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Representing Yourself at an Administrative Hearing

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
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7910EN - If you do not agree with any decision, either verbal or written, made by the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), you have the right to appeal that decision by asking for an administrative hearing. This tells you about 1) the deadline to request a hearing, 2) how to make the request, 3) how to prepare for your hearing, and 4) what to expect at your hearing and afterward.

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If you disagree with any decision, either verbal or written, made by the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), you have the right to appeal that decision by asking for an administrative hearing. WAC 388-02-0085.

*Examples:  DSHS denies your application, reduces or stops any benefits, including cash, Basic Food (formerly Food Stamps), or medical assistance, says they are sanctioning you, or claims you have an overpayment of benefits.

This explains

  • the deadline to ask for an administrative hearing

  • how to make the re­quest

  • how to get ready for your hearing

  • what to expect at your hearing and afterward

If you have a hard time speaking or understanding English or you cannot communicate in spoken language, you have the right to a qualified and impartial interpreter at no cost to you. WAC 388-02-0120. To ask for an interpreter, talk to the Administrative Coordinator at your local DSHS office, or call the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) at (360) 664-8717 or 1-800-583-8271 to tell them you need an interpreter. You have the right to get notices about your hearing in your primary language. WAC 388-02-0130.If at any time during the hearing you feel the interpreter is not doing a good job, you can ask the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) for another interpreter.

What is the deadline for asking for an administrative hearing?

DSHS must give you a written notice if it plans to deny, lower, or stop your benefits, sanction you, or decide it overpaid you benefits. WAC 388-458-0002. The notice must say both of these:

  • what action DSHS is taking

  • what rule or rules it is relying on

 *You can ask for an administrative hearing anytime within 90 days of the date of the notice.

If you are getting benefits and you request an administrative hearing within ten days of the date on the notice OR before the effective date of the proposed action, DSHS must keep your benefits going until an ALJ has made a decision in your case. If DSHS stops your benefits without giving you written notice, you may ask for an administrative hearing to ask for con­tinued benefits.

*Exception to this rule:  DSHS may stop your Basic Food benefits even though you have asked for a hearing, if your Basic Food certification period has ended. WAC 388-458-0040(5)(c).

If DSHS is stopping or lowering your benefits, any continued benefits you get may become an overpayment -- a debt you owe DSHS -- if you lose your hearing. WAC 388-458-0040(6). You will not have to repay more than 60 days' worth of continued benefits. WAC 388-410-0001(1)(b). Our publication How to Fight an Overpayment of Cash Assistance, Medical Assistance or Food Stamps explains how DSHS collects an overpayment.

How do I ask for an administrative hearing?

Written Request:  Write the Office of Administrative Hearings, P.O. Box 42488, Olympia, WA 98504. WAC 388-02-0100. If it is an emergency, ask to have your hearing held as soon as possible by calling the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) at (360) 664-8717 or 1-800-583-8271. This is an "expedited" hearing.  

You have the right to ask for an interpreter, at no cost to you.  You may also ask for an administrative hearing by contacting the Administrative Hearing Coordinator in your local DSHS office.

Verbal Request:  You may also ask for an administrative hearing verbally by calling OAH or telling the DSHS Administrative Hearing Coordinator or other DSHS staff person that you want an administrative hearing. DSHS may ask you to follow up by putting your request in writing.

After you ask for an administrative hearing, OAH will send you a "Notice of Hearing." It says the hearing time, date, and place. If the notice says the hearing will be held by phone but you want it to be in person, call OAH at the number listed on the notice to ask for an in-person hearing as soon as you can. It is usually better to have an in-person hearing. You have the right to have your hearing held at your local DSHS Community Services Office.

How do I get ready for my hearing?

Make an appointment to meet with the DSHS Administrative Hearing Coordinator (AHC). The AHC is usually not a lawyer. They are the person who will represent DSHS at your hearing.

Ask the AHC

  • to explain why DSHS is denying, lowering or stopping your benefits or taking any other action against you

  • to give you copies of all the rules DSHS is using to support its action

  • to ask if DSHS will have any witnesses at your hearing. If so, ask who they will be and what they will be asked to testify about

  • to view and get copies of relevant documents from your electronic case file

*The documents in your electronic case file may include letters, notices. case notes, case narratives, medical reports and evaluations, cash and Basic Food computations, WorkFirst notes and documents, applications, eligibility reviews.

Well before your hearing, DSHS should give you a packet of all the documents they will be using. If you do not get the packet by a week before the hearing, call the FHC. If you believe DSHS gave you the packet too late for you to review and understand it, ask the ALJ to reschedule the hearing or take other action to be fair to you because you did not get the packet in time to prepare.

The FHC may write or call you to schedule a pre-hearing conference. WAC 388-02-0175 and so on. You can choose to meet in a pre-hearing conference with the FHC. This is separate from your hearing.

The pre-hearing conference is your chance to understand the issues better from both sides and help you get ready for your hearing. You may be able to settle the matter. If not, you can still have the hearing. You should not be pressured to withdraw your hearing request.

Before your hearing, you should send the judge at the Office of Administrative Hearings and the FHC at DSHS identical copies of all documents, pictures, and other papers you will use at the hearing to show why you think DSHS is wrong. Most hearings are by phone. The judge and the FHC need to have gotten your documents in time for your hearing.  You should send them in beforehand even if your hearing is in-person.

The FHC must give you a packet of copies of all documents they will use as exhibits at the hearing.

What do I bring to the hearing?

  • A list of points you want to explain to the ALJ.

  • Any documents, pictures, or other papers to show the ALJ why you think DSHS is wrong.

  • Witnesses to testify on your behalf.

  • A friend or relative for support, even if they will not be testifying on your behalf.

  • A friend, relative, or other person to represent you at the hearing. Your representative does not have to be a lawyer.

*Most people represent themselves at their hearing.

What happens at the hearing?  WAC 388-02-0375

An ALJ who does not work for DSHS will conduct the hearing. The ALJ works for a separate agency, the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).

Most hearings are held by phone. If you ask for an in-person hearing, it is held at the DSHS office.

These hearings are less formal than courtroom proceedings. The ALJ will tape record what is said and take notes.

At the start of the hearing, the ALJ will explain that they do not work for DSHS, has never seen your file, and knows nothing about you or your case except what your hearing request said. The ALJ will explain that in deciding your case, they will consider only

  • documents that you and DSHS submit

  • all sworn testimony

*The ALJ will swear in everyone who will testify.

Usually, the FHC talks next. They tell the ALJ why DSHS believes it is right, and explain DSHS' exhibits. When the FHC is done, you can ask them questions you have about what they said. If the FHC has any witnesses, you can ask them questions when they are done testifying. The ALJ may also have questions for the FHC and any witnesses, to clarify the facts.

Now you tell your side of the story. Remember:  all the ALJ knows about you or the case before the hearing starts is what your hearing request said. You must tell the ALJ everything you want them to know. Look at your notes. Tell the ALJ exactly what happened from your perspective. When you are done, the FHC and the ALJ may ask you questions. Then if you have a witness, you may ask them to testify now. The FHC and ALJ may also question your witnesses.

How you act at the hearing is very important. The ALJ hears or sees you only this once. Some tips:

  • Be polite. Do not interrupt anyone.

  • Be firm about what you are saying. Do not yell.

  • Do not swear or use other offensive language.

If your hearing is in person:

  • Look at the ALJ when you testify.

  • Do not roll your eyes or use other offensive gestures.

What happens after the hearing?

The ALJ does not decide who wins at the hearing. They send you and DSHS a written decision about a month after the hearing. The ALJ's written decision is called either an Initial Order or a Final Order. There is an important difference in appeals between these two types of decisions. See below.

Initial Order:  WAC 388-02-0217.

If you or DSHS disagree with the ALJ's Initial Decision, you can appeal to a Review Judge who works for DSHS' Board of Appeals (BOA). The appeal is called a Petition for Review. Instructions on how to petition for review and the deadline come with the ALJ's Initial Decision.

This appeal is in writing only. You do not appear before the Review Judge. The Review Judge considers only the documents and testimony from your hearing. You cannot add anything new on appeal. If you send the BOA a written appeal, DSHS can respond in writing to your appeal, and vice versa.

The Review Judge will send you and DSHS a written decision called a Review Decision. If you disagree with the Review Decision, you can file a Petition for Review of Administrative Decision to the Superior Court of your county or to the Thurston County Superior Court. If your hearing was about public assistance, there is no fee for filing your Superior Court case. You must file a Petition of Administrative Decision within 30 days of the date of the Review Decision. If you cannot find a lawyer to help you file your appeal to Superior Court, use our do-it-yourself packet How to Petition for Superior Court Review.

Final Order:  WAC 388-02-0217

If your hearing notice has a "B" in the docket number, you will get a Final Order. If you or DSHS disagree with the ALJ's Final Order, neither of you can appeal to the BOA.

You can both ask the ALJ to reconsider their decision. The ALJ's decision on Reconsideration is the final agency decision.

DSHS must accept the decision and cannot appeal it to a higher court.

If you disagree with the Reconsideration decision, you can appeal to a higher court by filing a Petition for Review of Administrative Decision. You can also skip the Request for Reconsideration and appeal a Final Order to Superior Court with a Petition for Review of Administrative Decision. See our do-it-yourself packet How to Petition for Superior Court Review to file this appeal.

 

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This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.
This information is current as of February 2017.

© 2017 Northwest Justice Project. 1-888-201-1014.
(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and individuals for non-commercial use only.)

Last Review and Update: Feb 17, 2017