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Heitz v. State, Dept. of Health and Social Services

Supreme Court of Alaska

August 28, 2009

Robin HEITZ, on behalf of herself and all those similarly situated, Appellants,
v.
STATE of Alaska, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND SOCIAL SERVICES, Karleen Jackson, in her official capacity as Commissioner of the Department, Office of Children's Services, and Tammy Sandoval, in her official capacity as Deputy Commissioner of the Office of Children's Services, Appellees.

Page 303

James J. Davis, Jr., Goriune Dudukgian, Ryan Fortson, Northern Justice Project, Anchorage, for Appellants.

John W. Erickson, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, Talis J. Colberg, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellees.

Before : FABE, Chief Justice, EASTAUGH, CARPENETI, and WINFREE, Justices.

OPINION

WINFREE, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

Alleged prior overpayments of foster care reimbursements were recouped by the state through a deduction from a much-later monthly foster care reimbursement payment. The foster parent contends the state violated her due process rights by not providing adequate notice or opportunity to be heard Before the recoupment. The superior court held that the due process clause did not protect the foster parent's interest in receiving foster care reimbursement payments and ruled in favor of the state. Because a foster parent has a property interest in state foster care reimbursement payments that may not be deprived without due process protections, we reverse the superior court's ruling and remand for further proceedings.

Page 304

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

A. Facts

Robin Heitz is a licensed foster parent who has housed and cared for foster children since 2004. Heitz receives a monthly payment from the State of Alaska, Department of Health and Social Services, Office of Children's Services (OCS) to help maintain foster children in her care.[1] According to OCS's handbook for foster families, foster parents receive reimbursement after submitting billing documentation for the days during which the foster parent provided care in the previous month.

In 2005 OCS placed a foster child named Timothy [2] in Heitz's care. Timothy occasionally ran away from Heitz's home, and Heitz notified OCS of each occurrence. Timothy stopped living with Heitz in December 2005.

In September 2006 Heitz received a letter from an OCS social worker informing her that OCS had audited Timothy's case and found " there was an overpayment of foster care while he was placed in [Heitz's] home." The letter stated:

Primarily this occurred when [Timothy] was (1) in Cornerstone [an emergency shelter], or (2) on the run from Cornerstone, or (3) in the Johnson Youth Center following placement and/or run from Cornerstone. I had continued your foster care payment during times I should have ceased payment.
The time period where these discrepancies (overpayments) occurred was roughly 9/13/05 to 1/03/06. I anticipate when the Financial Management Services has completed their audit of foster care payments for [Timothy], they will notify ...

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