APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE FIRST CIRCUIT (CIVIL NO. 07-1-0479) (CIVIL NOS. 08-1-1728 and 09-1-1540)
SUMMARY DISPOSITION ORDER
(By: Nakamura, C.J., Fujise and Leonard, JJ.)
In these consolidated appeals, Plaintiff- Appellant/Appellant William Middleton (Middleton), pro se, appeals from three separate judgments, entered by the Circuit Court of the First Circuit (circuit court), *fn1 upholding administrative decisions by Defendant-Appellee/Appellee State of Hawaii, Department of Human Services (DHS).
Both Middleton's appeals are related to DHS's decision to terminate his medical assistance and food stamp benefits. In Appeal No. 29164, Middleton appeals the circuit court's judgment upholding a DHS hearing officer's determination that DHS properly terminated Middleton's food stamp benefits upon discovering he was ineligible due to unreported assets.
Appeal No. 30618 involves two separate actions filed by Middleton with the circuit court. In the first action, Civil No. 08-1-1728, Middleton challenged DHS's efforts to seek repayment from Middleton for the value of the food stamps he received while ineligible. In the second action, Civil No. 09-1-1540, Middleton challenged DHS's determination that Middleton was disqualified from applying for food stamps for one year as a result of his failure to disclose the assets that rendered him ineligible.
We must first note that Middleton's briefs are in wholesale nonconformity with the Hawaii Rules of Appellate
Procedure (HRAP) Rule 28(b) and are extremely difficult to follow. On this basis alone, we could dismiss his appeal. HRAP Rule 30 (2001) ("When the brief of an appellant is . . . not in conformity with these rules, the appeal may be dismissed or the brief stricken and monetary or other sanctions may be levied by the appellate court."). See also Schefke v. Reliable Collection Agency, Ltd., 96 Hawaii 408, 420, 32 P.3d 52, 64 (2001);
Bettencourt v. Bettencourt, 80 Hawaii 225, 228, 909 P.2d 553, 556 (1995) ("appellant's brief in almost no respect conforms to the requirements of [HRAP] Rule 28(b), which we have held is, alone, sufficient basis to affirm the judgment of the circuit court") (citation omitted).
However, we also recognize that our appellate courts have "consistently adhered to the policy of affording litigants the opportunity to have their cases heard on the merits, where possible," Schefke, 96 Hawaii at 420, 32 P.3d at 64 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted; emphasis supplied), and have addressed the merits of an appeal, the nonconformance of the appellate briefs notwithstanding. See, e.g., O'Connor v. Diocese of Honolulu, 77 Hawaii 383, 385-86, 885 P.2d 361, 363-64 (1994). We surmise that the foregoing policy is most acute where, as here, the litigant is pro se. Thus, we address Middleton's arguments insofar as they can be gleaned from his briefs.
We begin by acknowledging that our review of an appeal from an agency decision is de novo. That is to say, we decide "whether the court under review was right or wrong in its decision." Soderlund v. Admin. Dir. of the Courts, 96 Hawaii 114, 118, 26 P.3d 1214, 1218 (2001) (quoting Farmer v. Admin. Dir. of the Court, 94 Hawaii 232, 236, 11 P.3d 457, 461 (2000)) (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted). However, that is not to say that, as Middleton apparently argues the circuit court should have, we are under any obligation to scour the record and make Middleton's arguments for him. With these concepts in mind, we consider Middleton's appeals. In Appeal No. 29164, it appears Middleton claims that DHS improperly counted his assets--an "Ameriprise account" that he had possessed at the time of his application for benefits but did not disclose in the application--in determining his eligibility for food stamps and medical assistance.*fn2 In particular, he argues that his assets are proceeds from a pension plan and thus should be excluded as assets with respect to the food stamp program pursuant to Hawaii Administrative Rules (HAR) § 17-675-29 (amended 1994). That section states, inter alia, that assets excluded from the food stamp program include "cash value of life insurance policies" and "cash value of pension plans or funds, except for . . . individual retirement accounts (IRA's)[.]" HAR § 17-675-29(3) and (4). The DHS hearing officer rejected this argument, and the record reveals that the Ameriprise account in question is designated as a rollover IRA. We agree with the DHS hearing officer's rejection of Middleton's argument. Middleton does not offer any other cogent argument that convinces this court that the circuit court erred in upholding DHS's determination that Middleton was not eligible for food stamps or medical assistance.
In Appeal No. 30618, Civil No. 08-1-1728, Middleton contends that the circuit court erred in upholding DHS's determination that Middleton was required to repay the value of the food stamps he received while ineligible. In support of this contention, Middleton apparently maintains that DHS's overpayment claims are invalid because of a number of procedural issues.
1. Middleton contends that DHS did not assist him in completing the application form for the food stamp program. This is an issue that Middleton did not raise before the circuit court. New issues on appeal are generally deemed waived. See Kemp v. State of Hawaii Child Support Enforcement Agency, 111 Hawaii 367, 391, 141 P.3d 1014, 1038 (2006). Even were we to consider Middleton's argument on this issue, it is without merit. While HAR § 17-647-3 provides for DHS assistance with completing an application, it does not mean that the department is responsible for material omissions by the applicant. Middleton signed the application under penalty of law that his answers were correct and complete to the best of his knowledge and that he understood the questions and the record reflects he was informed of his rights and responsibilities with regard to the application.
2. Middleton also seems to argue that there was a due process violation because there was no "'Full Disclosure' with 'Adequate Notice' (sic) by DHS." At another point, he contends that he did not receive all required documents from DHS. However, Middleton does not adequately explain--either factually or legally--how his due process rights were violated. Nothing in the record indicates that Middleton did not receive relevant ...