Appeal from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable Robert O. Wefald, Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kapsner, Justice.
[¶1] Melanie Hendrickson appeals from a district court judgment affirming a decision by the North Dakota Department of Human Services ("Department") denying her application for Medicaid benefits after the Department found she was not eligible for benefits as an incapacitated parent. Hendrickson argues she was not afforded a fair administrative hearing and the evidence does not support the Department's decision. We hold Hendrickson was afforded a fair hearing, and we affirm.
[¶2] Hendrickson was the mother of a child receiving Medicaid benefits, and Hendrickson had gall bladder surgery on April 24, 2007. On May 3, 2007, Hendrickson informed her doctor, Dr. Colin MacColl, that she was a "self-pay" patient and wanted to return to work as soon as possible. Dr. MacColl released Hendrickson to return to work, but restricted her from lifting for four weeks. Hendrickson's job with a daycare provider required her to lift children, and her employer was unable to accommodate the doctor's lifting restriction. As a result, Hendrickson did not return to work with her employer until May 23, 2007.
[¶3] Hendrickson applied to Grand Forks County Social Services for Medicaid benefits, claiming she was eligible for benefits as an incapacitated parent of a child receiving benefits under N.D. Admin. Code § 75-02-02.1-15(1), which requires the parent of an eligible child to have a "physical or mental defect . . . of such a debilitating nature as to reduce substantially or eliminate the parent's capacity either to earn a livelihood or to discharge the parent's responsibilities as a homemaker and provider of child care for a period of thirty days or more." Under N.D. Admin. Code § 75-02-02.1-15(2), "[t]he incapacity must be such that it reduces substantially or eliminates employment in the parent's usual occupation or another occupation to which the parent may be able to adapt," and "[t]he fact that a parent may have to change occupation or work location does not establish incapacity or limited employment opportunities for a disabled parent."
[¶4] A State Review Team recommended finding that Hendrickson did not meet the criteria for incapacity because she "[w]ould be capable of other than usual and customary work as of the 5/3/07 visit with Dr. Colin MacColl." Grand Forks County denied Hendrickson's application, and she appealed to the Department.
[¶5] At an administrative hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), Laura Krause, an eligibility specialist with "HRS-Erase," appeared with Hendrickson as a non-lawyer patient advocate. Krause described "HRS-Erase" as "a contracted company [with Altru Health Systems] that assists self-pay patients acquire some type coverage," and Krause described her role as "assisting [Hendrickson] in her initial application for incapacity. And then she's asked me to assist her with this appeal." At the hearing, the ALJ allowed Krause to question Hendrickson, and the following colloquy occurred:
MS. KRAUSE: Okay. I do have a quick question then. Ms. Mullen had stated that she would not like me to ask any open- ended questions. Is that what I'm understanding?
JUDGE FETCH: Yes. You need to ask specific questions rather than [saying] Melanie, tell us about and then have her give a, a narrative.
MS. KRAUSE: Okay. So, Melanie, do you feel as though following your appointment with Dr. MacColl on May 3rd, that you were able to return to any type of job?
MS. HENDRICKSON: No, I do not.
MS. KRAUSE: And the reasoning that you have told me that you were unable to return to any type of job was due to the side effects of your prescribed medications. Is that what . . .
MS. HENDRICKSON: Yes. There were . . .
MS. HENDRICKSON: Side effects.
MS. KRAUSE: Okay. And at this point in time, you felt as though you would be able to return as the doctor originally stated as of June 1st?
MS. MULLEN: Your Honor . . .
JUDGE FETCH: Yes, I understand. It's, it's, what you're doing is actually testifying. Your, the questions are very leading. You need to, you need to either ask specific ...