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Manirakiza v. Department of Health and Human Services

Supreme Court of Maine

January 23, 2018

EUPHREM MANIRAKIZA et al.
v.
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

          Argued: November 16, 2017

          Melissa A. Hewey, Esq., David M. Kallin, Esq. and Amy K. Olfene, Esq. (orally), Drummond Woodsum, Portland, and Robyn Merrill, Esq., Maine Equal Justice Partners, Augusta, for appellants Euphrem Manirakiza and Fatima Nkembi.

          Janet T. Mills, Attorney General, and Thomas J. Quinn, Asst. Atty. Gen. (orally), Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee Department of Health and Human Services.

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          JABAR, J.

         [¶1] Euphrem Manirakiza appeals from the judgment entered by the Superior Court (Kennebec County, Murphy, J.) upholding the final agency decision of the Department of Health and Human Services denying Manirakiza's application for food supplement benefits.[1] Because we conclude that the temporal and fiscal limitations contained in P.L. 2013, ch. 368, § 00-14 apply only to the fiscal years ending June 30, 2013, June 30, 2014, and June 30, 2015, and not beyond June 30, 2015, we vacate the Superior Court's judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The following undisputed facts are taken from the hearing officer's recommended decision, see Brown v. Dep't of Health and Human Servs., 2006 ME 63, ¶ 2, 898 A.2d 387, and the procedural facts are drawn from the trial court record.

         [¶3] Manirakiza and his family arrived in the United States in 2014. In August of 2015, after Manirakiza and his wife received Employment Authorization Documents, Manirakiza applied for food assistance for his household pursuant to 22 M.R.S. § 3104-A(1)(D) (2017) (Paragraph D). Title 22 M.R.S. § 3104-A limits the categories of legal noncitizens who are eligible to receive food assistance, and Paragraph D establishes that noncitizens who are unemployed but who have "obtained proper work documentation" are eligible to receive the benefit. See 22 M.R.S. § 3104-A(1)(D). Although certain members of Manirakiza's family were eligible for benefits pursuant to Paragraph D, the Department denied Manirakiza's application. After an administrative hearing, the hearing officer found that the Department was correct when it denied Manirakiza's application based on language in the public law that is not present within the statutory text, which contained a fiscal limitation-$261, 384-as well as a temporal limitation-June 30, 2015-on the availability of funding for benefits for persons otherwise eligible under Paragraph D. See P.L. 2013, ch. 368, § 00-14 (Section 00-14). The Commissioner accepted the findings of fact and recommendation of the hearing officer that the Department correctly denied the application for food assistance pursuant to Paragraph D and Section 00-14.

         [¶4] To resolve the statutory interpretation issue, namely how the limitations within Section 00-14 affected the plain language of Paragraph D, Manirakiza appealed to the Superior Court. See M.R. Civ. P. 8OC; see also 5 M.R.S. § 11001 (2017). That petition and complaint included four counts: Count I alleged that the Department erred when it found that Manirakiza was not entitled to food assistance under Paragraph D; Count II requested that the court certify the action as a class action and, pursuant to 5 M.R.S. § 8058 (2017), requested judicial review of the Department rule interpreting Paragraph D, 17 C.M.R. 10 144 301-14 § FS-111-2 (2013); Count III sought a declaratory judgment; and Count IV sought injunctive relief. The Department filed oppositions to all counts and a motion to dismiss the independent claims, Counts II and III, as duplicative.

         [¶5] On June 28, 2016, the court denied Manirakiza's motion to certify the class and granted the Department's motion to dismiss the independent claims as duplicative. In order to determine whether Manirakiza was likely to succeed on the merits, the court also requested memoranda of law concerning the interpretation of Paragraph D. After receiving further argument on that issue, in an order dated January 15, 2017, the court denied Manirakiza's motion for a preliminary injunction, determining that Manirakiza had failed to demonstrate he was more likely than not to succeed on the merits. After the denial of the preliminary injunction, the parties agreed that the record was complete, that it was unnecessary to conduct further discovery, and that it was unnecessary to provide additional briefing or argument. On February 28, 2017, upon those agreements by the parties, the court entered final judgment in favor of the Department, upholding the Department's statutory interpretation of Paragraph D and the resulting denial of Manirakiza's application for food assistance. Manirakiza timely appealed to us. See 14 M.R.S. § 1851 (2017); M.R. App. P. 2 (Tower 2016).[2]

         II. DISCUSSION

         [¶6] On appeal, Manirakiza contends that the court erred by (1) entering final judgment in favor of the Department on the statutory interpretation issue, effectively determining that Paragraph D also contained the temporal and fiscal limitations of Section 00-14, and that those limitations were effective beyond the fiscal years ending June 30, 2013, June 30, 2014, and June 30, 2015; (2) denying his motion for class ...


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