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DALA Does Not Include All the Required Elements in Its Annual Reports.

Without this information, the Legislature cannot properly evaluate DALA’s case management process and the need for additional staff.

Table of Contents

Overview

In our previous audit, we determined that DALA did not file all of the annual reports required by Section 4H of Chapter 7 of the Massachusetts General Laws. In addition, the reports it did file did not contain some of the required information, such as the length of time from when an appeal was received to when a written recommended summary decision2 or other interlocutory ruling3 was issued, or the basis for any case at DALA for longer than six months.

In our current audit, we found that although DALA submitted its annual reports to the Legislature, the reports did not include all the required information. Specifically,

  1. In some cases where there were multiple parties to appeals, the reports did not list all parties.
  2. The reports did not list the disposition of closed cases (decision, settlement, withdrawal, or dismissal).
  3. The reports did not include the total number of simplified hearings.
  4. The reports did not provide the length of time it took to process each case.
  5. The reports did not list all appeals that took more than six months to resolve and the reason for that duration.

Without sufficient information, the Legislature cannot develop a complete assessment of DALA’s case-management process.

Authoritative Guidance

Section 4H of Chapter 7 of the General Laws states,

The division of administrative law appeals shall prepare annually a report concerning all appeals filed with the division during the preceding calendar year. It shall be the responsibility of the chief administrative magistrate to cause a statistical list to be maintained of all matters assigned to each administrative magistrate as relating to any appeals required by law. The report shall contain, at a minimum, the following information: . . . the names of all parties to each appeal; . . . its disposition, whether by decision, withdrawal, settlement or dismissal, . . . the total number of simplified hearings; and the length of time from receipt of the appeal by the division of administrative law appeal until a written recommended final decision, summary decision, or other interlocutory ruling is issued, including the basis for any case at the division for longer than 6 months. Each calendar year the original of the report shall be submitted to the office of the house and senate clerk and to the house and senate committee on ways and means as well as to the director of the Massachusetts permit regulatory office.

Reasons for Issues

Time Matters does not record all listed parties when there is more than one petitioner and/or respondent. Moreover, although Section 4H of Chapter 7 of the General Laws requires DALA to list the disposition of each case in its annual reports, DALA believes that reporting aggregate cases is sufficient to meet the legislative requirements. Additionally, DALA does not track simplified hearings in Time Matters. Nor does DALA specify the length of time from receipt of appeals until the cases are closed; instead, DALA believes that listing the opening and closing dates in the report for each individual case will enable reviewers to determine the duration of each case. Finally, DALA believes that including a general statement in the report about why cases have taken more than six months is sufficient to meet the legislative requirements, although Section 4H of Chapter 7 of the General Laws requires that DALA provide an explanation for such cases.

Recommendations

    DALA should record all the listed parties in Time Matters when there is more than one petitioner and/or respondent and include them in the annual report.

    1. DALA should specify in the report how cases were disposed of (decision, settlement, withdrawal, or dismissal).
    2. DALA should report the total number of simplified hearings in its annual report.
    3. DALA should report the length of time it takes to process each case.
    4. DALA should include in the report an explanation for all cases that require more than six months to resolve. 

    Auditee’s Response

    DALA prepared its annual reports and provided information that was intended to comply with the Legislature’s requirements. For example, in most DALA cases there is one Petitioner and one Respondent. The name of the case field provided with the annual reports includes the names of each of the parties in most cases. Due to the way the docketing system data is exported, additional parties were not listed. The data provided with the annual reports includes the date each open case was filed and the date each closed case was closed.

    After discussing the annual reports with [OSA] staff, DALA began to develop the tools necessary to obtain the data from its case tracking system in order to provide the names of all the parties participating in each case. In addition, DALA will provide the information concerning the type of disposition of each closed case, how long it took to close each case, and the age of each open case. DALA does not have a simplified hearing process, but it will provide the number of cases resolved through Summary Decision pursuant to [Section 1.01(7)(h) of Title 801 of the Code of Massachusetts Regulations]. Because of the number of interlocutory rulings made in each case as a matter of routine, we are unable to provide an accurate number of interlocutory rulings made by DALA each year. We will continue to obtain and provide the most accurate information in future reports.

    Auditor’s Reply

    Based on its response, DALA is taking measures to address our concerns on this matter.

    2.     DALA provides recommended decisions to certain agencies instead of final decisions. A summary decision is a decision issued without an evidentiary hearing.

    3.     An interlocutory ruling is a ruling that does not conclude a matter (for example, a ruling rejecting a motion for summary decision).

    Date published: April 7, 2021
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