TALLAHASSEE – Almost a decade after concerns emerged over the placement of “medically fragile” children in nursing homes, a federal appeals court will not reconsider a ruling that allowed the US Department of Justice to take legal action against Florida.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday declined to hear the case as a full court. A three-judge panel in 2019 supported the Department of Justice’s power to sue under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prompted the state to seek a full court hearing – known as the Request for a Bench Hearing.
The issue of caring for medically fragile children, who suffer from serious health problems, gained attention in 2012 after a Department of Justice investigation found Florida unnecessarily institutionalizing children with disabilities in nursing homes. . The department also said the state’s Medicaid program put other children at risk of institutionalization.
The Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration, which manages much of the state’s Medicaid program, vehemently disputed the claims.
Lawyers for a children’s group have filed a federal lawsuit alleging, in part, that the state was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide services that would allow children with serious medical conditions to stay in their homes and their community. The Justice Department tried to negotiate a deal with the state, but eventually filed a complaint.
In 2017, a U.S. District Judge ruled against the group of plaintiffs because of Florida’s changes to the Medicaid program and also ruled that the Department of Justice did not have standing to pursue the case. But the appeals court panel in 2019 supported the ability of the Department of Justice to bring lawsuits under what’s known as Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Wednesday’s decision to dismiss the request for a full hearing provided no explanation and did not specify how many Atlanta court judges opposed or supported such a hearing.
But Judge Kevin Newsom, in a dissent joined by Judge Elizabeth Branch, disputed that Congress had given the Department of Justice the power under Title II of the Disability Act to bring such an action. in court against the state. In part, he said the lawsuit was not based on any alleged breach of contracts.
“At the end of the day, there is simply no cause of action to allow the government-free prosecution here,” Newsom wrote. “And we are not free to ward off one, no matter how sympathetic the plaintiffs’ case is.”
Newsom also wrote that he was concerned that the 2019 panel’s decision “has a real cost to the fundamentals of federalism.”
“The result of the panel’s decision is that the attorney general can enforce Title II of the ADA by suing state governments,” the 25-page dissent said. “It’s a big problem.”
But Judge Jill Pryor, who was on the 2019 panel, wrote a lengthy opinion supporting Wednesday’s decision not to hold a full hearing.
“According to the (dissenting) interpretation, when it receives a complaint that a public entity not funded by the federal government has discriminated against a person with a disability, a federal agency devotes resources to investigating the complaint and attempting to achieve an informal settlement, “Pryor wrote. . “But if this process ultimately proves to be unsuccessful, the federal government must give up – because it cannot sue the public entity to enforce the law. Without enforcement, such a regulatory process would be totally ineffective. “
Pryor also rejected Newsom’s arguments on federalism.
“This argument rests entirely on the assumption that Congress did not authorize the Attorney General to prosecute states or state agencies for discrimination when the discrimination occurred in the context of a program or a activity that has not received federal funding, ”Pryor wrote. “Because Congress has in fact authorized the attorney general to prosecute any public entity for discrimination in violation of Title II, there is no problem of federalism here. “