South Carolina              
Administrative Law Court
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SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

CAPTION:
Harl C. Duffey, Jr. vs. SCDHHS

AGENCY:
South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services

PARTIES:
Appellant:
Harl C. Duffey, Jr.

Respondent:
South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services
 
DOCKET NUMBER:
04-ALJ-08-0392-AP

APPEARANCES:
n/a
 

ORDERS:

ORDER

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

This matter is before the Administrative Law Court (ALC or Court) pursuant to the motion of the Appellant, Harl C. Duffey, Jr., filed February 28, 2005, to reinstate the above-captioned appeal to the docket. On November 30, 2004, Appellant appealed the final decision of the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (Department), dated October 13, 2004, which denied Appellant’s claim for Medicaid benefits. Appellant appeared pro se in the matter.

Appellant’s appeal was assigned to me on December 1, 2004, and a Notice of Assignment (Notice) was mailed to both parties. The Notice directed the parties to the relevant provisions of the ALC Rules of Procedure with respect to deadlines for filing the record and briefs on appeal. The Notice further stated that a copy of the Rules of Procedure could be obtained from the Clerk of the Court or from the Court’s website. On December 17, 2004, the Department filed the Record on Appeal with the Court and sent a copy to Appellant as required by the Rules of Procedure. ALC Rule 37 requires that appellants file a Brief of Appellant with the Court within fifteen (15) days after receipt of the Record on Appeal. However, Appellant failed to file a brief, nor did he request an extension of time in which to file a brief. On February 2, 2005, approximately two months after the Notice of Assignment was sent to the parties and approximately one and one-half months after the Record on Appeal was filed, this Court issued an Order of Dismissal with prejudice, as authorized by ALC Rule 38 (the court may on its own motion dismiss an appeal for failure to comply with any of the rules of procedure for appeals).

On February 28, 2005, Appellant, now represented by counsel, filed a Motion to reinstate this matter to the docket. In the Motion, Appellant admits that he did not timely file a brief as required by ALC Rule 37. He nonetheless requests that this matter be reinstated based upon his status as a pro se litigant and the provision in the Note to ALC Rule 38 that “[i]n all cases involving pro se litigants or those without substantial knowledge and experience in administrative matters, the administrative law judge shall make reasonable efforts to assist a party to assure fairness.”

The Department filed a return to the Motion on March 3, 2005. It argued that Appellant had every opportunity to know that he was to file a brief within fifteen (15) days of the Record’s filing and that he could have engaged legal counsel during the appeals process. Furthermore, the Department noted in the return, as it did in its final order dated October 13, 2004, that Appellant was “denied Medicaid services because he refused to follow Medicaid policies and procedures by opening a bank account to serve as a repository for funds” and that he could, “at any time, comply with these reasonable rules, open a bank account and be eligible for Medicaid services.”

ANALYSIS

Appellant argues that this matter should be restored to the docket. The ALC’s Rules of Procedure contain no provisions for reinstating an appeal once that matter has been dismissed pursuant to ALC Rule 38. Footnote Nevertheless, the Note to ALC Rule 40 provides that “[t]he South Carolina Appellate Court Rules should be examined to resolve novel issues of appellate procedure in the Court.” Reinstatement of appeals in South Carolina’s appellate courts is governed by Rule 231, SCACR, which provides that “[a] case [dismissed for failure to comply with the rules] shall not be reinstated except by leave of the court, upon good cause shown, after notice to all parties.” “Good cause” is not defined in Rule 231, nor have any South Carolina cases defined the standard with respect to that rule. However, the courts have interpreted the “good cause” standard applied in Rule 55(c), SCRCP, when a party seeks relief from an entry of default, finding that the promptness with which relief is sought, the existence of a meritorious defense, and the prejudice to other parties are relevant factors to consider in determining whether “good cause” has been shown. See, e.g., New Hampshire Ins. Co. v. The Bey Corp., 312 S.C. 47, 435 S.E.2d 377 (Ct. App. 1993).

Appellant contends that his failure to file a brief should be excused because he is a pro se litigant. The note to ALC Rule 38 does provide that “[i]n all cases involving pro se litigants or those without substantial knowledge and experience in administrative matters, the administrative law judge shall make reasonable efforts to assist a party to assure fairness.” In this matter, the Court provided Appellant with notice that the ALC Rules of Procedure govern deadlines for filing the Record and briefs on appeal, and further provided instructions for obtaining a copy of the Rules. The Court received no communication from Appellant indicating either a failure to understand the instructions given by the Court or any questions concerning the time frames for filing his brief. The Court’s obligation to assure fairness to pro se litigants does not require that it provide unsolicited advice or assistance to those litigants, nor is a pro se litigant excused from complying with the Rules of Procedure. See ALC Rule 8(A) (providing that parties proceeding without legal representation are responsible for compliance with the Rules and the APA).

“[A] party has a duty to monitor the progress of his case. Lack of familiarity with legal proceedings is unacceptable and the court will not hold a layman to any lesser standard than is applied to an attorney.” Goodson v. Am. Bankers Ins. Co., 295 S.C. 400, 403, 368 S.E.2d 687, 689 (Ct. App. 1988). Appellant’s failure to understand the procedures to be followed in pursuing an appeal cannot excuse his lack of compliance with the rules. See Hill v. Dotts, 345 S.C. 304, 547 S.E.2d 894 (Ct. App. 2001) (finding that a party’s lack of familiarity with legal proceedings does not constitute excusable neglect which would relieve the party from a default judgment).

Moreover, a review of the record indicates that the dismissal of this appeal will not permanently foreclose Appellant from becoming eligible for benefits. In the contested case below, the reason for the denial of eligibility was Appellant’s representative’s failure to establish a trust account as required under the income trust provisions of the Medicaid program. Apparently, based upon the Department’s assertions in its return to this Motion, Appellant has yet to comply with the requirements to set up a trust account, but upon compliance with those requirements he will be eligible for Medicaid services. Therefore, any prejudice resulting from the dismissal is minimal.

Under these circumstances, I find that Appellant has failed to establish good cause for vacating the Order of Dismissal and reinstating the appeal.

ORDER

For the foregoing reasons, it is hereby ORDERED that the Motion to Reinstate the Appeal is denied.

AND IT IS SO ORDERED.

____________________________________

Marvin F. Kittrell

Chief Administrative Law Judge

March 22, 2005

Columbia, South Carolina


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