Equitable Tolling May Not Be Used To Save Late Hearing Request When It Could Have Been Easily Submitted on Time

Monday, March 24, 2014
The foregoing case summary was prepared by and appeared in DOAH case notes of the Administrative Law Section newsletter

FACTS: The Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) resolves disputes over the costs of medical care provided to workers’ compensation claimants.  On April 8, 2013, Florists Mutual Ins. Co. (“Florists”) receive notice of DFS’s determination that Florists owed $100,894.54 to the Kendall Regional Medical Center.  The notice advised that a request for an administrative hearing had to be received by DFS within 21 days (i.e., by Monday, April 29, 2013).  Even though DFS’s office was only four miles away, Florists’ attorneys elected to mail a petition from their Tallahassee office on or about Thursday, April 25, 2013.  The postal service inexplicably transported the petition to Louisville, Kentucky where it was processed, returned to Tallahassee,
and delivered to DFS on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.  DFS issued a Notice of Intent to Dismiss, and Florists requested a formal hearing on whether equitable tolling should excuse the untimeliness.


PROCEDURE: One of the most interesting aspects of this case is that the parties invoked section 120.574, agreeing in writing to use the summary hearing process that would expedite proceedings and convey final order authority on DOAH.


OUTCOME: While concluding “[t] here is no bright line or mechanical rule to determine when equitable tolling is warranted,” the ALJ rejected Florists’ argument that the postal service’s error was an extraordinary circumstance that would excuse the untimely filing.  In doing so, the ALJ stated that a diligent petitioner would have used the post office’s tracking services to determine that the petition was delayed “in time to dispatch a courier from its Tallahassee office across the four miles to meet the pending deadline.”  The ALJ noted that “[w]hile this conclusion may seem contrary to the important goal of ameliorating harsh results where there is no prejudice to the other party, there is an equally important competing value: the filing deadlines of procedural rules must be routinely enforced if they are not to become blurred and unreliable.”  The ALJ qualified his ruling by stating that “[t]his is not to conclude that mailing delay could never warrant equitable tolling, but only that it does not do so here[.]”


Source:

Florists Mutual Ins. Co. v. Dep’t of Fin. Serv., Div. of Workers’ Compensation, DOAH Case No. 13-2940 (Final Order Sept. 30, 2013).


About the Author: The foregoing case summary was prepared by and appeared in DOAH case notes of the Administrative Law Section newsletter, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Dec. 2013), a publication of the Administrative Law Section of the Florida Bar.


Tag Words: Department of Financial Services, DFS, medical care, cost of medical care, workers' compensation, request for hearing, late hearing request, intent to dismiss, formal hearing, equitable tolling, filing deadline, DOAH, administrative hearing, administrative law judge, ALJ, administrative law
3/24/2014

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