us supreme court

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected Florida’s request to take up a dispute with the federal government stemming from concerns about “medically fragile” children being placed in nursing homes.

The Supreme Court, as is common, did not explain its refusal to hear the case. But the move effectively let stand a decision by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of the U.S. Department of Justice in a nearly decade-long legal battle.

The issue of care for medically fragile children, who have severe health conditions, drew attention in 2012 after a Justice Department investigation found Florida was unnecessarily institutionalizing children with disabilities in nursing homes. The department also said the state’s Medicaid program placed other children at risk of institutionalization.

The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, which runs much of the Medicaid program, vehemently disputed the allegations.

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit, alleging that the state violated part of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019 allowed the Justice Department to pursue the case — and the full Atlanta-based court last year declined to take it up.

In seeking a hearing at the Supreme Court, attorneys for the state contended that the Justice Department did not have the legal authority to sue Florida under what is known as Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In an April petition, they alleged that the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals “grievously erred” in allowing such a lawsuit.

“In doing so, it approved a type of Title II suit not tethered to discrimination against any particular individual, but instead one seeking to institute federal supervision of state programs at a systemic level,” lawyers in Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office wrote. “Unlike the individual claims the statute authorizes, these claims for systemic relief — with the full might of the federal government behind them — put enormous pressure on defendant states to settle by agreeing to federal oversight in important policy areas. The result is to empower the Department of Justice to dictate to states core sovereign choices through the threat of broad Title II ADA liability.”

But in an August brief, the Department of Justice said it had filed dozens of lawsuits against public entities under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act during the past 30 years and settled other cases.

“The court of appeals’ decision thus merely reaffirms a long-established understanding,” Justice Department lawyers wrote.

At the Supreme Court, Florida drew support from attorneys general from 15 states in a friend-of-the-court brief filed in May. That brief was led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and included the attorneys general from Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah.

Like the lawyers in Moody’s office, they argued that the Justice Department overstepped its authority in the case.

“This “(Supreme) Court should grant review to vindicate Florida’s legitimate right to enforce its duly enacted laws without interference from claims by the United States that have never been authorized by Congress,” the friend-of-the-court brief said.


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