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Ricks v. State of Idaho Contractors Board

Court of Appeals of Idaho

December 3, 2018

GEORGE Q. RICKS, Plaintiff-Appellant,

          Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District, State of Idaho, Kootenai County. Hon. Lansing L. Haynes, District Judge.

          George Q. Ricks, Rathdrum, pro se appellant.

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General; Leslie M. Hayes, Deputy Attorney General, Boise, for respondent.

          HUSKEY, JUDGE

         George Q. Ricks appeals from the district court's judgment dismissing his complaint. He argues the district court erred in dismissing his claims as a matter of law. The district court's judgment is affirmed.



         As alleged in Ricks' complaint, in 2014, Ricks filed an application for individual contractor registration with the Idaho Bureau of Occupational Licenses (IBOL). The application required Ricks to provide various pieces of information, including his social security number. Ricks did not provide his social security number on his application because of his religious belief that social security numbers are "a form of the mark, and in substance (essence) the number of the 2-horned beast written of in the Holy Bible." A few days after Ricks filed his application, IBOL requested his social security number in order to process his application. Instead of providing his social security number, Ricks sent IBOL an affidavit describing his religious objection. A month later, Ricks received notice from IBOL that his application for contractor registration was denied because he failed to provide his social security number.

         It is not clear what actions Ricks took after his application was denied because the record on appeal does not contain any documents that detail the extent, if any, of administrative review Ricks initiated after his application was denied. However, Ricks' complaint and appellate brief allege he filed a petition for review, received a "Certificate of Agency Record on Appeal," and an attorney for the State of Idaho Contractor's Board (ICB) filed a motion to dismiss Ricks' petition. None of these documents are included in the appellate record. Almost two years after this alleged administrative action, Ricks filed a complaint with the district court listing ICB, IBOL, and Lawrence Wasden, the Idaho Attorney General, as defendants. Because Ricks failed to sign the complaint, he filed an amended complaint with his signature. The amended complaint claimed that 42 United States Code § 666(a)(13), Idaho Code § 73-122, and I.C. § 54-5210 violated: his right to contract; his right to the free exercise of his religion under the Idaho Constitution, Article 1, Section 4; his statutory religious freedom rights granted by the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and Idaho's Free Exercise of Religion Protected Act (FERPA); his right to equal protection; a violation of the Privacy Act of 1974; and a violation of separation of powers. The complaint also contained a claim that I.C. § 54-5210, the statute requiring contractors to provide their social security numbers on license applications is unconstitutionally vague and, therefore, is void.

         The State filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint under Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that 42 U.S.C. § 666(a)(13), the federal statute that offers a grant to states that collect professional licensees' social security numbers in order to more effectively enforce child support orders, preempted Ricks' religious objection under Idaho law. The district court granted the State's motion[1] and dismissed Ricks' free exercise claim under the Idaho Constitution and his claim under FERPA.[2] The State then filed a second motion to dismiss[3]arguing Ricks had no fundamental right to contract, his equal protection was not violated, the Privacy Act of 1974 was not violated, separation of powers was not violated, and that I.C. § 54-5210 was not void for vagueness. Before the district court ruled on the State's second motion to dismiss, the district court permitted Ricks to file a second amended complaint, which added a free exercise claim under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The State then filed a third motion to dismiss arguing Ricks' First Amendment rights were not violated. At a hearing on the second and third motions to dismiss, the district court asked the State to provide briefing on whether Ricks' RFRA claim should also be dismissed. At the next hearing on the motions to dismiss, the district court declined to dismiss Ricks' RFRA claim. Almost a month later, the district court issued a written order dismissing Ricks' First Amendment claim. The State then filed a fourth motion to dismiss Ricks' RFRA claim, together with a motion for reconsideration.[4] Ricks appealed the district court's written order. After the district court granted the State's motion for reconsideration, [5] the district court entered judgment and dismissed the remaining RFRA claim.



         As an appellate court, we will affirm a trial court's grant of an I.R.C.P. 12(b)(6) motion where the record demonstrates that there are no genuine issues of material fact and the case can be decided as a matter of law. Coghlan v. Beta Theta Pi Fraternity, 133 Idaho 388, 398, 987 P.2d 300, 310 (1999). When reviewing an order of the district court dismissing a case pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the nonmoving party is entitled to have all inferences from the record and pleadings viewed in its favor, and only then may the question be asked whether a claim for relief has been stated. Coghlan, 133 Idaho at 398, 987 P.2d at 310. The issue is not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail, but whether the party is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims. Orthman v. Idaho Power Co., 126 Idaho 960, 962, 895 P.2d 561, 563 (1995).

         The interpretation of a statute is an issue of law over which we exercise free review. Aguilar v. Coonrod, 151 Idaho 642, 649-50, 262 P.3d 671, 678-79 (2011). Such interpretation must begin with the literal words of the statute; those words must be given their plain, usual, and ordinary meaning; and the statute must be construed as a whole. Verska v. Saint Alphonsus Reg'l Med. Ctr., 151 Idaho 889, 893, 265 P.3d 502, 506 (2011). It is well established that where statutory language is unambiguous, legislative history and other extrinsic evidence should not be consulted for the purpose of altering the clearly expressed intent of the legislature. Id. Only where a statute is capable of more than one conflicting construction is it said to be ambiguous and invoke the rules of statutory construction. L & W Supply Corp. v. Chartrand Family Trust, 136 Idaho 738, 743, 40 P.3d 96, 101 (2002). If it is necessary for this Court to interpret a statute because an ambiguity exists, then this Court will attempt to ascertain legislative intent and, in construing the statute, may examine the language used, the reasonableness of the proposed interpretations, and the policy behind the statute. Kelso & Irwin, P.A. v. State Ins. Fund, 134 Idaho 130, 134, 997 P.2d 591, 595 (2000). Where the language of a statute is ambiguous, constructions that lead to absurd or unreasonably harsh results are disfavored. See Jasso v. Camas Cnty., 151 Idaho 790, 798, 264 P.3d 897, 905 (2011).



         Ricks argues the district court erred by granting the State's motions to dismiss. Ricks argues the merits of several of the claims made in his complaint, namely: (1) 42 U.S.C. § 666(a)(13), I.C. § 73-122, and I.C. § 54-5210 violate Ricks' free exercise of religion as protected by FERPA, RFRA, and the United States and Idaho Constitutions; and (2) the statutes also violate Ricks' inalienable right to contract granted by the United States and Idaho Constitutions and amount to a violation of due process and an illegitimate exercise of state and federal police power.[6]

         Before reaching these arguments, we address the matter of administrative exhaustion. Although neither party raised the issue of administrative exhaustion on appeal, this Court may raise it sua sponte. "[T]he exhaustion doctrine implicates subject matter jurisdiction because a district court does not acquire subject matter jurisdiction until all the administrative remedies have been exhausted." Fuchs v. State, Dep't of Idaho State Police, Bureau of Alcohol Beverage Control, 152 Idaho 626, 629, 272 P.3d 1257, 1260 (2012) (quotations omitted).

         "As a general rule, a party must exhaust administrative remedies before resorting to the courts to challenge the validity of administrative acts." Lochsa Falls, L.L.C. v. State, 147 Idaho 232, 237, 207 P.3d 963, 968 (2009) (quotations omitted). Parties are subject to the administrative remedies set out in the Idaho Administrative Procedures Act (IDAPA) if "the issue at hand arose from a 'contested case.'" Lochsa Falls, 147 Idaho at 237, 207 P.3d at 968 (quoting I.C. § 67-5240). The Idaho Supreme Court has recognized two exceptions to this exhaustion requirement: "(a) when the interests of justice so require, and (b) when the agency acted outside its authority." Lochsa Falls, 147 Idaho at 237, 207 P.3d at 968. Additionally, "failure to exhaust administrative remedies is not a bar to litigation when there are no remedies to exhaust." Id. at 239-40, 207 P.3d at 970-71. See also I.C. § 67-5271(2).

         The issues Ricks brings before this Court are subject to IDAPA's administrative exhaustion requirement. Idaho Code § 54-5210(3) specifically notes that "an application for registration that has been denied by the board shall be considered a contested case as provided for in [IDAPA] and shall be subject to the provisions of [IDAPA] as well as the administrative rules adopted by the board governing contested cases." Thus, under IDAPA, Ricks was required to seek relief through an administrative hearing. I.C. §§ 67-5240-5255. Only after receiving a final order from IBOL, does IDAPA permit Ricks to file a petition for judicial review with the district court, which must be done within twenty-eight days of the issuance of the final order. I.C. §§ 67-5270-5279.

          Ricks does not argue that any of the exceptions to this exhaustion requirement apply to his case, thus we decline to consider any exceptions. It appears that Ricks sought some measure of administrative review of IBOL's decision denying his contractor's license application, although the record does not demonstrate what, if any, administrative review occurred. Thus, it is unclear whether Ricks has shown that he exhausted all administrative remedies available to him prior to seeking judicial review.

         This subject matter bar applies not only to the review of IBOL's denial of Ricks' contractor's license application, but also to the review of his claims that the denial violates his constitutional rights under the United States and Idaho Constitutions. Even constitutional issues arising from an administrative action must "be exhausted before a district court has jurisdiction to decide constitutional issues," unless an exception to exhaustion applies.[7] Lochsa Falls, 147 Idaho at 240, 207 P.3d at 971. It is unclear if Ricks exhausted the appropriate administrative procedures; failure to do so would deprive this Court of subject matter jurisdiction. To the extent this Court has jurisdiction, Ricks' claim fails on the merits.

         A. Statutes at Issue

         We begin our analysis with a description of the statutes at issue in this case. Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. The Act, a cooperative endeavor with the states, [8] aimed, among other things, to improve child support enforcement effectiveness by collecting information from the states for the Federal Parent Locator Service, a database established to track down parents with child support obligations. See Lewis v. State, Dep't of Transp., 143 Idaho 418, 422-23, 146 P.3d 684, 688-89 (Ct. App. 2006). As an exercise of Congress's spending authority, the Act offered grants to states in exchange for compliance with the Act. One requirement of the Act is that states collect the social security number of any applicant for a professional license. 42 U.S.C. § 666(a)(13).

         The Idaho Legislature chose to participate in the cooperative endeavor in 1998 by passing I.C. § 73-122 to bring Idaho into compliance with 42 U.S.C. § 666(a)(13), although Idaho already requested social security numbers on professional license applications. H.B. 431, 54th Leg., 2nd Reg. Sess. (Idaho 1998) (Statement of Purpose/Fiscal Note). Idaho Code § 73-122 states:

(1)The social security number of an applicant shall be recorded on any application for a professional, occupational or recreational license.
(2)The requirement that an applicant provide a social security number shall apply only to applicants who have been assigned a social security number.
(3)An applicant who has not been assigned a social security number shall:
(a) Present written verification from the social security administration that the applicant has not been assigned a social security number; and
(b)Submit a birth certificate, passport or other documentary evidence issued by an entity other than a state or the United States; and
(c) Submit such proof as the department may require that the applicant is lawfully present ...

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