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A.C. v. Agency for Health Care Administration

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

September 11, 2019

A.C. c/o V.R., Appellant,
Agency for Health Care Administration, Appellee.

          An Appeal from the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration Office of Fair Hearings Lower Tribunal No. 18-FH1770.

          A.C. c/o V.R., in proper person.

          Tracy Lee Cooper George, Chief Appellate Counsel and Nicholas A. Merlin, Senior Attorney (Tallahassee), for appellee.

          Before SALTER, LINDSEY and MILLER, JJ.

          SALTER, J.


         The appellee, State of Florida, Agency for Health Care Administration ("AHCA"), has moved the Court to determine whether the mother, appellant V.R., of a disabled 13 year-old child (A.C.), is legally authorized to represent A.C. in her appeal from administrative rulings in a Medicaid benefits case.[1] AHCA points out that Florida's "unauthorized practice of law" restrictions and two reported appellate decisions indicate that "a pleading filed in court by a nonlawyer on behalf of another is considered a nullity."

         This issue was not a concern when V.R. represented her daughter before AHCA's Office of Fair Hearings, culminating in the order under appeal here. The applicable administrative rules, Rule 59G-1.100(7), Florida Administrative Code, and 42 C.F.R. sections 431.221(a) and 435.923, specifically allowed V.R. to be her daughter's "non-attorney authorized representative."

         The Florida Bar has not promulgated a Rule Regulating the Florida Bar to address this specific question, but authority for V.R.'s pro se representation of her disabled daughter can be discerned from various sources:

• A parent's status as natural guardian, and the parent's duties to care for and protect a minor child are well-settled. Section 744.301(1), Florida Statutes (2019). "Each parent has a fundamental obligation to support his or her minor or legally dependent child." § 61.29(1), Fla. Stat. (2019).
• V.R.'s status as an interested party and intervenor would be assured even if the Medicaid benefits are claimed by and for the minor child. V.R.'s status before this Court is as an individual, natural person-not in some special or limited capacity as a trustee, personal representative, or corporation, for example.
• Nor is V.R. a family member authorized by a power of attorney for another adult, as in a case cited by AHCA, Forman v. State Department of Children & Families, 956 So.2d 476, 477 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007). The other decision cited by AHCA on this question, Magnolias Nursing and Convalescent Center v. Department of Health & Rehabilitative Services, 428 So.2d 256 (Fla. 1st DCA 1982), is also inapposite. In that case, a Minnesota attorney who was not licensed to practice in Florida filed a notice of appeal from an administrative order on behalf of a corporation. The Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services moved to strike the notice "since a corporation cannot represent itself and must have a licensed Florida attorney representing it in court . . . ." Id. at 257.
• By virtue of her physical and intellectual limitations, A.C. was unable to represent herself in the administrative proceeding and is unable to represent herself here. Her treating physician reported a diagnosis of "encephalopathy, left sided schizencephaly and cerebral palsy which is manifested by right sided weakness and motor impairments." The therapies at issue in her appeal are to help her perform various motor skills and communicate effectively. Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.540(a) addresses the duties of Florida's courts to provide qualified persons with disabilities "with accommodations, reasonable modifications to rules, policies, or practices, or the provision of auxiliary aids and services, in order to participate in programs or activities provided by the courts of this state." Such accommodations are intended to assure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. section 12101, et. seq.
• AHCA's Office of Fair Hearings granted the petition of "A.C. c/o V.R." for a determination of civil indigent status, approving an application declaring that V.R. has three dependents (including A.C.), is not married, has net income of $750.00 per month, and has no other assets. This Court has received a certified copy of that order and waived the otherwise-applicable filing fee. ...

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