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Williform v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

May 16, 2018



          Kevin De Liban, Legal Aid of Arkansas, for appellant.

          Richard N. Rosen and Eric Collins, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

          PHILLIP T. WHITEAKER, Judge.

         Kenisha Williform appeals the order of the Craighead County Circuit Court that affirmed the decision of an administrative law judge (ALJ) finding that Williform, a certified nursing assistant (CNA), perpetrated an act of abuse on a resident of a long-term-care facility. On appeal, she raises two arguments, contending that (1) the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) violated statutory provisions requiring it to conduct an investigation into the allegations of abuse, and (2) there was insufficient evidence to support the finding that she committed an act of abuse. We find merit in her first argument, and we reverse.

         I. Procedural Background

         Williform was employed as a CNA by Lexington Place Healthcare and Rehabilitation in Jonesboro. In June 2015, two coworkers accused her of throwing a catheter bag onto a resident's lap. The incident was reported to the facility administrator, David Brazile, who filled out a Form DMS-762.[1] Brazile forwarded the form to the Office of Long Term Care (OLTC), the division of DHS charged with the responsibility for investigating allegations of suspected maltreatment of long-term-care-facility residents. Brazile also terminated Williform's employment as a result of the incident.

         In July, OLTC advised Williform that it had reviewed the allegations and was issuing a "Founded Report" against her. The OLTC notification also informed Williform that the report would be entered on the Registry of Certified Nursing Assistants and the Adult Maltreatment Central Registry if she did not appeal the ruling. Williform timely filed a notice of appeal and requested an administrative hearing.

         At the administrative hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Brazile as well as Kristy Shaw and Paula Ward, the coworkers who had reported the allegation of abuse. Shaw and Ward testified that they observed Williform throw a catheter bag onto the lap of a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic patient. Williform also testified and denied the allegations. At the end of the hearing, Williform argued both that the evidence did not support a finding of abuse and that DHS had not conducted a thorough investigation of the case, as set forth in Arkansas Code Annotated section 12-12-1711 (Repl. 2016). The ALJ subsequently issued an order finding that Williform had abused the resident and that DHS "did due diligence in investigating this matter by producing a hearing packet containing written witness statements, subpoenaing witnesses, and providing reportable documentation to support their 'Findings' in this matter."

         Williform filed a timely request for reconsideration of the ALJ's decision, challenging the ALJ's finding of abuse and the conclusion that DHS had conducted a proper investigation. She further asserted that DHS's failure to investigate amounted to a denial of due process. The ALJ issued an amended and substituted order that again found that DHS had conducted a sufficient investigation pursuant to OLTC's rules and regulations.

         Williform then filed a petition for review of the ALJ's decision in the Craighead County Circuit Court, asserting that her substantial rights had been prejudiced in three ways: (1) the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence, (2) DHS violated statutory provisions and engaged in unlawful procedure by failing to conduct an investigation of the abuse allegations as mandated by Arkansas Code Annotated sections 12-12-1710 and 12-12-1711, and (3) DHS violated her due-process rights by failing to conduct an adequate investigation.

         The circuit court conducted a hearing on the matter and accepted briefs from the parties. It thereafter issued an order upholding the agency decision, finding that it was supported by substantial evidence of record, was not in violation of any statutory provisions, and did not engage in unlawful conduct. Williform filed a timely notice of appeal.

         II. Standard of Review

         Our standard of review in this appeal is multitiered. First, because this is an appeal taken pursuant to the Arkansas Administrative Procedure Act, Arkansas Code Annotated sections 25-15-201 to -219 (Repl. 2014), our review is directed not toward the circuit court but toward the decision of the administrative agency. Capstone Oilfield Disposal of Ark., Inc. v. Pope Cty., 2012 Ark.App. 231, at 4, 408 S.W.3d 65, 67; Walls v. Ark. Oil & Gas Comm'n, 2012 Ark.App. 110, 390 S.W.3d 88. We take a limited review of an administrative agency's decision because the agency is better equipped by specialization, insight through experience, and more flexible procedures than courts, to determine and analyze the legal issues affecting it. Capstone Oilfield Disposal, supra.

         The Administrative Procedure Act provides that a court may reverse or modify an agency's order when the agency's findings, inferences, conclusions, or decisions are (1) in violation of constitutional or statutory provisions; (2) in excess of the agency's statutory authority; (3) made upon unlawful procedure; (4) affected by other error or law; (5) not supported by substantial evidence of record; or (6) arbitrary, capricious, or characterized by an abuse of discretion. Ark. Code Ann. § 25-15-212(h). In this appeal, Williform argues that the agency's order ...

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