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Perry v. Department of Children and Families

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

June 7, 2017

Lucy Perry, Petitioner,
Department of Children and Families, Respondent.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         A Case of Original Jurisdiction-Mandamus.

          Florida Legal Services, Inc., and Cindy Huddleston and Kathy Grunewald (Tallahassee); Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc., and Liam Joseph McGivern and James Murray Slater, for petitioner.

          Leslie Hinds St-Surin, Regional Legal Counsel, for respondent.

          Before ROTHENBERG, SALTER, and SCALES, JJ.

          SCALES, J.

         Petitioner Lucy Perry seeks a writ of mandamus requiring Respondent Department of Children and Families ("DCF") to provide Petitioner with the notice and opportunity for hearing required by Florida's Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"). We deny the petition because DCF provided Petitioner with the required notice upon making its substantial interest determination.

         I. Facts

         At all times material, Petitioner was a food assistance recipient pursuant to Florida's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ("SNAP").[1] Florida's SNAP was modified in 2015, so that, effective January 1, 2016, SNAP recipients designated by DCF as being Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents ("ABAWDs") are required to participate in a SNAP Employment and Training ("E&T") program, operated by a local workforce services organization. The purpose of these E&T programs is to help SNAP recipients gain skills and work experience in order to achieve self-sufficiency. SNAP benefits cease if an ABAWD SNAP recipient, who is otherwise not entitled to exception or exemption, fails to meet the work requirements. It appears that an ABAWD SNAP recipient is excepted or exempt from work requirements if, among other reasons set forth in federal administrative rules, the individual has dependents, is pregnant, is over the age of forty-nine or is physically or mentally unable to work. See 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(b), (c) (2015). Unless exempted, an ABAWD may receive SNAP benefits for no more than three months in any thirty six-month period. Id.

         All SNAP recipients, whether or not deemed an ABAWD, are required to undergo a continual re-application, and re-certification of their eligibility, for SNAP benefits. On or about December 21, 2015, DCF provided Petitioner with a Notice of Eligibility Review document reminding Petitioner of her obligation to re-apply for benefits if she desired to obtain SNAP benefits beyond January of 2016. This letter purported to inform Petitioner of new guidelines applicable to those SNAP recipients identified by DCF as ABAWDs, indicating the possibility that Petitioner could be re-classified as an ABAWD. To that point, Petitioner had received food benefits since 1997, not as an ABAWD due to disability.

         This December 21, 2015 Notice of Eligibility Review contained a boilerplate notice informing Petitioner that she had a right to ask for a hearing before a hearing officer. The record reflects that the next notice Petitioner received was a February 9, 2016 Notification of Mandatory Participation sent to Petitioner not by DCF, but by City of Miami Career Center, i.e., the local workforce services organization operating the SNAP E&T program. This notice states, in relevant part, as follows: "You are receiving this notice because DCF referred you to the SNAP E&T program as a mandatory participant." While this February 9, 2016 notice advises Petitioner, in general terms, of a right to have "decisions about your case reviewed by a program supervisor, " it does not provide any notice of how Petitioner might challenge DCF's identification of Petitioner as a time-limited ABAWD mandatory participant.

         As the record indicates, sometime between December 21, 2015 (the date of DCF's Notice of Eligibility Review explaining that certain SNAP recipients would be designated by DCF as ABAWDs), and February 9, 2016 (the date of the workforce service organization's notice to Petitioner), DCF designated Petitioner as a time-limited ABAWD required to participate in the SNAP E&T program. On February 23, 2016, DCF sent Petitioner a Notice of Case Action informing Petitioner that her SNAP benefits would end on March 31, 2016, because Petitioner did not complete the ABAWD work requirements. This Notice of Case Action contained the same boilerplate hearing notice that appeared in DCF's December 21, 2015 letter. While not entirely clear from the record, it appears that DCF terminated Petitioner's SNAP benefits, effective April 1, 2016.

         Petitioner engaged counsel who sent DCF a March 31, 2016 e-mail suggesting that DCF provide specific notice to SNAP recipients who have been identified as ABAWDs, to allow such time-limted ABAWD SNAP recipients, such as Petitioner, the opportunity to challenge their ABAWD designations. The record reflects that DCF did not respond to this e-mail, and thus this petition seeking mandamus relief followed. Petitioner alleges that she is unable to work, and therefore, is exempt from the employment and training requirements applicable to those SNAP recipients identified by DCF as ABAWDs.

         Through supplemental briefing invited by the Court, the record reflects that Petitioner's SNAP benefits were restored sometime after the April 21, 2016 filing of this petition. The record, however, also evidences that DCF, late in 2016, sent Petitioner another notice informing her of the eligibility requirements that are mandatory for SNAP recipients identified as ABAWD. As of the date of oral argument, [2] it was unclear as to whether DCF now ...

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