license and/or license privileges of [Respondent] to hunt, fish, trap and guide in the State of Arizona be revoked and he be denied another for a period of five years; that the current licenses be suspended as of the date of this hearing and that they be revoked as of the date the order in this case is signed by the director; [and] that he be required to complete the hunter education course and provide proof to the Department's law enforcement branch before applying for any other licenses to hunt in the State [of Arizona.]

         Respondent requested an administrative review of Game and Fish's decision, pursuant to Section 17-2A-3(S) and the Uniform Licensing Act (ULA), NMSA 1978, Section 61-1-1 to -34 (1957, as amended through 2016). Following an administrative hearing, the Game and Fish hearing officer entered an order upholding Game and Fish's denial. Respondent appealed to the district court, pursuant to NMSA 1978, Section 39-3-1.1 (1999) and Rule 1-074 NMRA.

         {¶3} The district court reversed the decision of Game and Fish, finding that Game and Fish acted arbitrarily and capriciously, applied an inapplicable subsection of Section 17-2A-3, and violated the Compact. Game and Fish petitioned this Court for a writ of certiorari, which we granted. DISCUSSION

         {¶4} Initially, we note that while Game and Fish raised issues of substantial evidence and abuse of discretion by the district court, the only argument developed in its brief involves the district court's interpretation of the relevant statutes and regulations. As such, this case requires us to interpret provisions of our statutes governing our statewide system for hunting activities set out in NMSA 1978, Section 17-2A-1 to -3 (1996, as amended through 2001) and the regulations promulgated pursuant to those statutes, in conjunction with the Compact adopted by our Legislature. Specifically, we must decide whether the action taken by the Arizona Commission constitutes a revocation of Respondent's guide or outfitter license such that he is precluded from "work[ing] as a registered hunting guide or outfitter in New Mexico," pursuant to Section 17-2A-3(C)(2). As all of the arguments on appeal raised by Game and Fish are related, we address them together.

         Standard of Review

         {¶5} This Court "conduct[s] the same review of an administrative order as the district court sitting in its appellate capacity[.]" Rio Grande Chapter of Sierra Club v. N.M. Mining Comm'n, 2003-NMSC-005, ¶ 16, 133 N.M. 97, 61 P.3d 806. We will not disturb a decision of Game and Fish unless it acted in a manner that is: "[(1)] arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion; [(2)] not supported by substantial evidence in the record; or [(3)] otherwise not in accordance with law." Id. ¶ 17; see Rule 1-074. "A ruling by an administrative agency is arbitrary and capricious if it is unreasonable or without a rational basis, when viewed in light of the whole record." Rio Grande Chapter of Sierra Club, 2003-NMSC-005, ¶ 17. "A ruling that is not in accordance with law should be reversed if the agency unreasonably or unlawfully misinterprets or misapplies the law." N.M. Mining Ass'n v. N.M. Water Quality Control Comm'n, 2007-NMCA-010, ¶ 11, 141 N.M. 41, 150 P.3d 991 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In considering whether Game and Fish's actions were in accordance with the law, we note that interpretation of a statute is a matter of law that this Court reviews de novo, and we are not bound by Game and Fish's interpretation of the relevant statutes. See id. (citing Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, 2003-NMSC-005, ¶ 17).

         Statutory ...


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