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Legally Speaking

 

Issue: October, 2007
Author: Deborah A. Baumer

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A Day in the Life of the Office of Administrative Hearings

The sole function of the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) is to conduct fair and impartial contested case hearings statewide in disputes between Wyoming’s residents or guests and state governmental agencies. The OAH is uniquely situated to act as an independent, impartial hearing authority because it is a separate operating agency with no agency interest in the substantive issues presented in any of the cases it hears. The parties are therefore assured a neutral process that will favor neither side.

The OAH is statutorily mandated to provide contested case hearing services for the Department of Employment and the Department of Transportation, and their caseloads are the OAH’s largest. The OAH also has statutory authority to hear any dispute between any other state agency/board and the public that is served by that state agency/board.

The five categories of cases where the OAH receives contested case referrals across the entire State of Wyoming follow:

1. Most Workers’ Compensation contested cases for the Department of Employment in accordance with W.S. 27-14-602.

2. All Driver’s License actions involving suspension, restriction or cancellation of driving privileges for the Department of Transportation pursuant to W.S. 31-7-105.

3. Any other state agency or board dispute where a request is made for the OAH to provide hearing services pursuant to the authority granted to the OAH by W.S. 9-2-2202(b). Various state boards and agencies such as the Boards of Nursing, Pharmacy, Architects, Engineers, Peace Officers, Mental Health and other Professional Licensing Boards, the Office of State Lands and Investments, the OSHA Division of the Department of Employment, the Department of Education and the Department of Revenue have all requested and received OAH hearing services. The OAH also currently conducts all Medical Review Panel cases, Wyoming Employees’ Group Insurance disputes and Department of Health Medicaid Waiver disputes. All Department of Family Services’ cases concerning entitlement to welfare benefits and abuse/neglect central registry cases are heard by the OAH pursuant to a memorandum of understanding. The newest agencies to request hearing services are the Environmental Quality Council and the Industrial Siting Council.

4. Many disciplinary suspension, dismissal or reduction in force appeals involving a permanent state employee for all state agencies according to W.S. 9-2-1019(a).

5. Mediation and arbitration services are also being requested by agencies such as the Department of Employment and the Game and Fish Department.

Every Wyoming resident or guest is a potential OAH customer. The OAH estimates that approximately 2,400 citizens were served during fiscal year 2007.

The OAH employs four full-time Hearing Examiners, including its Director, eight part-time contract Hearing Examiners located around the state and five support staff. All Hearing Examiners must have a minimum of five years experience as an attorney to qualify as a Hearing Examiner. Additionally, all Hearing Examiners at OAH have had mediation training and four Hearing Examiners are trained arbitrators.

During fiscal year 2007, the OAH received nearly 1,500 DUI cases from the Department of Transportation for contested case hearing. Due to the volume of referrals, all driver’s license hearings are conducted telephonically.

That same fiscal year, nearly 750 workers’ compensation cases were received from the Department of Employment. Those cases are heard in the area where the alleged injury occurred.

Finally, 120 cases were received from various state boards, agencies and commissions. Those cases are conducted at various locations around the state.

OAH has seen a significant rise in the number of case referrals. OAH’s caseload has risen 60 percent over the past six years.

All cases referred to the OAH are conducted as contested case proceedings in accordance with the Wyoming Administrative Procedure Act and OAH’s Rules for Contested Case Practice and Procedure. Prior to the contested case hearing, all participants are required to timely file disclosure statements to include a complete list of witnesses who will or may testify together with information on how that witness may be contacted and a brief description of his/her testimony. Disclosure also includes a complete list of all exhibits appropriately marked including documents and statements which the party may introduce.

Generally, the rules of evidence are somewhat relaxed, but still utilized for guidance. Discovery is conducted in accordance with the Rules of Civil Procedure, as well as individual agency rules.

All decisions from OAH are reduced to writing to include findings of fact and conclusions of law. Any adverse decision from the OAH is directly appealable to the district court in the jurisdiction where the action occurred. OAH’s affirmance rate on appeal is currently 83 percent. Finally, in accordance with Wyoming Supreme Court case law, no constitutional challenges can be heard by the OAH.

The OAH appoints attorneys to represent injured workers in all workers’ compensation cases and maintains lists of attorneys by county that are sent directly to employee/claimants to help them find legal representation. Attorneys are paid reasonable fees and costs at the conclusion of the case. To be added to the OAH’s workers’ compensation attorney list or if you need further information, please contact Deborah Baumer, Director, at (307) 777-6660.


Deborah A. Baumer graduated from the University of Wyoming College of Law in 1991. She served as Appellate Counsel for the Wyoming Public Defender Program from 1991 – 1996. She was a hearing examiner for the Office of Administrative Hearings from 1996 – 2001 before becoming the Director in 2001. She remains as the Director of the OAH today.

Copyright © 2007 – Wyoming State Bar

     

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