E-Alert Case Updates
Contested Case Hearing Required To Revoke Section 8 Vouchers
Walker v. Dep’t of Housing & Cmty. Dev.
The Court of Appeals was asked to determine whether, prior to the termination of housing assistant benefits administered pursuant to the “Section 8 Housing Program,” the Department of Housing and Community Development (“Development”) must, upon request, provide a “contested case” hearing in accordance with Maryland’s Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), MD. CODE ANN., STATE GOV’T. §§ 10-101 through 10-305. This question was of great interest to Tonya Walker (“Ms. Walker”), whose housing benefits were terminated by the Department for her alleged violations of certain “family obligations” required to be satisfied for continued participation in the Section 8 program. Ms. Walker challenged that decision at an informal administrative hearing. The hearing officer affirmed the Department’s decision.
Ms. Walker sought judicial review of the Department’s decision, asserting that the informal hearing was intended to be a “contested case” under the APA, MD. CODE ANN., STATE GOV’T. § 10-202(d), to which certain rights and procedures apply, but were not followed in her case. The trial court rejected Ms. Walker’s contention, and affirmed the Department’s decision. Then, Ms. Walker noted an appeal to the Court of Special Appeals, but before argument, the Court of Appeals, on its own initiative, issued a writ of certiorari.
The Court of Appeals was asked to consider whether the APA governs hearings concerning terminations of rental assistance to participants in the Section 8 Program administered by the Department. The Court was also asked to consider whether the Department complied with the APA.
The APA defines a “contested case” as a “proceeding before an agency to determine,” inter alia, “a right, duty, statutory entitlement, or privilege of a person that is required by statute or constitution to be determined only after an opportunity for an agency hearing.” In the context of Section 8 Housing benefits, due process requires a hearing prior to terminating those benefits, thereby making applicable the contested case definition. The source of the right to an administrative hearing (statute or constitutional principle) may by express or clear implication negate the fact that the hearing is to be treated as a contested case. There was no such express or clear implication here, however, because the procedures required by due process (as reflected in the federal regulations governing the pre-termination hearings) were similar to those provided by the APA for contested cases.
Therefore, the Court held that the Department, upon receipt of Ms. Walker’s challenge to the termination decision, was required to provide her a contested case hearing before terminating her housing benefits. The Court further held that the informal hearing was not held in accordance with the contested case procedures set forth in the APA.
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