Unemployment: Judge says he has no ‘authority’ to order state to fix system, make immediate payments

A Tallahassee judge said Thursday he cannot order the state to pay people immediately because he doesn’t have the authority, which comes as disappointment for hundreds of thousands unemployed Floridians.

Serious, scared, devastated and frustrated — that is how Judge John Cooper described the people waiting to be paid their unemployment benefits and struggling to survive.

But his decision ultimately came down to whether he has the power to do what he was being asked.

The plaintiffs asked the judge to order the state to “fix” the system so people could be paid immediately. They argued by not “promptly” making payments or “accurately” determining eligibility, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is breaking the law.

“They haven’t met their obligations, even under the audit or under the law, to provide a system that will accurately determine whether claimants are entitled to unemployment compensation benefits,” said Marie Mattox, the attorney for the plaintiffs.

RELATED: Audit reveals DEO knew about unemployment website flaws

The DEO told the court it’s made every effort to speed up and improve the process since March, making significant changes to the website, call centers and policies.

“The injunction that is being sought here would not serve the public interest because the plaintiffs cannot establish any of the four factors that are required to receive an injunction,” DEO attorney Daniel Nordby said.

In the end, the Judge Cooper decided the plaintiff’s request was too vague.

He says he wasn’t offered any evidence to show how paying people any faster could be done properly and legally. And, that in this case, he can’t tell the state how to do its job just because people don’t like the way it’s doing it.

“If it’s subject to a difference of opinion (in other words: discretion), the court doesn’t have the power to change that,” Judge Cooper said. “The power to change that is voting.”

This decision can be immediately appealed. And, from the looks of it, the plaintiffs plan on doing that.

Losing in Thursday’s hearing, however, is not the end of the class action lawsuit.

Lawyers say that’s the long game.

They’re still preparing for a trial, suing the DEO and the company that built the unemployment website for negligence, breach of duty and more.

For ongoing updates and information on unemployment, follow WINK News Investigative Reporter Sara Girard on Twitter and Facebook.

She also updates the WINK News FAQ: Unemployment Resources page as information is received.

Reporter:Sara Girard
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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