This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
Tamara J. Johnson,
Washington County Housing and
Filed March 6, 2001
Daniel S. Le, Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, Inc., Suite 300 Minnesota Building, 46 East Fourth Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for relator)
Richard L. Evans, Kathleen M. Brennan, McGrann, Shea, Franzen, Carnival, Straughn & Lamb, Chartered, 2600 U.S. Bancorp Center, 800 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge, Peterson, Judge, and Huspeni, Judge.
Relator Tamara J. Johnson challenges by writ of certiorari the decision of an informal hearing officer to uphold the Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority’s decision to terminate relator’s Section VIII Housing Rental Assistance. Relator argues that the hearing officer failed to make explicit findings, including credibility determinations, and that the quality of hearsay evidence, against which she was not allowed to conduct cross-examination, did not constitute substantial evidence required to terminate her benefits. Because the findings of the hearing officer are sufficient to permit meaningful review, there is substantial evidence supporting the decision to terminate benefits, and relator’s right to conduct cross-examination was not violated, we affirm.
Respondent Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) is an authorized public housing agency that administered relator Tamara J. Johnson’s Section VIII housing allowance benefits. As a condition of receiving benefits, relator’s signed Statement and Certificate of Family Obligations indicates that she must “[s]upply true and complete information regarding changes in family composition.”
HRA, acting on an anonymous report that relator had three individuals living in her unit, forwarded this information to the Washington County Sheriff’s Department. Deputy Sheriff Scott Stillman conducted an investigation and sent his report to HRA, which subsequently terminated relator’s benefits, alleging she had failed to report income of an adult living with her. Relator then demanded an informal hearing.
Deputy Stillman testified at the hearing. His report, which was received in evidence, referenced four Stillwater police reports involving domestic assaults between relator and her boyfriend, Richard Markie. Stillman’s report indicated that in each of the four police reports there were statements that Markie lived with relator.
One of the police reports, dated September 29, 1999, indicated that relator told the reporting officer, Officer Zizzo, that she and Markie “have lived together for 8 months.” Zizzo did not testify at the hearing; his report was received into evidence.
Relator testified that she had never lived with Markie at the Stillwater address, and that the September 29 police report was inaccurate or a misunderstanding.
The informal hearing officer, in her decision, set forth findings of fact which summarized the testimony of Deputy Stillman and relator and referenced the September 29 police report, and concluded that “[relator] violated her family obligations for the Section 8 Rental Assistance Program.”
D E C I S I O N
When taking evidence and hearing testimony, the HRA acts in a quasi-judicial capacity. Carter v. Olmsted County Hous. & Redev. Auth., 574 N.W.2d 725, 729 (Minn. App. 1998). A hearing officer’s administrative decision is presumed correct. Reserve Mining Co. v. Herbst, 256 N.W.2d 808, 824 (Minn. 1977). An agency’s quasi-judicial determinations are upheld unless “unconstitutional, outside the agency’s jurisdiction, procedurally defective, based on an erroneous legal theory, unsupported by substantial evidence, or arbitrary and capricious.” Carter, 574 N.W.2d at 729. Federal regulations, however, require no more than a “written decision, stating briefly the reasons for the decision.” 24 C.F.R. § 982.555(e)(6) (2000).
Relator argues that her due process rights were violated because the informal hearing officer terminated her Section VIII housing benefits without making adequate findings. See Carter, 574 N.W.2d at 730 (noting that a decision that is not supported by “proper findings is considered prima facie arbitrary, and the decision-making body bears the burden of proof on the appellate level.”) (quotation omitted).
We note, initially, that the hearing officer’s findings summarizing the testimony of Deputy Stillman and relator do not contain credibility determinations. We have cautioned against such recitation of witness testimony being labeled as findings of fact. See, e.g., Dean v. Pelton, 437 N.W.2d 762, 764 (Minn. App. 1989). The overarching concern of an appellate court, however, is that a record be sufficient to facilitate meaningful review. See Carter, 574 N.W.2d at 729.
We are able to conduct a meaningful review on the record before us in this case. The statements in the hearing officer’s order, whether denoted “findings” or “decision” permit but one inference: the hearing officer rejected relator’s testimony that Markie did not live with her and found credible relator’s own statements to Officer Zizzo in connection with relator’s report of domestic abuse that “they [relator and Markie] have been with each other for 3 years but had lived together for 8 months.”
The substantial evidence test requires a reviewing court to evaluate the evidence relied upon by the agency in view of the entire record as submitted. If an administrative agency engages in reasoned decisionmaking, the court will affirm, even though it may have reached a different conclusion had it been the factfinder.
Cable Communications Bd. v. Nor-West Cable Communications P’ship, 356 N.W.2d 658, 668-69 (Minn. 1984) (citations and quotations omitted).
Relator argues it was improper for the hearing officer to rely on hearsay evidence in a police report when oral testimony contradicted that evidence. We reject relator’s argument on this issue. The applicable federal regulation permits hearsay. 24 C.F.R. § 982.555(e)(5) (2000) (“Evidence may be considered without regard to admissibility under the rules of evidence applicable to judicial proceedings.”).
The September 29 police report was properly received into evidence, and indicates relator told the reporting officer she had lived with Markie for eight months. This statement of relator herself certainly constitutes substantial evidence. See Cable Communications Bd., 356 N.W.2d at 668 (defining substantial evidence in part as being “[m]ore than a scintilla of evidence”) (quotation omitted). A rational conclusion clearly may follow: relator’s self-serving testimony at the hearing was not as believable as the statement she gave to an officer responding to her call for help after a domestic assault report. See Quinn Distrib. v. Quast Transfer, 288 Minn. 442, 448, 181 N.W.2d 696, 700 (1970) (noting that administrative board fact-finding involves resolving conflicts, determining weight given and inferences drawn from contradictory evidence).
Confrontation of Witnesses
Relator argues that she was entitled to cross-examine the reporting officer and the informant whose call initiated the investigation resulting in a termination of her Section VIII housing benefits. See Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 90 S. Ct. 1011 (1970). Relator’s reliance on Goldberg is misplaced. The Court in Goldberg stated that welfare recipients must be given the “opportunity to confront and cross-examine the witnesses relied upon by the defendants.” Id at 270, 90 S. Ct. at 1021. Nothing in this language indicates that HRA is obligated to call witnesses to enable relator to cross-examine them.
Relator contends that information was disclosed to her just prior to the hearing. At oral argument, however, relator did not dispute having received a copy of HRA’s informal hearing procedures as mandated by 24 C.F.R. § 982.555(e)(2) (2000) (“The family must be given the opportunity to examine before the [HRA] hearing any [HRA] documents that are directly relevant to the hearing.”). Nor does relator argue that any attempt to exercise this right was thwarted.
Meaningful appellate review was possible on the record before us. Substantial evidence supported the decision in this case, and relator’s right to cross-examine witnesses was not violated. Therefore, we affirm the decision of the hearing officer.