Federal Judge Approves APD Class-Action Settlement

, Daily Business Review

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A federal judge approved a settlement in a class-action lawsuit against the Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities about the way the agency notified clients that their funding for services would be cut.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker accepted the settlement, which requires the agency to restore funding within 60 days to anyone who suffered a cut during the agency's transition to the iBudget system, a revamped program that funds services for about 30,000 developmentally disabled Floridians.

Also, the agency is required to revise its notices to clients about future budget allocations. From now on, identical copies of notices that change benefits will be sent to caregivers and guardians—in their primary language—as well as to the clients themselves.

"It's a very significant settlement in terms of ensuring that vulnerable people with developmental disabilities who receive services from the state are being given all of the rights they're entitled to under both the Medicaid Act and the Constitution," said Kirsten Clanton, an attorney with Southern Legal Counsel, Inc. of Gainesville, representing the plaintiffs.

Clanton said those entitlements include changes in the agency's policies regarding notices of cuts in benefits to people with disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy.

APD also agreed to pay the plaintiffs' attorneys' fees and costs.

"After an extensive litigation where the issues, we feel, were fully and properly vetted by both sides and the court, we've reached an amicable solution that addresses the constitutional issues raised by the plaintiffs in this case," said Glenn Burhans, an attorney with Greenberg Traurig, which represented the agency.

The hearing was devoted mainly to housekeeping issues, such as specific language in court documents, since Walker had already approved a preliminary settlement.

"I find the settlement is reasonable, fair and adequate," he said Wednesday.

The lawsuit was brought by 10 named plaintiffs who were affected by the agency's transition to the iBudget system over the last two years. The agency and the Legislature had long grappled with how to provide services while reining in costs, and after years of deficits at APD, lawmakers signed off on the iBudget system, which began being phased in across the state in October 2011.

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