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01/25/89 Betty Eastman, v. the Department of Public

January 25, 1989





534 N.E.2d 458, 178 Ill. App. 3d 993, 128 Ill. Dec. 276 1989.IL.66

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County; the Hon. Charles F. Scott, Judge, presiding.


PRESIDING JUSTICE UNVERZAGT delivered the opinion of the court. INGLIS and DUNN, JJ., concur.


Plaintiff, Betty Eastman, appeals from a judgment of the circuit court of Lake County which affirmed an Illinois Department of Public Aid (the Department) administrative decision that she had received an overpayment of food stamps. On appeal, plaintiff contends that the administrative decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence and was based on improperly admitted hearsay evidence.

In December 1986, the Department sent plaintiff, a public aid recipient, a notice advising her that she had received a $313 overpayment of food stamps in February 1985. Plaintiff was also advised of other assistance program overpayments; however, these are not at issue. Plaintiff filed a notice of appeal concerning the food stamp overpayment determination.

On February 29, 1986, an administrative appeal hearing was held before hearing officer Jeanette Miller. At the hearing, Department administrative assistant Arthur Pinzer testified that prior to February 1985, plaintiff had been a category eight aid recipient (food stamps only) and that in February 1985 she was transferred to category four (cash assistance and food stamps). Upon transfer of a recipient to a new category, the Department cancels benefits under the old category in order to prevent duplication of benefits. Pinzer testified that the plaintiff's file contains data input forms prepared for the purpose of cancelling plaintiff's category eight case; however, something was wrong with the original February 1985 form, and it was rejected by the computer. Allegedly, category eight benefits were not suspended until March 1985. The data input forms were not offered into evidence and are not part of the record.

Pinzer offered into evidence copies of computer printouts referred to as food stamp ledgers. The printouts indicate that in February 1985, plaintiff was issued food stamps under category four and category eight. The ledgers indicate that food stamps were mailed from Springfield on February 1 and February 8 to a direct delivery agent, a currency exchange in Waukegan. The ledgers also indicate that neither of the food stamp issuances was returned to the Department.

Although the record is hazy, it appears that when food stamps are not picked up by a recipient, they are voided by the direct delivery agent. The agent notifies both Springfield and the local Department office, by returning originals or copies of voided signature cards. Loretta Claybourne, a financial unit supervisor for the Department, testified that she receives the voided signature cards, copies them, and gives copies to the appropriate caseworkers. She keeps the voided signature cards for six months. Pinzer testified that plaintiff's file did not contain a copy of a voided signature card. Both Pinzer and Claybourne testified that they were not involved in the preparation of information reflected on the food stamp ledgers.

Plaintiff testified that she did not remember picking up two sets of food stamps in February 1985. She testified that on one of the computer ledgers both her social security number and her address were incorrect., Plaintiff's counsel objected to the admission of the food stamp ledgers on the grounds of hearsay and lack of foundation.

Following the hearing, the Department issued the hearing officer's findings of fact and the Department's final administrative decision. The hearing officer found that plaintiff had received two sets of food stamps in February 1985. There were no rulings on plaintiff's objections to the food stamp ledgers. The final administrative decision was an affirmance of the hearing officer's findings.

Upon administrative review, the circuit court of Lake County affirmed the Department's decision. The court ruled that the Department ledger is a public record and thus was admissible under the public records exception to the hearsay rule. Plaintiff appeals the circuit court's affirmance of the Department's decision.

The thrust of plaintiff's argument is that the Department's case rests solely on the computer printout food stamp ledgers which are inadmissible as hearsay. Plaintiff also contends that even if the ledgers fall within an exception to the hearsay rule, the Department failed to lay a proper foundation for their admission into evidence. Defendant, on the other hand, ...

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