Representing yourself in a retirement appeal

The following information is intended to assist if you are representing yourself in a retirement appeal before the Department of Retirement Systems (DRS).

Retirement system members, retirees and others often represent themselves in appeals. DRS is almost always represented by an Assistant Attorney General. You must decide, based on your particular case, whether to hire an attorney or represent yourself. It is important to notify us promptly if you decide to hire an attorney to represent you. If you are represented by an attorney, we communicate with you only through your attorney. If you are not represented by an attorney, we communicate directly with you.

As you begin the appeal process, there are important things for you to consider:

  • What laws were applied in the petition decision?
  • Why do you feel the decision is wrong?
    • Was the wrong law applied? or
    • Was the law applied incorrectly to your situation?
  • Is there new information the petitions examiner did not consider that you want included in your appeal?
  • What proof do you need to show that the decision is wrong?

The appeal process

Important note: The Presiding Officer may rule against you if you fail to file information on time or fail to appear for your hearing.

You have the right to a hearing before a Presiding Officer where evidence will be introduced through witness testimony, documents (called exhibits), or both. The Presiding Officer will not discuss the issues in the appeal with any party unless all parties have an opportunity to participate.

The appeal hearing is a fresh look at the facts and the law. To ensure impartiality, the Presiding Officer is separated from other DRS employees and has not been involved in any decision DRS made about you before the appeal.

The appeal process follows these rules in the Washington Administrative Code (WAC):

Chapter 415-08 WAC: The rules governing retirement appeals.

Chapter 10-08 WAC: The model procedural rules governing hearings (adjudicative proceedings) under the Administrative Procedure Act.

The Presiding Officer is:

Ellen G. Anderson, Retirement Appeals Manager
PO Box 48380
Olympia, WA 98504-8380

The pre-hearing conference

Along with the information in this document, you should have received a notice of the date and time for your pre-hearing conference. The pre-hearing conference is generally held by telephone. The purpose is to help the parties and the Presiding Officer prepare for the hearing. The pre-hearing conference is not the hearing itself, so you will not need to involve any witnesses.

At the pre-hearing conference, the Presiding Officer will answer questions about the hearing procedures and will probably discuss the following items:

1. What are the legal issues in this appeal?

Discussing the issues in your appeal at the pre-hearing conference helps the parties and the Presiding Officer identify and understand the legal issue(s) and avoid spending time on evidence not relevant to your appeal.

2. Can the parties reach any useful stipulations?

“Stipulations” are agreements about facts not in dispute. For example, the parties may agree that certain documents are authentic, that key events happened on certain dates, or that information in a document is reliable. If a stipulation is possible, it speeds up the hearing process. However, you are not required to stipulate or agree to present your information in any particular way. The pre-hearing conference gives you and the Assistant Attorney General an opportunity to discuss possible stipulations and plan how to make information available to the Presiding Officer.

Sometimes the parties may agree that a hearing is not necessary. In that case, the parties agree on the documents they will give to the Presiding Officer to consider when she makes a decision.

3. What evidence will be presented at the hearing?

At the pre-hearing conference you should be prepared to discuss:

  • What outcome (“relief”) you want;
  • The witnesses you intend to call, if any;
  • The evidence you expect to present; and
  • The amount of time you need to present your case.

To prepare for witness testimony (called direct and cross examination) and avoid surprises at the hearing, you or the Assistant Attorney General may ask for clarification of expected testimony. The Presiding Officer may limit the number of witnesses and may exclude testimony or documents that are not relevant.

4. Is any additional information necessary?

The pre-hearing conference is an opportunity to identify any additional information you need to submit to make your request for a hearing more complete or to present your case.

5. When and where will the hearing be held?

At the pre-hearing conference the Presiding Officer sets the date and location for the hearing, as well as the dates for filing information. You may request that your hearing be held in the county where you live.

Preparing for the hearing

After the pre-hearing conference, the Presiding Officer sends to the parties a document called the “Notice of Hearing and Pre-Hearing Order.” This is an important document that gives instructions you need to follow carefully in preparing for your hearing. In addition to the date, time and place for the hearing, this notice identifies the dates by which the parties are required to submit their proposed exhibits, witness lists, pre-hearing briefs, and requests for rulings (called motions). Remember, if you do not submit your documents by the required date, the Presiding Officer may exclude the evidence from the hearing, may rule against you in your appeal, and may even dismiss your appeal completely.

The hearing

In some respects, a retirement appeal hearing is similar to a trial in a courtroom. The Presiding Officer conducts the hearing. All participants are expected to be courteous and to follow the direction of the Presiding Officer.

A court reporter records the hearing. Witnesses are sworn in and answer questions from the parties (called direct examination and cross examination) and the Presiding Officer. The Presiding Officer follows the rules for adjudicative proceedings to admit or exclude evidence.

Retirement appeals are, however, less formal than court proceedings. The appeal hearing usually takes place around a table in a conference room. There is no jury in a retirement appeal, only the Presiding Officer.

Both parties have the opportunity to make short statements of their arguments at the beginning and the end of the hearing. Or you may ask to make your opening and/or closing statements in writing. No one is required to make an opening or closing statement.

As the Appellant, you present your evidence first at the hearing. You have the burden of proof in your appeal. This means you have the responsibility to present the evidence to support your position and to show how the law supports the decision you want. You should be prepared to present all the evidence in support of your claim at the hearing, even if you have already given the same information to another person at DRS. Remember, the Presiding Officer does not have information from your earlier contacts with DRS.

Once you present the evidence you want the Presiding Officer to consider, DRS presents its evidence. When DRS finishes presenting evidence, you will have a chance to respond. You should not bring in new evidence or arguments at this point.

In addition to the testimony and exhibits introduced at the hearing, written arguments (called briefs) may help the Presiding Officer understand the positions of the parties. You may file a brief before the hearing and you may request to file a brief after the hearing. No one is required to file a brief, but the Assistant Attorney General often asks for that opportunity.

The Presiding Officer must base the decision only on the evidence included in the record of the hearing. The record includes the exhibits and the testimony admitted by the Presiding Officer.

The final order

The Presiding Officer does not make a decision at the hearing. After the hearing, the Presiding Officer reviews the transcribed hearing record, the exhibits, and any briefs. The Presiding Officer studies the relevant law, applies it to the facts in the record, and issues a written decision (called the final order). This decision, which contains findings of fact, conclusions of law, and an order, is the final DRS decision on your appeal. The final order is mailed to you and includes a statement of your rights to judicial review if you believe the order is not correct.

Judicial review

If you disagree with the final order, you may ask a court to review it. You must file a petition for review with a Superior Court within 30 days from the date DRS mails the final order to you. The Superior Court judge will look at the same record the Presiding Officer developed in the retirement appeal. Judicial review does not include a new hearing or the opportunity to introduce additional evidence. This is why it is so important to include all the information relevant to your appeal in the hearing record.

Conclusion

If you have questions after reviewing this information, please contact Rebekah Carter, Appeals Coordinator. She may be reached by telephone at 360-664-7294 or by e-mail at RebekahC@drs.wa.gov.

The provisions governing petitions and appeals are contained in the Revised Code of Washington and Washington Administrative Code. This information is a summary of those provisions, not a complete description of the law. If there are any conflicts between what is written in this publication and what is contained in the law, the applicable law will govern.