South Carolina              
Administrative Law Court
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SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

CAPTION:
Elizabeth L. Arledge vs. SCDHHS

AGENCY:
South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services

PARTIES:
Petitioners:
Elizabeth L. Arledge

Respondents:
South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services
 
DOCKET NUMBER:
99-ALJ-08-0312-AP

APPEARANCES:
For the Petitioner: Elizabeth L. Arledge, Pro Se

For the Respondent: Charles M. Black, Jr., Esquire
 

ORDERS:

ORDER

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

Ms. Arledge applied for Medicaid benefits on March 23, 1999, under the "Low Income Families" eligibility category. Her application for Medicaid was denied on March 30, 1999. Ms. Arledge filed an appeal of the Medicaid denial, which was referred to the DHHS Division of Appeals and Hearings. The appeal was assigned to a Hearing Officer (Mr. Vastine Crouch), who scheduled a fair hearing for 9:00 a.m. on June 1, 1999 at the Lexington County Department of Social Services. A proper notice concerning this scheduled hearing was mailed to Ms. Arledge by the Hearing Officer on April 28, 1999. The record on appeal contains a "return receipt" card from the United States Postal Service (PS Form 3811: a/k/a "green card") signed by Ms. Arledge indicating her receipt of this notice on April 29, 1999. Despite having received actual notice of the hearing in a timely manner, Ms. Arledge failed to appear. As a result, the Hearing Officer issued an Order on June 8, 1999 dismissing the appeal.

By letter filed with the Administrative Law Judge Division on June 21, 1999, Ms. Arledge timely appealed the dismissal of her case. A hearing was held before me on October 28, 1999. Ms. Arledge appeared at that hearing and argued on her own behalf. DHHS was represented by Charles M. Black, Jr., Assistant General Counsel for the agency.

DISCUSSION

The duly-promulgated DHHS regulations concerning the conduct of appeals and hearings confer broad authority upon the Hearing Officer:

A Hearing Officer has the authority, among other things, to: direct all procedures; issue interlocutory orders; schedule hearings and conferences; preside at formal proceedings; rule on procedural and evidentiary issues; require the submission of briefs and/or proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law; call witnesses and cross-examine any witnesses; recess, continue, and conclude any proceedings; dismiss any appeal for failure to comply with requirements under this Subarticle.



27 S. C. Code Ann. Regs. 126-154 (Supp. 1998) (emphasis added). In addition to the authority conferred upon the Hearing Officer by the DHHS regulations, the federal regulations governing the Medicaid Program explicitly authorize the dismissal of an appeal under the circumstances present in this case: "The agency may deny or dismiss a request for a hearing if: ...(b) The applicant or recipient fails to appear at a scheduled hearing without good cause." 42 C.F.R. § 431.223 (1986).

Ms. Arledge does not dispute the fact that she failed to appear at a scheduled hearing in this matter. Thus, the Hearing Officer's action in dismissing the appeal was clearly within the scope of his authority if Ms. Arledge did not have "good cause" for not attending the scheduled hearing.

Ms. Arledge asserts that her failure to appear at the scheduled hearing was the result of advice given to her by an unidentified employee of the federal Social Security Administration, who allegedly told her that her appearance at the Medicaid hearing before DHHS was not necessary. This erroneous advice appears to stem from confusion over the fact that Ms. Arledge was simultaneously pursuing a federal administrative appeal with respect to the denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income benefits. Therefore, in determining whether to dismiss this case, the Hearing Officer must determine whether Ms. Arledge's failure to appear at the DHHS hearing was the result of excusable neglect. See, Goodson v. American Bankers Insurance Company of Florida, 295 S.C. 400, 368 S.E. 2d 687 (Ct. App. 1988) If there is good cause to support that determination, the Hearing Officer's dismissal must be upheld.

In Goodson, the South Carolina Court of Appeals reviewed a party's claim of excusable neglect in failing to appear at the trial of its case. Mr. Goodson sued American Bankers Insurance Company of Florida (American) in connection with the sale of collateral that had been posted by Goodson. American responded to the suit in an answer that was signed by a employee who was not an attorney. This answer failed to include American's address as required by court rules. As a result, American did not appear at trial, and Goodson was awarded damages by the jury. American attempted to have the verdict set aside, claiming that it never received notice of the trial date. (Goodson disputed this fact, claiming that notice had been sent to American.) When the presiding judge allowed the verdict to stand, American appealed, arguing that the employee's failure to include American's address was excusable neglect because she was not an attorney. According to American, this excusable neglect was the cause of its failure to appear at trial. The South Carolina Court of Appeals found that the facts of the case did not amount to excusable neglect, stating that "[l]ack 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, 368 S.E. 2d at 689 (with references to H. Lightsey, J. Flanagan, South Carolina Civil Procedure, 400 (2nd Ed. 1985) and McCall v. A-T-O, Inc., 276 S.C. 143, 276 S.E. 2d 529 (1981)).

In light of the ruling by the Court of Appeals in Goodson, the most that can be said of the facts of the present case is that reasonable minds may differ as to whether Ms. Arledge's reported reliance upon information allegedly provided to her by the federal Social Security Administration staff constitutes "good cause" for her failure to appear at the hearing that had been scheduled in connection with her application to the State of South Carolina for Medicaid benefits. The Hearing Officer's factual finding that this excuse did not rise to the level of "good cause" cannot be overturned simply on the basis that someone else might have decided the issue differently when faced with the same circumstances, particularly since laymen are not to be held to a lesser standard of adherence to a tribunal's procedures. No showing has been made that the Hearing Officer's decision was arbitrary or capricious, or that it was otherwise affected by any error -- either of law or of fact -- substantial enough to warrant a reversal.

ORDER

For the reasons discussed above, the June 8, 1999 DHHS Hearing Officer's decision to dismiss Ms. Arledge's appeal was within the scope of his discretion and authority and is hereby affirmed. Any additional grounds for appeal raised by the Petitioner that are not specifically discussed in this Order are denied.

AND IT IS SO ORDERED.

______________________________

Ralph King Anderson, III.

Administrative Law Judge



December 7, 1999

Columbia, South Carolina


Brown Bldg.

 

 

 

 

 

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