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Administrative Law Court
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SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

CAPTION:
Leon James vs. SCDHEC

AGENCY:
South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services

PARTIES:
Petitioner:
Leon James

Respondent:
South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services
 
DOCKET NUMBER:
04-ALJ-08-0230-AP

APPEARANCES:
n/a
 

ORDERS:

FINAL ORDER AND DECISION

I. Introduction

This case is an appeal by Leon James (James) of a decision by the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to dismiss his request for assistance under the Medically Indigent Assistance Program. The dismissal occurred since James failed to respond to the hearing officer=s request for additional information. The sole issue is whether the dismissal was proper.

II. Analysis

The facts supporting the dismissal arose from a certified letter sent by the hearing officer to James on March 9, 2004. The letter identified several reasons for James= lack of eligibility for medical assistance. However, the letter concluded with the following statements:

In view of the above and in order for me to proceed, I need to know what errors in fact or law were made in determining that you were not resource eligible for MIAP benefits. If I have not received your response within 10 calendar days of your receipt of this letter, I will conclude that you do not wish to continue the appeal process and have abandoned your appeal. In that event, the appeal will be dismissed.

For reasons undeterminable from the record on appeal, James did not response to the letter. Given the failure to comply, the hearing officer dismissed the appeal in an order dated June 30, 2004.

However, in a Notice of Appeal filed with the Administrative Law Court on July 13, 2004, James set forth in a three-page, handwritten letter why he believed he was eligible for medical assistance. Even though the letter was mailed to the ALC, the opening lines state the following:

To the Department of Health & Human Services. I received a letter telling that I was denied help from your Department.

Thus, based on this letter (a letter ultimately provided to DHHS), it is plain that James believed he was corresponding with DHHS through the ALC procedures. Therefore, James= letter amounts to a request to DHHS for relief from the order of default entered below.

Seeking relief from a default is not a unique request. Rather, many trial courts are asked to address such matters. And, while it is certainly true that matters before DHHS hearing officers are not controlled by the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure, in deciding whether relief from default should be granted, the principles encompassed in those rules are nonetheless instructive. For example, relief from a default judgment is liberally construed since doing so will promote justice and allow disposition of cases on the merits. Dixon v. Besco Engineering, Inc., 320 S.C. 174, 463 S.E.2d 636 (Ct..App. 1995). In this case, DHHS has not acted (indeed, has not had an opportunity to act) on James= request for relief and, thus, such a decision should be made. See Ricks v. Weinrauch, 293 S.C. 372, 360 S.E.2d 535 (Ct.App.1987) (deciding whether to grant relief from an entry of default is not a matter for decision at the appellate level but rather is solely within the discretion of the trial judge, i.e., the hearing officer).

III. Order

This matter is remanded to the DHHS hearing officer. Not later than 60 days from the date of this decision, the officer shall decide whether James has presented sufficient grounds upon which to obtain relief from the default decision of June 30, 2004. If the hearing officer=s decision is to vacate the default, the matter shall then proceed to a hearing before the DHHS hearing officer consistent with the applicable DHHS hearing procedures. Any decision reached by the hearing officer (whether after a merits hearing or after a reinstatement of the default decision) shall be subject to appeal to the ALC in accordance with applicable law.

AND IT IS SO DECIDED

_________________________________

RAY N. STEVENS

Administrative Law Judge

Dated: January 4, 2005

Greenville, South Carolina


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