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Dubuclet v. Tennessee Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

August 16, 2019

ERIC DUBUCLET
v.
TENNESSEE DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES

          Session August 6, 2019

          Appeal from the Chancery Court for Davidson County No. 17-878-III Ellen H. Lyle, Chancellor

         The Tennessee Department of Human Services denied Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to a two-person household based upon its determination that the household's income exceeded the eligibility requirements. After a final order was entered by the Department, the household petitioned the Chancery Court of Davidson County for review pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 4-5-322. The Chancellor affirmed the decision of the agency and dismissed the petition for judicial review; the household appeals the decision. Upon our review, we affirm, finding that the Department's decision was not in violation of constitutional or statutory provisions, arbitrary or capricious, in excess of statutory authority, made upon unlawful procedure, or unsupported by substantial and material evidence.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Affirmed

          Eric A. Dubuclet, Antioch, Tennessee, Pro Se.

          Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; and Erin A. Shackelford, Assistant Attorney General, for the Tennessee Department of Human Services.

          Richard H. Dinkins, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which John Wesley McClarty and W. Neal McBrayer, JJ., joined.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION[1]

          RICHARD H. DINKINS, JUDGE

         This appeal invokes our review, pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 4-5-322 and -323, of the decision of the Tennessee Department of Human Services to deny Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ("SNAP") benefits to Eric and Glenda Dubuclet on the basis that their household income exceeded federally-mandated eligibility requirements for their household size.

         Eric Dubuclet is a resident of Antioch and conservator of his wife Glenda, who is disabled following a brain injury she suffered while giving birth in the late 1970s. The Dubuclets previously lived in Louisiana, where Mr. Dubuclet petitioned the Civil District Court for a "limited interdiction" of Mrs. Dubuclet, which was granted, resulting in his appointment as "Curator of the person of Glenda Dubuclet."[2] The Dubuclets moved to Tennessee after Hurricane Katrina and at some point, applied for and were approved for food stamps through SNAP. On March 27, 2017, Mr. Dubuclet received notice that the household's SNAP benefits were being terminated on April 30, 2017, because the Tennessee Department of Human Services' ("the Department") had determined that Glenda received retirement income that, when included as part of the household's income, caused the household income to exceed the federally-mandated monthly income standards to remain eligible for SNAP benefits.[3] Mr. Dubuclet appealed the termination and requested a fair hearing, which was held by telephone on May 2, 2017. During the hearing, and through evidence he submitted afterwards, Mr. Dubuclet argued that he receives no income and that Mrs. Dubuclet's pension and disability income should not be attributed to the household because she is disabled and the subject of a conservatorship, and thus all the money she receives "must be used on her."

         The Hearing Officer entered an Initial Order on May 9, upholding the Department's decision to terminate the Dubuclets' SNAP benefits and holding that federal and state regulations do not grant an exception, as urged by Mr. Dubuclet, that would allow the Department to exclude Mrs. Dubuclet's income from the household budget. Mr. Dubuclet appealed the decision of the Hearing Officer, and in a Final Order entered June 16, the Commissioner's Designee concluded that the appeal should be denied. The Final Order adopted the decision of the Hearing Officer and incorporated his findings of fact and conclusions of law. Mr. Dubuclet filed a petition for judicial review of the Final Order in the Chancery Court of Davidson County on August 15.

         On June 20, 2018, the Chancellor entered an order affirming the Final Order terminating the Dubuclets' SNAP benefits, concluding that the Department "decided this matter rationally based upon the applicable law governing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the evidence in the record." Accordingly, the Chancellor held that the decision was not arbitrary or capricious, an abuse or unwarranted exercise of its discretion, or in excess of the Department's statutory authority, and that it was supported by substantial and material evidence.

         Mr. Dubuclet appeals, pro se. At the outset of our consideration of this appeal, we observe that his brief fails to adhere to Rule 27 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure in many respects. It contains no statement of issues raised, no table of contents, no table of authorities, no statement of the case, and no statement of the facts. Rather, it is comprised of ten numbered paragraphs that we construe as argument.[4] His reply brief is of a similar nature. In spite of these deficiencies, which Appellee asserts merit the dismissal of the appeal, we exercise our "discretion to suspend or relax some of the rules for good cause" in order to consider the merits of this appeal. Paehler v. Union Planters Nat. Bank, 971 S.W.2d 393, 397 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1997). We thus turn to the crux of the matter, which the Appellee has framed as follows: "Whether the trial court properly dismissed the petition for judicial review and affirmed the Department of Human Services' termination of Mr. Dubuclet's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ("SNAP") benefits."

         Our review of the Department's decision is governed by the standard set forth at ...


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