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Teal v. Missouri Department of Social Services, Family Support Division

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, First Division

January 16, 2018

DARICE TEAL, Appellant,

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Gasconade County Honorable Gael D. Wood

          KURT S. ODENWALD, Judge


         Darice Teal ("Teat") appeals from the decision of the Missouri Department of Social Services, Family Support Division (the "Division"), which held, after a telephone hearing, that Teal received $2, 046 in excess food-stamp benefits. On appeal Teal claims, in Point One, that the hearing procedure was improper because she was unable to hear the Division's witness testify, did not receive notice of the Division's polices, and did not have an adequate opportunity to review all the evidence presented at the hearing. In Point Two, Teal alleges that the Division erred because the record lacks sufficient evidence to prove the Division followed its policies for admitting exhibits, and does not establish that Teal received all of the exhibits presented at the hearing. Because we defer to the credibility findings of the Division and we find competent and substantial evidence to support the Division's decision, we affirm.

         Factual and Procedural History

         Teal applied to the Division for food-stamp benefits. Teal did not report any earned income for herself on her application. The Division granted Teal's application. About a year later, the Division discovered that Teal had been working at Dollar General while she was receiving food-stamp benefits. The Division sent Teal a letter notifying her that she had earned $11, 682.29 during her employment, which was not applied in calculating her food-stamp benefits. The Division explained to Teal that she had been overpaid $2, 046 in food-stamp benefits. The letter also contained a table showing the amount Teal collected in food-stamp benefits compared to the amount she was eligible to receive per month. The Division informed Teal in the letter that she had the opportunity to contact the Division to view copies of the evidence supporting the claims against her. Teal requested a hearing, which was conducted by telephone. The Division notified Teal that "[if] [she] want[ed] to review the proposed exhibits prior to the hearing, [she] must [have arrived] at the designated location at least 15 minutes prior to the time [her] hearing [was] scheduled to begin."

         At the hearing, the Division introduced six exhibits through the testimony of Elizabeth Muttschall ("Muttschall"), a family-support-eligibility specialist. Muttschall indicated that the Division adhered to its standard procedures and policies for producing exhibits, and she testified that all documents and forms were authentic copies of information contained in the case record. Teal did not object to any of the six exhibits during the hearing. In addition, the Division provided Teal with most of the exhibits' contents, except pages 57-60 of Exhibit One. Those pages, which contained a Food Stamp Budget Summary, Income Summary, and Expense Summary, were missing from Exhibit One. The Division left the record open for twenty-five days after the hearing was terminated to allow Teal to view pages 57-60 of Exhibit One as well as to review all of the exhibits.

         During the hearing, Teal mentioned that she could barely hear Muttschall's testimony. The hearing officer and Muttschall attempted to improve the volume and quality of the phone call. The hearing officer then asked Teal "[a]nd was that better, Mr. and Mrs. Teal?" Teal responded that it was a little better. After Muttschall reviewed the exhibits, and they had been admitted, the hearing officer again asked Teal about her ability to hear the testimony. Teal responded that the audio had not really improved. The following exchange occurred:

Hearing Officer: Okay, because this is the part where I'm going to-I need to make sure you can-I mean, you need to be able to hear well, unfortunately, for the rest of it and I apologize for that. The phone system is not the greatest, but I want to make sure you can really hear [Muttschall] now because this is where she's going to be testifying, I guess, more specifically about what happened that triggered your claims. I mean, are-are you able to hear-you are able to hear what she's saying, though, correct? It's just not great or is it just not...
Mr. Teal: We can hear you just fine.
Hearing Officer: Okay.
Mr. Teal: Hers seems to have a bit of static and is breaking up.
Hearing Officer: Okay. Yeah, and I guess if you can just try to speak as loudly as possible, Ms. Muttschall, or did you have anything in here that-I thought I saw something that had kind of a summary of the testimony.
Muttschall: Yeah, that's what I'm-
Hearing Officer: Okay, and I asked if-are you going to be ...

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