Friday, October 14, 2005

child abuse - appeal - timeliness

A.P. v. DPW - Commonwealth Court - October 14, 2005

AP petitioned court for review of DPW order dismissing her request to expunge a report of indicated child abuse on the ground that the request was not timely.

The Court did not affirm the admin. adjudication but rather dismissed the appeal, holding that DPW Secretary was without jurisdiction to consider AP's request that she reconsider an earlier decision. "The Department's…order was not a valid order from which Petitioner could appeal," 1 Pa. Code 34.241(a), because the recon. request was not timely.

A local CYS agency filed the original indicated report in September 1999. Petitioner was given notice at that time and told that she had 45 days in which to file a request to amend or destroy the report. AP took no action until 16 months later, when she sent DPW a letter stating that she had been clearing of related criminal charges.

DPW told AP that she could request a hearing if she believed her case should be considered in spite of the late appeal. She did so and a hearing was held a short time later, resulting in a decision in December 2002 denying the request for a nunc pro tunc appeal and an evidentiary hearing on the merits.

That decision gave AP 15 days to ask for reconsideration, but AP did not act until 21 months later, September 2004. The DPW Secretary granted reconsideration and issued a final order on the merits upholding the December 2002 order dismissing APs appeal as untimely.
As stated above, the Court held that the Secretary didn’t have jurisdiction to grant recon. and so dismissed the appeal with prejudice.

The court refers to its recent opinion in C.S. v. DPW, 879 A.2d 1274 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005) where it held that a nunc pro tunc appeal filed 6 years late should have been granted, because the appeal information in the administrative determination did not accurately set out the notice of statutory appeal rights. However, the court in A.P. does not mention this aspect of the C.S. case, only that part of C.S. that says that the DPW Secretary has the discretion to amend or expunge a finding of abuse at any time, upon good cause shown.

The notice in A.P. was presumably the same as the one in C.S., where it said that the alleged abuser "may have a right to a hearing." (emphasis in original). By contrast, the statute gives an unequivocal right to a hearing. The court said that the law "mandates that an alleged perpetrator who has made a request for a hearing will receive one, and at this hearing, the agency bears the burden of proving child abuse by the alleged perpetrator. This right is essential. Otherwise, citizens can have their ability to work at a job requiring [a clearance] taken away on the basis of an investigator's report alone and not on the basis of a hearing at which the government agency claiming abuse bears the burden of proof. The equivocal notice given by the Department…did not satisfy the exacting requirements of [the statute] and, thus, this breakdown in the administrative process entitles Petitioner to file a nunc pro tunc request for expungement….." Concerning the length of the delay in appealing, the court said that "[w]hether a delay is one day or six years late….does not change the analysis….."

Donald Marritz
MidPenn Legal Services