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State To Pay $176K In Legal Expenses In Immigrant ER Case

Stethoscope and gavel against a white backdrop.
Wikimedia Commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration will have to pay more than $176,000 in legal fees and costs because of losing part of a legal battle about hospitals providing emergency care to undocumented immigrants, an administrative law judge ruled Monday.

But the amount ordered by Judge John D.C. Newton is hundreds of thousands of dollars less than requested by attorneys who have represented a coalition of hospitals.

Hospitals are required to treat undocumented immigrants who show up for emergency care, but the underlying legal dispute has centered on payments hospitals receive from the state's Medicaid program.

Newton ruled in December 2012 that the agency had made payment-related changes without going through a required rule-making process. The agency took the issue to the 1st District Court of Appeal but later dismissed the appeal.

Newton ruled Monday that the state should pay the attorneys $76,500 for their handling of the administrative case, $93,711 for their work in the appeals court and $6,333 in costs. The attorneys had sought $365,351 for the administrative case and $397,522 for the appeal, according to documents posted on the state Division of Administrative Hearings website.

After the hospitals won the underlying legal dispute, the Agency for Health Care Administration changed its process for evaluating claims involving undocumented immigrants. The hospitals challenged that change, but the agency won in an administrative case and at the 1st District Court of Appeal.