John C. Yoder, Esquire
Deborah Lewis Rodecker, Esquire
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia Charleston, West Virginia
Attorney for Appellant Attorney for Appellee
JUSTICE SCOTT delivered the Opinion of the Court.
CHIEF JUSTICE MAYNARD, and JUSTICE DAVIS, deeming themselves disqualified, did not participate in the decision in this case.
JUDGE JOHN R. FRAZIER and JUDGE ALAN D. MOATS sitting by temporary assignment.
When read in pari materia, the provisions of West Virginia Code 48A- 5A-1
to -7 (1999) envision a procedural mechanism for licensure actions arising from child support
arrearages that begins with the issuance of a notice by the child support enforcement division
and which is followed by an order issued by a circuit court finding the obligor/license
applicant to be in arrearage for the equivalency of six months of child support payments.
3. Statutes which relate to the same subject matter should be read and applied together so that the Legislature's intention can be gathered from the whole of the enactments. Syl. Pt. 3, Smith v. State Workmen's Compensation Comm'r, 159 W.Va. 108, 219 S.E.2d 361 (1975).
4. Statutes which relate to the same persons or things, or to the same class of
persons or things, or statutes which have a common purpose will be regarded in pari materia
to assure recognition and implementation of the legislative intent. Accordingly, a court
should not limit its consideration to any single part, provision, section, sentence, phrase or
word, but rather review the act or statute in its entirety to ascertain legislative intent
properly. Syl. Pt. 5, Fruehauf Corp. v. Huntington Moving & Storage Co., 159 W.Va. 14,
217 S.E.2d 907 (1975).
5. A licensing authority is not authorized by the language of West Virginia Code § 48A-5A-5(c) (1999) to unilaterally deny an application seeking renewal based upon the existence of arrearages equivalent to six months of child support payments. Before any licensure action can be effectuated properly by a licensing authority, a circuit court must hold a hearing and consider all of the factors identified in West Virginia Code § 48A-5A-4 (1999). Only after the circuit court has issued its order authorizing action relative to an individual's licensure, may the licensing authority enforce such order by implementing the denial, nonrenewal, suspension, or restrictions directed by the circuit court's order.
Through this appeal, Appellant Mousa I. Dababnah seeks a reversal of the Appellee West Virginia Board of Medicine's (Board's) decision to deny his application seeking renewal of his medical license. The Circuit Court of Kanawha County affirmed the Board's actions based on its interpretation of the statutory provisions of West Virginia Code § 48A-5A-5(c) (1999), as authorizing licensing authorities, independent of any circuit court involvement, to deny any license request where the applicant has child support arrearages in an amount equivalent to six months of child support. Upon our review of the record in this matter in conjunction with the applicable statutes, we reverse, after determining that the statutory scheme of article 48A, chapter 5A, requires the involvement of a circuit court in a license denial which arises from the nonpayment of child support.
Dr. Dababnah received a letter from the Board on July 2, 1998, informing him
that his application for renewal of his medical license had been denied. See footnote 3
The Board's letter
stated, in explanation of the denial, that Dr. Dababnah had failed to answer certain questions
required to complete the application and that his child support arrearage was equal to or
exceeded the six-month amount specified in West Virginia Code § 48A-5A-5(c).See footnote 4
to Dr. Dababnah's request, an administrative hearing was held on August 21, 1998, in
connection with the Board's actions.See footnote 5
The administrative hearing examiner issued a
recommended decision on October 29, 1998, and the Board, by order dated, November 13,
1998, adopted the hearing examiner's decision See footnote 6
confirming the denial, expiration and lapse
of Dr. . . . Dababnah's medical license effective July 1, 1998. Upon its review of the
administrative ruling and evidence submitted, the circuit court similarly upheld the Board's
actions. Dr. Dababnah seeks a reversal of the lower court's ruling that the Board's decision
to deny his medical license based on child support arrearages was mandated by the provisions
of subsection 5(c).
Id. (emphasis supplied)
The Board takes the position that it is reposed with the necessary authority to
unilaterally refuse to renew an applicant's license application based upon the underscored
language in subsection 5(c), which mandates that licenses cannot be granted to individuals
having child support arrearages in an amount equivalent to six months of aggregated child
support.See footnote 8
As further support for its position, the Board relies upon the fact that the West
Virginia Bureau of Child Support Enforcement (Child Support Enforcement), interprets
subsection 5(c) as empowering licensing authorities, such as the Board, with the authority
to deny applications without consideration of the numerous protections set forth in the
remaining sections of chapter 48A, article 5A, and without a need to first initiate proceedings
before a circuit court relative to application denials predicated on child support arrearages.
As an initial matter, we note that the 1997 enactment of article 48A, chapter 5A, was prompted by federal legislation entitled the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996" (PRWORA), otherwise known as the Welfare Reform Act, which requires that any state desirous of receiving federal funds in the form of block grants must have in place:
Procedures under which the State has (and uses in appropriate
cases) authority to withhold or suspend, or to restrict the use of
driver's licenses, professional and occupational licenses, and
recreational and sporting licenses of individuals owing overdue
support or failing, after appropriate notice, to comply with
subpoenas or warrants relating to paternity or child support
42 U.S.C.A. § 666(a)(16) (Supp. 1999).See footnote 9 9 The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals recently rejected the arguments advanced by the State of Kansas concerning the unconstitutionality of the PRWORA.See footnote 10 10 Kansas maintained that the PRWORA-imposed requirements, which include the establishment of a state case registry containing all child support orders and imposition of various regulatory frameworks designed to ensure increased efficiency in child support enforcement, were too onerous and expensive, necessitate[d] too much manpower, and encroach[ed] upon its ability to determine its own laws. State of Kansas v. United States, __ F.3d __, 2000 WL 710489 at *2 (10th Cir. 2000). In rejecting these arguments, the Tenth Circuit recognized that Congress' spending power enables it 'to further broad policy objectives by conditioning receipt of federal moneys upon compliance by the recipient with federal statutory and administrative directives.' Id. (quoting Fullilove v. Klutznick, 448 U.S. 448, 474 (1980)).See footnote 11 11
The constitutional concerns raised by Dr. Dababnah arise from the Board's
interpretation of subsection 5(c), and not from the constitutionality of article 48A, chapter
5A, as a whole. When applied in the fashion advocated by the Board, Dr. Dababnah argues
that subsection 5(c) violates his rights to due process by denying him meaningful notice and
a pre-deprivation hearing relative to his license denial.See footnote 12
In addition, he suggests that the
Board's position is in contravention of the scheme intrinsic to chapter 5A, which entails a
host of procedural protections and requires consideration of alternate, less-restrictive
sanctions before permitting professional licensure revocation.See footnote 13
When read in pari materia, the provisions of West Virginia Code 48A-5A-1 to -7 (1999) envision a procedural mechanism for licensure actions arising from child support arrearages that begins with the issuance of a notice by the child support enforcement divisionSee footnote 14 14 and which is followed by an order issued by a circuit court finding the obligor/license applicant to be in arrearage for the equivalency of six months of child support payments. Syl. Pt. 3, Smith v. State Workmen's Compensation Comm'r, 159 W.Va. 108, 219 S.E.2d 361 (1975)(Statutes which relate to the same subject matter should be read and applied together so that the Legislature's intention can be gathered from the whole of the enactments.); Syl. Pt. 5, Fruehauf Corp. v. Huntington Moving & Storage Co., 159 W.Va. 14, 217 S.E.2d 907 (1975) (Statutes which relate to the same persons or things, or to the same class of persons or things, or statutes which have a common purpose will be regarded in pari materia to assure recognition and implementation of the legislative intent. Accordingly, a court should not limit its consideration to any single part, provision, section, sentence, phrase or word, but rather review the act or statute in its entirety to ascertain legislative intent properly.) This is clear from the language of section four, which begins [t]he court shall order a licensing authority to deny, refuse to renew, suspend or restrict a license if it finds that . . . . W.Va. Code § 48A-5A-4(a) (emphasis supplied).
This section, which is entitled Hearing on denial, nonrenewal, suspension or restriction of
license irrefutably requires a hearing before a circuit court prior to any licensure action.
That a pre-deprivation hearing plays a critical role with regard to the mechanism established by the Legislature for licensure denial, revocation, or suspension is easily seen. Only after five specified factors have been considered, can a circuit court enter an order which affects an individual's licensure. Section four requires that the lower court, not some administrative agency, must determine that:
(1) All appropriate enforcement methods have been exhausted or are not available;
(2) The person is the holder of a license or has an application pending for a license;
(3) The requisite amount of child support or medical support arrearage exists or health insurance for the child has not been provided as ordered, or the person has failed to comply with a subpoena or warrant relating to a paternity or child support proceeding;
(4) No motion to modify the child support order, filed prior to the date that the notice was sent by the child support enforcement division, is pending before the court; and
(5) There is no equitable reason, such as involuntary unemployment, disability, or compliance with a court-ordered plan for the periodic payment of the child support arrearage amount, for the person's noncompliance with the child support order.
W.Va. Code § 48A-5A-4(a)(1)-(5).
Even after a circuit court has been offered evidence relative to the above- delineated five factors, it must first consider taking action which does not affect an individual's professional license. Section four (b) states that [i]f the court is satisfied that the conditions described in subsection (a) of this section exist, it shall first consider suspending or restricting a driver's license prior to professional license.See footnote 15 15 W.Va. Code § 48A-5A-4(b). In addition, the circuit court is authorized by statute to consider certain mitigating circumstances in determining whether to take licensure action.See footnote 16 16 Upon analysis, we conclude that the provisions of section four clearly comprehend and require a ruling from a circuit court before any action, induced by child support arrearages, is taken relative to an individual's licensure. See id. § 48A-5A-4.
When viewed as part of a congruent legislative scheme rather than a provisional grant of unfettered authority, the statutory interpretation advocated by the Board does not withstand scrutiny. Focusing solely on the language of one particular subsection-- 5(c)--the Board maintains that it has legislatively-sanctioned authority to take licensure action separate from the procedures delineated in section four and independent of any circuit court oversight. The indefensibility of this position is easily demonstrated. The only language upon which the Board reliesSee footnote 17 17 is an internal sentence found in subsection 5(c) which states that: A license shall not be granted to any person who applies for a license if there is an arrearage equal to or exceeding the amount of child support payable for six months . . . . W.Va. Code § 48A-5A-5(c). Rather than authorizing autonomous action, section 5(c) merely states, in mandatory terms, that licensing authorities are not permitted to grant licenses when the statutorily-specified amount of arrearages exists. This singular proviso does not, as the Board maintains, abrogate all the attendant procedural protections established by the Legislature for initially establishing the arrearage itself, nor does it eliminate the required judicial determination of whether action short of professional licensure denial, suspension, non-renewal, or restrictions should be taken. See id. § 48A-5A-4. Even the title of section five demonstrates the fallibility of the Board's position. Critically, section five is entitled: Enforcement of order by licensing authority and begins, by stating that, [t]he child support enforcement division shall provide the licensing authority with a copy of the order requiring the denial, nonrenewal, suspension or restriction of a license. Id. § 48A-5A-5(a). The language of section 5, when all of its subsections are considered together, makes clear that the arrearage referred to in subsection (c) must have been found to exist in an appropriate judicial proceeding and an order must have been issued reflecting that arrearage before any licensure action can be effected by an administrative licensing body.
We find no authority for the position initially taken by Child Support
Enforcement, and then adopted by the Board, that subsection 5(c) applies to licensing
authorities regardless of whether Child Support Enforcement is pursuing the license applicant
for child support arrearages. See W.Va. Code § 48A-5A-3 (delineating notice procedures
child support enforcement must utilize when advising individuals of arrearages). Because
the notice procedures specified in section three are stated in mandatory terms,See footnote 18
responsibility for complying with such procedures is placed upon Child Support
Enforcement, it stands to reason that the involvement of Child Support Enforcement through
notice provision is intended in each and every instance of licensure action initiated under
chapter 5A. Furthermore, it similarly defies logic to suggest, as does the Board, that because
subsection 5(c) gives no discretionary authority to licensing boards, such authorities must
deny a license application if an applicant is six months or more behind in his/her child
support payments notwithstanding the existence of mitigating, extenuating factors. In
advocating that the mitigating factors enumerated in section four can be considered only
when a circuit court hearing fortuitously results,See footnote 19
the Board suggests an inherently
unworkable and prejudicial approach to enforcing the legislative intent which permeates
chapter 5A. See W.Va. Code § 48A-5A-4. Neither of these arguments is consistent with the
comprehensive scheme outlined in that chapter.
In both its brief and during oral argument, the Board forcefully argued that its interpretation of subsection 5(c) was necessarily correct, since that same position has been adopted by Child Support Enforcement. See Syl. Pt. 4, Security Nat'l Bank & Trust Co. v. First W.Va. Bancorp., Inc., 166 W.Va. 775, 277 S.E.2d 613 (1981) (holding that [i]nterpretations of statutes by bodies charged with their administration are given great weight unless clearly erroneous). The policy manual issued by Child Support Enforcement states that:
The law also requires each Licensing Authority to deny a NCP's
[noncustodial parent] application or reapplication for license
without order from the court if the NCP owes arrears in an
amount equal to or exceeding the amount of child support
payable for 6 months. . . . Consequently, a license shall not be
granted to any NCP who applies for a license or license renewal
if there is a child support arrearage equal to or exceeding the
amount of child support payable for six months. . . .
Throughout its multiple exhortations to this Court regarding the established practice of giving deference to administrative interpretations of statutes, the Board failed to acknowledge, even once, that these deferential principles are not applied without limitation. As we articulated in Boone Memorial Hospital, deferential standards have no application if an agency's decision is based upon a mistaken impression of the legal principles involved. 196 W.Va. at 335, 472 S.E.2d at 420. Expounding further on the extent of administrative deference, we stated that deference only should be given to an agency's construction of a statute or legislative rule if the legislative intent is not clear. Id. (citing Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 842-43 (1984)). [A]dministrative orders and rules that are contrary to legislative intent, as we explained in Boone Memorial Hospital, must be rejected. 196 W.Va. at 335, 472 S.E.2d at 420. Because our reading of chapter 5A convinces us that the Legislature has expressed its intent in unmistakably clear fashion, we are neither compelled, nor permitted, to blindly follow, as did the Board, the interpretation adopted by Child Support Enforcement.
An exacting examination of chapter 5A convinces us that the role envisioned
by the Legislature for licensing authorities was quite minor and limited to implementation
of orders previously entered by a circuit court. When the provisions of chapter 5A are
viewed in their entirety, as they must be, the only logical conclusion to be reached is that the
Legislature clearly did not authorize licensing authorities to effect the autonomous licensure
denial taken by the Board in this case.
Accordingly, we hold that a licensing authority is not
authorized by the language of West Virginia Code § 48A-5A-5(c) to unilaterally deny an
application seeking renewal
See footnote 20
based upon the existence of arrearages equivalent to six months
of child support payments. Before any licensure action can be effectuated properly by a
licensing authority, a circuit court must hold a hearing and consider all of the factors
identified in West Virginia Code § 48A-5A-4. Only after the circuit court has issued its
order authorizing action relative to an individual's licensure, may the licensing authority
enforce such order by implementing the denial, nonrenewal, suspension,
directed by the circuit court's order.
Our decision in this case is buttressed by the fact that under the statutory
schema of Article 48A, Chapter 5A, the licensing authority is a mere functionary whose
duties are purely ministerial. The Board is mandated by the language of 48A-5A-5(a) which
requires it [u]pon receipt of an order requiring the suspension or restriction of a license for
nonpayment of child support, to immediately notify the applicant or licensee of the
effective date of the denial, nonrenewal, . . .which shall be twenty days after the date of the
notice. W.Va. Code § 48A-5A-5(a). The limited role of the licensing authority is further
evidenced by the statutory language which provides that [l]icensing authorities shall not
have jurisdiction to modify, remand, reverse, vacate or stay a court order to deny, not renew,
suspend or restrict a license for nonpayment of child support. Id. Only upon the filing by
Child Support Enforcement of either a court order restoring the license or a child support
enforcement division certification attesting to compliance with court orders for the payment
of current child support and arrearage can the limitations imposed on licensure be rescinded.
Id. § 48A-5A-5(b). That the Legislature views a licensing authority as having an
implementarian, non-adjudicatory function only is further gleaned from the fact that chapter
5A expressly provides that a licensing body, such as the Board, cannot be held liable for its
actions in following a court order concerning a licensing directive. W.Va. Code § 48A-5A-
5(a). Contrary to the position advocated by the Board, the provisions of subsection 5(c) do
not empower licensing authorities to deny licensure in the autonomous fashion employed in
Based upon the foregoing, we reverse the decision of the Circuit Court of Kanawha County.
If the court finds that a license suspension will result in
a significant hardship to the person, to the person's legal
dependents under eighteen years of age living in the person's
household, to the person's employees, or to persons, businesses
or entities to whom the person provides goods or services, the
court may allow the person to pay a percentage of the past-due
child support amount as an initial payment, and establish a
payment schedule to satisfy the remainder of the arrearage
within one year, and require that the person comply with any
current child support obligation. If the person agrees to this
arrangement, no suspension or restriction of any licenses shall
be ordered. Compliance with the payment agreement shall be
monitored by the child support enforcement division.
Immediately following this subsection is a provision which permits an individual who has agreed to a payment plan pursuant to subsection 4(c) to file a motion for good cause seeking an extension of the court-approved payment plan. See W.Va. Code § 48A-5A-4(d).