Court dismisses declaratory relief action over 2005 LBJ hospital fees
A 2007 lawsuit filed against the LBJ Medical Center by veteran lawyer Roy Hall Jr was dismissed by the Trial Division of the High Court earlier this month. The lawsuit was filed through Hall’s attorney, Sharron Rancourt.
According to the ruling, in June 2007, Hall filed a declaratory relief action against the hospital regarding their 2005 facility fees. Chief Justice Michael Kruse, Chief Associate Judge Logoai Siaki and Associate Judge Fa’amausili Pomele signed the ruling.
Hall believes the hospital had violated local statute and he wrote to the hospital demanding a refund for all the fees he paid since the new fees were implemented, as he was entitled to free medical attention, including medication. Further, he believes the hospital cannot charge American Samoans for use of the facility.
Hall filed the lawsuit claiming the Trial Court has jurisdiction under the Declaratory Relief Act, to hear this matter.
He noted that the hospital’s administrative rules and amendments enabling the hospital to increase fees for medical services from time to time are invalid with the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) under ASCA title 13.0602.
Hall said the hospital’s increased facility fees at the time were under a rule of the APA and were void for failing to comply with the APA in 2005.
In its court ruling, the justices said they erred in believing they had jurisdiction to entertain the matter, and moved to dismiss Hall’s entire action without prejudice.
“We earlier assumed, without discussion, subject matter jurisdiction in this action and after limiting the controversy’s scope, allowed the action proceeded to trial in April,” states the court ruling.
The order goes on to say that in view of a recent Appellate Division decision in the government versus Samoa Shipping in 2011 the court finds that assertion of jurisdiction is in error.
The ruling says that under the declaratory relief act, persons challenging agency actions may not avail the Declaratory Relief Act to circumvent the APA and the Administrative Law Judge Act (ALJA).
According to the ruling, the trial court had assumed it had subject matter jurisdiction to hear this controversy under the Declaratory Relief Act, but the Appellate Division has since specified the limits of the Declaratory Relief Act in relation to administrative agency decisions.
“The practice of using declaratory relief actions to challenge an ASG’s Agency’s APA compliance in rule making or rendering of final decision is not allowed unless the court has independent jurisdiction to review the same.
“To rule otherwise would allow the public to flout the Fono- created APA and ALJA statutory of framework of local administrative law; indeed the proper venue for such disputes is normally the office of the Administrative Law Judge, followed by an appeal to the Appellate Division, should a party feel so inclined.”
The trial court says that they have looked through title 13 of the American Samoa Code Annotated and can find no statutory provision specifically exempting the APA and ALJA from applying to controversies stemming from the hospital’s rule making or decision making.
“Consequently the APA and the ALJA apply to the rule making and decision making claims, Hall maintains in his complaint against the hospital, and we (trial court) incorrectly assumed the Declaratory Relief Act allowed us (trial court) to hear this action, in the first instance.”
Rancourt, who represents Hall, has filed a motion for the court to reconsider its decision. A hearing on that matter has yet to be heard before the trial court.