Ruling against child-support agency reversed
But payments must go out in a timely manner, the high court rules
The Hawaii Supreme Court has upheld a judge's ruling that a state agency is legally required to disburse child-support payments on a timely basis.
Following Circuit Judge Sabrina McKenna's ruling, plaintiffs' attorney Frank O'Brien said the Child Support Enforcement Agency had no trouble locating recipients and disbursing about $3 million that had not been paid to thousands of custodial parents.
"It's shameful that it took a lawsuit and a judgment to get (CSEA) to give the people their money," he said.
But the high court's five justices were unanimous in their finding that while the CSEA is legally required to disburse payments in a timely manner, it had no fiduciary duty to the custodial parents to do so.
The court's decision partially overturns a 2003 judgment on a class-action lawsuit by McKenna, who found the CSEA had violated its fiduciary duty to the custodial parents by not disbursing their support payments on time.
It also voids McKenna's awarding of attorney fees to the plaintiffs since they are no longer on the prevailing side.
O'Brien said the attorney fees amounted to half a million dollars. "I'm happy we got money to the people who deserve it. I'm unhappy with the (Supreme Court's) ruling," he said.
The lawsuit involves support payments the agency put into "un-cashed check" or "bad address" accounts. In 1998 the CSEA switched to a new computer system to keep track of and locate delinquent parents. During the transition, thousands of custodial parents complained they were not getting their support checks even though the money was being withheld from their ex-spouses' paychecks.
One of the parents, Ann Kemp, filed the lawsuit for herself and on behalf of all the other parents who were not getting their support payments.
Even if Kemp had prevailed, she still might not have qualified for attorney fees because the high court found that she was not an adequate representative of a class.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
» The Hawaii Supreme Court rejected a lower court's judgment against the state Child Support Enforcement Agency and overturned a $500,000 award to the plaintiff in the case. A Page A3 article yesterday did not make clear the extent of the Supreme Court's ruling. While the court affirmed the agency's responsibility to disburse payments in a timely manner, it did not rebuke the agency as was incorrectly reported in the article's headline.