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Wark v. Town of Standish

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

March 5, 2015

DAWN WARK, Petitioner


Nancy Mills Justice, Superior Court

I. Background

A. Procedural Posture

Petitioner Dawn Wark brings this action pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 80B. Petitioner appeals a denial of general assistance for basic necessities by respondent Town of Standish. (Pet.'s Ex. 1A.) She was disqualified from general assistance eligibility for 120 days due to fraud. She appealed the decision to the Town of Standish fair hearing officer, who affirmed the disqualification decision. (Letter of 8/8/14.)

B. Facts

Petitioner moved to Standish, Maine and began receiving general assistance in late 2013. The record contains applications, approvals, and voucher benefits that were paid between January 2014 and July 2014. (Pet.'s Exs. 2-5.) On July 30, 2014, the Town of Standish General Assistance Manager issued a Notice of Determination for General Assistance Eligibility and stated petitioner was "denied for 120 days do [sic] to fraud." (Pet.'s Ex. 1A.) The Notice explained:

It was brought to my attention that you have been transferring prescriptions to Portland and paying cash for them. I was not informed of money in kind from any family members or as to why you are transferring prescriptions back to Portland when I'm paying for you to live in Standish.

(Pet's Ex. 1A.) Petitioner appealed the denial and requested a hearing. (Pet.'s Ex. 1A at 4-5.) A hearing was held on August 5, 2014, before Fair Hearing Officer Terence Christy. A case manager from Catholic Charities and a paralegal from Pine Tree Legal Assistance represented petitioner.

Among other necessities, petitioner received assistance for prescription drug purchases. She had also received vouchers for prescription drug purchases from Catholic Charities. (Tr. 23:6-22.) Petitioner required the medication to treat a number of illnesses, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, and emphysema. (Tr. 17:7-9.) During the winter and into spring of 2014, petitioner contracted pneumonia, which resulted in a trip to the emergency room on July 24, 2014. (Tr. 22:17-18; 24:16-20.) While in the hospital, petitioner attempted to call the Town's general assistance officer to request additional assistance for new prescription medication to treat complications related to the pneumonia. (Tr. 24:18-20; 25:10-17.) Petitioner testified she never received a call back while at the emergency room. (Tr. 24:12-25:5.) Because she believed she would not receive a call back, petitioner picked up the prescription from the Portland pharmacy with her father on July 28, the day she was released from the hospital. (Tr. 25:10-26:1.) Petitioner's father paid cash to the pharmacy for the prescription. (Tr. 29:17-18.) Petitioner had previously reported receiving in kind income from her father on her April 2014 application. (Tr. 42:7-11.) Petitioner sometimes picked up prescriptions from the Portland pharmacy for convenience because many of her doctors are located in Portland. (Tr. 26:18-20.)

The Hearing Officer affirmed the denial on two grounds: (1) failure to disclose outside sources of income to purchase prescription medicine; and (2) transferring prescriptions from a Standish pharmacy to a Portland pharmacy, which "open[ed] the door to the fraud charge by transferring something that was already paid for by the Town of Standish." (Letter of 8/8/14.) The Hearing Officer also advised petitioner to keep her case manager and general assistance officer updated as to mailing address, living arrangements, and money in kind. (Id, 2.)

II. Discussion

A. Rule 80B Standard

The Superior Court reviews government agency decisions pursuant to Rule 80B for errors of law, abuse of discretion, or findings not supported by substantial evidence. Aydelott v. City of Portland, 2010 ME 25, ¶ 10, 990 A.2d 1024. The party challenging the decision below has the burden of proof to overturn the decision. Id. The petitioner must establish "not only that the [decision maker's] findings are unsupported by record evidence, but also that the record compels contrary findings." Total Quality, Inc. v. Town of Scarborough, 588 A.2d 283, 284 (Me. 1991).

The court reviews the interpretation of municipal ordinances de novo. Nugent v. Town of Camden, 1998 ME 92, ¶ 7, 710 A.2d 245. In construing ordinances, the court looks "to the plain meaning of its language to give effect to the legislative intent, and if the meaning ... is clear, [the court] need not look beyond the words themselves." Wister v. Town of Mount Desert, 2009 ME 66, ¶ 17, 974 A.2d 903. "The terms or expressions in an ordinance are to be construed reasonably with regard to both the objectives sought to be obtained and the ...

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