TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WWSB) - A Florida Circuit Court Judge granted a motion to dismiss part of a lawsuit that would have compelled the state to pay unemployment claims immediately.
The hearing happened over telephone Wednesday afternoon. Judge Angela Dempsey ruled to dismiss a writ of mandamus filed more than week ago by two Tallahassee attorneys looking for immediate help for the thousands of Floridians waiting on benefits.
“How long do these people have to wait? There are folks that have been applying for benefits since the first or second week of March,” said plaintiff Marie Mattox.
Marie Mattox is part of the team leading a class action lawsuit to push the state to make immediate payments. She says under law the DEO is obligated to be prompt.
“They still have not been paid. We’re in the first or second week of May. So we’re talking about 60 days. That is not prompt payment,” said Mattox.
The attorney representing the DEO says this isn't something that can happen overnight.
“But they don’t point to any specific section of the Florida Statute that we are failing to comply with. There are no time frames or requirements for DEO to do anything within any certain number of specific days. We’re trying to do everything, of course, as fast as we can,” said DEO attorney, Rebekah Davis.
Attorneys for the Department of Economic Opportunity and Governor Ron DeSantis said the plaintiffs weren’t showing enough cause of action for a mandamus.
Attorney James Uthmeier who is representing Gov. DeSantis said it was unclear what the plaintiffs were seeking in their arguments on Wednesday. Uthmeier says the existing system was not ready for an influx. He says the Governor has shown government action to address the emergency by bringing in more employees and spending millions on IT to fix the system and bring in a server like PEGA. The DEO’s attorney, Rebekah Davis, says they wish the system worked better but they’re doing the best they can with the resources they have.
"A mandamus petition should only be issued when there's a clear ministerial duty that a government official is failing to meet, thus depriving someone of a clearly established legal right," said the Governor's attorney, James Uthmeier.
The plaintiffs say the system is broken. They mentioned that 50 years ago we put a man on the moon but we cant even enroll people in unemployment.
“Counsel for the Governor and DEO are grasping at straws when what they need to be doing is looking at the straws that are breaking people’s backs,” said plaintiff Gautier Kitchen.
As for the plaintiffs, Marie Mattox, Gautier Kitchen and Steve Andrews they all spoke about the immediate action needed by the state to help the thousands of people who have gone without answers or benefits.
“The employer has twenty days to respond, not the government. And I just don’t have the authority to rewrite this statute or to create a whole new pay and chase system,” said 2nd Circuit Judge Angela Dampsey
After Judge Dempsey granted the motion to dismiss the mandamus with prejudice, the plaintiff attorneys asked if she could classify this case as great public importance so they could do an immediate appeal. Judge Dempsey said she didn’t know if she had the authority to do that.