Social Work Licensing Bd. v. Moncebaiz

Annotate this Case
SOCIAL WORK LICENSING BOARD v. Randall C.
MONCEBAIZ

97-625                                             ___ S.W.2d ___

                    Supreme Court of Arkansas
               Opinion delivered February 26, 1998


1.   Administrative law & procedure -- review of state agency
     decisions -- substantial-evidence standard inapplicable here.
     -- Under the Administrative Procedures Act, the supreme court
     reviews state agency decisions to determine whether they
     should be reversed under any of the six criteria set forth in
     Ark. Code Ann.  25-15-212(h); the test for substantial
     evidence is whether the proof before the agency was so nearly
     undisputed that fair-minded persons could not reach the same
     conclusion; this case was not reviewed under the substantial-
     evidence standard because the issue was not whether the
     evidence supported the Arkansas Social Work Licensing Board's
     finding, rather, the issue was whether the Board erred in
     applying the provisions of our Licensing Act; the Board's
     decision was reviewed to ascertain whether it was arbitrary,
     capricious, or characterized by abuse of discretion. 

2.   Administrative law & procedure -- review of agency decisions -
     -- limited in scope. -- Review of agency decisions by both the
     circuit court and the supreme court is limited in scope; the
     supreme court's review is directed toward the decision of the
     administrative agency, rather than the decision of the circuit
     court; the agency is better equipped by specialization,
     insight through experience, and more flexible procedures than
     courts, to determine and analyze legal issues affecting their
     agencies.

3.   Administrative law & procedure -- agency's decision reversed
     only if arbitrary and capricious -- plain and unambiguous
     statutes will not be interpreted. -- The supreme court will
     not substitute its judgment for that of the agency unless the
     decision of the agency is arbitrary and capricious; to reverse
     an agency's decision because it is arbitrary and capricious,
     it must lack a rational basis or rely on a finding of fact
     based on an erroneous view of the law; although an agency's
     interpretation is highly persuasive, where the statute is not
     ambiguous, no interpretation is warranted; therefore, where it
     is determined that the statute is plain and unambiguous, the
     supreme court will not interpret it to mean anything other
     than what it says.

4.   Statutes -- construction of -- words given their ordinary and
     usually accepted meaning. -- The first rule of statutory
     interpretation is to construe it just as it reads by giving
     words their ordinary and usually accepted meaning; wherever
     possible, the supreme court reads statutes relating to the
     same subject matter in harmony.  

5.   Administrative law & procedure -- reciprocity under Social
     Work Licensing Act -- applicant must meet all requirements of
     Act. -- The reciprocity provision of the Social Work Licensing
     Act, Ark. Code Ann.  17-46-302, clearly allowed an applicant
     from another state to be licensed through reciprocity as long
     as the applicant met all of the other requirements of the Act
     and who, at the time of application, was licensed as a social
     worker by a similar board of another state, whose standards,
     in the opinion of the Board, were not lower than those
     required by the Act; under the reciprocity statute, the
     applicant must meet all of the requirements of the Licensing
     Act, which includes the requirement that the applicant have a
     degree either in an accredited social-work program or in a
     social-work program at an accredited institution. 

6.   Administrative law & procedure -- neither institution nor
     program was accredited at time appellant attended college --
     application for social work license in Arkansas properly
     denied. -- Where neither the institution from which appellant
     received his degree nor the program in which he received his
     degree was accredited at the time that he attended the
     college, appellant, under the plain wording of the reciprocity
     statute, failed to meet the requirement of having a
     baccalaureate degree in a program accredited by the Council on
     Social Work Education; he was not qualified to receive a
     social-work license in Arkansas, and his application was
     properly denied.

7.   Administrative law & procedure -- associate license issued to
     appellant in Texas not recognized in Arkansas -- Board did not
     err in denying appellant license. -- Appellant had an
     Associate Social Work License from Texas, which gave an
     individual with a degree in a field related to social work the
     right to take the examination; however, the qualification
     statute does not provide a designation for a degree in a
     related program, and the reciprocity statute requires that the
     applicant be licensed as a social worker by a board of another
     state whose standards are "not lower than" the Arkansas
     Board's standards; the supreme court determined that the
     standards for an "associate" license in Texas were lower than
     the required standards under section 17-46-306(a) of the
     Arkansas Social Work Licensing Act; since appellant's license
     was issued under a lower "associate" standard, he was not
     entitled to reciprocity under the Act; the Board did not err
     in denying appellant's license on this basis.

8.   Administrative law & procedure -- Board's decision had
     rational basis -- circuit court's decision reversed and case
     remanded for reinstatement of Board's decision denying
     license. -- Because the Board's decision did not lack a
     rational basis or rely on a factual finding based on an
     erroneous view of the law, the supreme court concluded that
     its decision was not arbitrary and capricious or characterized
     by abuse of discretion; the supreme court reversed the circuit
     court's decision and remanded for the purpose of reinstating
     the Board's decision denying appellant's license.


     Appeal from Polk Circuit Court; Gayle Ford, Judge; reversed
and remanded.
     Winston Bryant, Att'y Gen., by:  Leigh Anne Yeargan, Asst.
Att'y Gen., for appellant.
     Walter Skelton, for appellee.

     Ray Thornton, Justice.
     The issue on this appeal is whether appellant Arkansas Social
Work Licensing Board (the "Board") erred in denying appellee
Randall Moncebaiz licensure in Arkansas.  On review, the Polk
County Circuit Court reversed the Board's decision denying Mr.
Moncebaiz's application to have his Texas "Social Work Associate
License" transferred as arbitrary and capricious.  We disagree.  We
hold that the Board's decision was supported by the clear and
unambiguous language of our Social Work Licensing Act and was not
arbitrary and capricious.  Accordingly, we affirm the Board's
decision and reverse the order of the circuit court.
     On March 11, 1996, Mr. Moncebaiz contacted the Board and
applied for transfer of his Texas Social Work Associate License to
Arkansas, based on our reciprocity statute, Ark. Code Ann. section
17-46-302 (Repl. 1995).  At the time of this contact, he was
planning to move from Texas to Mena, Arkansas, to accept a position
as a social worker at Alpha Psychological.  In a letter dated April
8, 1996, the Board denied reciprocity based on its determination
that Mr. Moncebaiz did not possess "a degree in social work
approved by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) in order to
be approved for licensure."  Mr. Moncebaiz requested a hearing to
reconsider the Board's decision, and the Board allowed him to
appear personally.  However, after his appearance, the Board again
denied his application, stating that it had "no flexibility at all"
with respect to the education requirement.
     Mr. Moncebaiz filed a petition for judicial review in the Polk
County Circuit Court under our Administrative Procedure Act, Ark.
Code Ann. section 25-15-212 (Repl. 1996).  The parties met before
the Board on November 11, 1996, to create a record for the circuit
court's review of the Board's decision because no minutes existed
from Mr. Moncebaiz's prior appearance.  The record of this hearing
establishes that Mr. Moncebaiz was an experienced social worker in
Texas.  However, the Board based its decision denying him licensure
on the facts that Mr. Moncebaiz obtained his degree in behavioral
sciences from Concordia College, an Austin, Texas, institution that
was not accredited; that he received his degree in a degree program
other than social work; and that his license in Texas was an
"associate" license, a designation for which our Licensing Act does
not provide.  In reaching its decision, the Board applied a literal
reading of our qualification statute, Ark. Code Ann. section 17-46-
306(a)(1) (Repl. 1995).
     The Board's sole argument on appeal is that its decision
denying Mr. Moncebaiz licensure was not arbitrary and capricious
and was supported by substantial evidence.  Under the
Administrative Procedure Act, we review state agency decisions to
determine whether they should be reversed under any of the six
criteria set forth in section 25-15-212(h).  Arkansas Dept. of
Human Servs. v. Thompson, 331 Ark. 181, 185, ___ S.W.2d ___ (1998). 
The test for substantial evidence is whether the proof before the
agency was "so nearly undisputed that fair-minded persons could not
reach [the same] conclusion."  Arkansas State Highway & Transp.
Dep't v. Kidder, 326 Ark. 595, 598, 933 S.W.2d 794, 795 (1996).  We
do not review this case under the substantial-evidence standard
because  the issue is not whether the evidence supports the Board's
finding.  Rather, the issue is whether the Board erred in applying
the provisions of our Licensing Act, and we review the Board's
decision to ascertain whether it was "arbitrary, capricious, or
characterized by abuse of discretion."  See Ark. Code Ann.  25-15-
212(h)(6).
     We conclude that the Board's decision finding that Mr.
Moncebaiz did not meet the requirements for reciprocity under our
statute was not arbitrary and capricious or characterized by an
abuse of discretion.  We reach this conclusion for two reasons: 
(1) Mr. Moncebaiz failed to qualify for licensure under section 17-
46-306, and thereby failed to meet the requirements for
reciprocity; and (2) Mr. Moncebaiz was licensed in Texas as an
"associate," a licensing level that is lower than any of our three
levels of qualification provided under subsections 17-46-306 (a),
(b), & (c).
     Review of agency decisions by both the circuit court and this
court is limited in scope.  Thompson, 331 Ark. at 185, ___ S.W.2d
at ___.  Our review is directed toward the decision of the
administrative agency, rather than the decision of the circuit
court.  Id.  The agency is better equipped "by specialization,
insight through experience, and more flexible procedures than
courts, to determine and analyze legal issues affecting their
agencies."  Id.
     We will not substitute our judgment for that of the agency
unless the decision of the agency is arbitrary and capricious. 
Arkansas Bank & Trust Co. v. Douglass, 318 Ark. 457, 461, 885 S.W.2d 863, 865 (1994).  To reverse an agency's decision because it
is arbitrary and capricious, it must lack a rational basis or rely
on a finding of fact based on an erroneous view of the law. 
Arkansas Dep't of Human Servs. v. Kistler, 320 Ark. 501, 508, 898 S.W.2d 32, 36 (1995); see also Douglass, 318 Ark. at 460, 885 S.W.2d  at 865.  Although an agency's interpretation is highly
persuasive, where the statute is not ambiguous, no interpretation
is warranted.  Junction City Sch. Dist. v. Alphin, 313 Ark. 456,
463, 855 S.W.2d 316, 320 (1993).  Therefore, where we determine
that the statute is plain and unambiguous, we will not interpret it
to mean anything other than what it says.  Id.; see also Arkansas
Dep't of Human Servs. v. Wilson, 323 Ark. 151, 156, 913 S.W.2d 783,
785 (1996).
     Because the issue in this case turns on the application of
provisions of the Social Work Licensing Act, we must bear in mind
our well-settled rules of statutory construction.  Our first rule
of statutory interpretation is to construe it just as it reads by
giving words their ordinary and usually accepted meaning.  Board of
Trustees v. Stodola, 328 Ark. 194, 199, 942 S.W.2d 255, 257 (1997). 
Wherever possible, we read statutes relating to the same subject
matter in harmony.  Id.
     We observe no ambiguity in the provisions of our Licensing Act
that are before us.  The legislature enacted the Licensing Act for
the purpose of "protect[ing] the public by setting standards of
qualification, training, and experience for those who seek to
represent themselves to the public as social workers and by
promoting high standards of professional performance for those
engaged in the practice of social work."  Ark. Code Ann.  17-46-
102 (Repl. 1995).  In accordance with this stated purpose, the
general assembly enacted a qualification statute that sets forth
the following requirements to receive an Arkansas social-work
license:
     (a)  The board shall issue a license as a licensed
social worker to an applicant who qualifies as follows:
     (1)  Has a baccalaureate degree in a social work
program accredited by the Council on Social Work
Education or receives before June 17, 1986, a
baccalaureate degree in a social work program from an
accredited social work institution; and
     (2)  Has passed an examination approved by the board
for this purpose and level of practice.
Ark. Code Ann.  17-46-306(a) (emphasis added).
     The legislature also enacted a provision allowing an applicant
from another state to be licensed through reciprocity as long as
the applicant "meet[s] all of the other requirements of this
chapter and who, at the time of application, is licensed as a
social worker by a similar board of another state, . . . whose
standards, in the opinion of the board, are not lower than those
required by this chapter."  Ark. Code Ann.  17-46-302.  Under the
reciprocity statute, the applicant must meet all of the
requirements of the Licensing Act, which includes the requirement
that the applicant have a degree either in an accredited social-
work program or in a social-work program at an accredited
institution.  Ark. Code Ann.  17-46-306(a)(1).
     Mr. Moncebaiz admits that neither the institution from which
he received his degree nor the program in which he received his
degree were accredited at the time that he attended Concordia
College.  Under the plain wording of our reciprocity statute, Mr.
Moncebaiz must meet "all of the other requirements of this
chapter."  Because he does not meet the requirement of having "a
baccalaureate degree in a . . . program accredited by the Council
on Social Work Education" as required under our qualification
statute, he was not qualified to receive a social-work license in
Arkansas and his application was properly denied.
     Second, during the November 11 hearing, some Board members
placed emphasis on the fact that Mr. Moncebaiz's Texas license was
that of an "Associate Social Work License."  Mr. Moncebaiz
explained to the Board that the "associate" designation is one that
is "given for individuals whose degree is in a related field to
social work but not in social work, but who have passed the
national licensing test, nonetheless."  He further stated that his
associate designation did not restrict his practice in the social-
work field in Texas.
     This "associate" designation is one that exists in Texas, but
does not exist in Arkansas.  Our Licensing Act has no similar
provision giving an individual with a degree in a field related to
social work the right to even take the examination.  Our
qualification statute requires that the applicant have a degree in
a "social work program," and does not provide a designation for a
degree in a related program.  Ark. Code Ann.  17-46-306(a).  Our
reciprocity statute requires that the applicant must be licensed as
a social worker by a board of another state whose standards are
"not lower than" the Arkansas Board's standards.  Ark. Code Ann. 
17-46-302.  Reading our reciprocity statute in harmony with our
qualification statute, we conclude that a state that issues a
license without requiring a degree in a social-work program has
lower standards than those required under section 17-46-306(a) of
the Arkansas Social Work Licensing Act.  Therefore, Mr. Moncebaiz's
license was issued under a lower "associate" standard, and he was
not entitled to reciprocity under our Act.  The Board did not err
in denying Mr. Moncebaiz's license on this basis.
     Because we determine that the Board's decision did not lack a
rational basis or rely on a factual finding based on an erroneous
view of the law, we conclude that it was not arbitrary and
capricious or characterized by abuse of discretion.  We reverse the
circuit court's decision and remand for the purpose of reinstating
the Board's decision denying Mr. Moncebaiz's license.