Hudson v. Bowling, 12–0775.

Decision Date06 November 2013
Docket NumberNo. 12–0775.,12–0775.
Citation232 W.Va. 282,752 S.E.2d 313
PartiesPatricia HUDSON, Petitioner Below, Petitioner v. Karen L. BOWLING, Secretary, West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources, and Stephen M. Baisden, State Hearing Officer, West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources, Respondents Below, Respondents.
CourtWest Virginia Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Syllabus by the Court

1. “Under W. Va.Code, 29A–1–2 [1964], the Administrative Procedures Act does not apply to the Department of Welfare.” Syl. Pt. 1, State ex rel. Ginsberg v. Watt, 168 W.Va. 503, 285 S.E.2d 367 (1981).

2. “A writ of certiorari in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County is the proper means for obtaining judicial review of a decision made by a state agency not covered by the Administrative Procedures Act.” Syl. Pt. 2, State ex rel. Ginsberg v. Watt, 168 W.Va. 503, 285 S.E.2d 367 (1981).

3. [T]he circuit court has a large discretion in awarding [a writ of certiorari] ... and, unless such discretion is plainly abused, this Court cannot interfere there with.’ Syllabus Point 1, in part, Michaelson v. Cautley, 45 W.Va. 533, 32 S.E. 170 (1898).” Syl. Pt. 1, Wysong ex rel. Ramsey v. Walker, 224 W.Va. 437, 686 S.E.2d 219 (2009).

4. ‘On certiorari the circuit court is required to make an independent review of both law and fact in order to render judgment as law and justice may require.’ Syllabus Point 3, Harrison v. Ginsberg, 169 W.Va. 162, 286 S.E.2d 276 (1982).” Syl. Pt. 2, Wysong ex rel. Ramsey v. Walker, 224 W.Va. 437, 686 S.E.2d 219 (2009).

5. ‘Unless otherwise provided by law, the standard of review by a circuit court in a writ of certiorari proceeding under W. Va.Code § 53–3–3 (1923) (Repl.Vol.2000) is de novo.’ Syllabus Point 2, State ex rel. Prosecuting Attorney of Kanawha County v. Bayer Corp., 223 W.Va. 146, 672 S.E.2d 282 (2012) [ (2008) ].” Syl. Pt. 3, Wysong ex rel. Ramsey v. Walker, 224 W.Va. 437, 686 S.E.2d 219 (2009).

6. “When, after judgment on certiorari in the circuit court, a writ of error is prosecuted in this court to that judgment, a decision of the circuit court on the evidence will not be set aside unless it clearly appears to have been wrong.” Syl., in part, Snodgrass v. Bd. of Educ. of Elizabeth Indep. Dist., 114 W.Va. 305, 171 S.E. 742 (1933).

7. Where the West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources provides notice of an overpayment to an individual receiving food stamp benefits pursuant to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, 7 United States Code §§ 2011 to 2036(a) (2012), said notice must contain, at a minimum: (1) an explanation of the proposed action and the reason therefor, in simplified form and easily understandable language; and (2) a reference to all applicable sections of the DHHR Common Chapters Manual. Where the notice does not comply with these requirements, the burden is on the Department to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the food stamp recipient was not prejudiced thereby in his or her ability to contest the overpayment claim. Where the trier of fact concludes that the recipient was in fact prejudiced, the overpayment claim shall be dismissed. Where the trier of fact concludes that the recipient was not prejudiced, the overpayment claim may proceed to decision on the merits.

8. Where the West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources provides notice of an overpayment to an individual receiving food stamp benefits pursuant to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, 7 United States Code §§ 2011to 2036(a) (2012), and the food stamp recipient requests a hearing, the recipient has a right of access to his or her entire case file. Where the Department unreasonably obstructs or impedes a recipient's right of access to the file, the burden is on the Department to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the food stamp recipient was not prejudiced thereby in his or her ability to contest the overpayment claim. Where the trier of fact concludes that the recipient was in fact prejudiced, the overpayment claim shall be dismissed. Where the trier of fact concludes that the recipient was not prejudiced, the overpayment claim may proceed to decision on the merits.

9. A determination of whether individuals “live together” within the meaning of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, 7 United States Code § 2012(n)(2) (2012), requires the application of reasonable judgment based on all relevant circumstances of a particular living arrangement. Evidence that individuals use the same mailing address may be considered, but is not, in and of itself, conclusive of the issue.

Bruce Perrone, Esq., Legal Aid of West Virginia, for Petitioner.

Patrick Morrisey, Esq., Attorney General, Michael Jackson, Esq., Assistant Attorney General, for Respondents.

WORKMAN, Justice:

In this case involving an alleged overpayment of food stamp benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, 7 United States Code §§ 2011to 2036(a) (2012) (hereinafter “SNAP”) 1, the respondent, Karen L. Bowling, Secretary, West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources (hereinafter “DHHR” or “the Department”),2 maintains that the petitioner, Patricia Hudson (hereinafter the petitioner), and her husband, Harold Hudson (hereinafter Mr. Hudson), were living together for seventeen months after the petitioner had filed to receive food stamps as a separated spouse in a one-person household. During an administrative hearing, DHHR presented evidence demonstrating that the petitioner and Mr. Hudson used the same mailing address during the relevant period; that Mr. Hudson lived on the petitioner's property, although not in her home, for the first four months of the period; that Mr. Hudson's name was not removed from either the petitioner's utility bills or the couple's bank account; and that the petitioner drove Mr. Hudson to medical appointments, thus demonstrating that the two continued to function as a couple. Hearing examiner Stephen M. Baisden (hereinafter respondent Baisden” or “the hearing examiner”) concluded in relevant part that

2. Department's representative submitted evidence to indicate [the petitioner] and her spouse lived together during the repayment period of May 2010 to September 2011. They shared utilities, they shared liquid assets, and they shared the property at 7856 Ridgeview Nellis Road.

3. Neither [the petitioner] nor her spouse submitted sufficient evidence to support their claim that they had separate residences.

On certiorari, the Circuit Court of Kanawha County reviewed respondent Baisden's findings of fact and conclusions of law and held that “it is logical to conclude that Petitioner and her spouse lived in the same household during the repayment period of May 2010 to September 2011 ... [a]ccordingly, the Court concludes that the Respondent's [sic] establishment of a repayment claim against Petitioner's SNAP benefits is correct.” This appeal followed.

Upon careful consideration of the parties' briefs, the oral arguments, the appendix record, and the applicable law, we reverse the judgment of the circuit court and remand this case for entry of an order granting the petitioner's petition for a writ of certiorari and dismissing the DHHR's overpayment claim.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

At the time of the disallowance at issue in this case, the petitioner was sixty-four years old and had an income of $697.00 per month ($8,364.00 per year) from Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits. In addition, following her application in May, 2010, for SNAP benefits, which application recited that she was the sole resident in her home and had no income other than her own, she received $146.00 per month in food stamps. The petitioner lived in a home which had been financed for her by her son; pursuant to an installment agreement, she pays $250.00 per month on the loan.3

In late April, 2009 or 2010,4 the petitioner ordered her husband out of the house due to his drinking, telling him he was welcome to come back whenever he quit. Thereafter, from May, 2010, through August, 2010, Mr. Hudson lived in a camper that was owned by his brother but located on the petitioner's property.5 Mr. Hudson ran an extension cord from the petitioner's home to the camper, and therefore his electricity usage was included in the petitioner's electricity bill for the house.6 The camper did not have a water hookup, and Mr. Hudson showered at his daughter's home. His daughter did most of his laundry and prepared his meals. The petitioner testified, without contradiction, that from the moment she threw Mr. Hudson out of the home, he never set foot in it again, even to use the bathroom or the telephone. He kept no clothes, toiletries or personal items in the petitioner's home.

In August, 2010, Mr. Hudson began to live at his mother's home, which was vacant following her admission to a nursing facility. Following her death in November, 2010, and as a result of some family acrimony which ensued, Mr. Hudson's brother removed the camper from the petitioner's property. Thereafter, Mr. Hudson lived a peripatetic existence, staying at various times at the homes of his daughter, his son, his stepdaughter, his sister, and at other locations in Boone County, West Virginia.

The petitioner admitted that she never removed Mr. Hudson's name from the utility accounts for electricity and water, and that she never removed his name from the couple's joint bank account.7 Further, the evidence showed that Mr. Hudson listed the petitioner's address as his own when he renewed his driver's license in 2011. In that regard, he testified that he had tried to list his separate post office box address, but was told that he had to have a physical address; accordingly, for lack of any alternative, he listed the petitioner's address. Additionally, both the petitioner and Mr. Hudson continued to list the same telephone number on official...

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