TALLAHASSEE — The 1st District Court of Appeal has found that three Florida counties involved in litigation with the Department of Juvenile Justice can move forward with their appeals despite a recent settlement agreement.
The opinion authored by Justice C.J. Roberts allows the counties to pursue a request that the Department of Juvenile Justice reimburse the counties for their actual cost of housing juvenile offenders.
Prior to 2016, the Department of Juvenile Justice had a cost-sharing agreement with 20 counties that allowed it to estimate each year the amount of money that would be spent on juvenile detention by each county.
The counties are responsible for the costs occurring prior to “final court disposition,” and the state is responsible for all other costs related to “post-disposition.” At the end of the year, the department would reconcile the difference between what was actually spent and the estimates.
Over time, a number of disputes between the counties and the department arose around the methods used to calculate the actual cost. The counties eventually sued.
In 2013, the parties entered into a joint stipulation agreement that said the counties were owed refunds for between 2009 and 2012. The agreement did not require the department to refund the overpayment but to officially acknowledge the issues on the record.
In 2016, the state legislature amended Section 985.6865 of the Florida Administrative Code in exchange for the counties dropping the lawsuit and enacted a more favorable “50-50” splitting of juvenile detention cost.
The state’s position was that the counties would recoup their previous overpayments under the new system. Seventeen counties dismissed their cases but Marion, Polk and Seminole counties requested an actual refund and asked the court to allow their appeals to continue.
The counties argued that the department’s failure to provide credit and or repayments violated its duty in section 985.686.
The department countered that whether it actually has a duty repay the under a strict reading of section 985.686 was still in question.
Roberts sided with the counties and reversed and remanded the case, allowing for the three counties' appeals to go forward.
"The Department’s duty to reconcile in the statute is clear. Also clear is the statute’s directive that the counties are only responsible for 'actual costs,'" the opinion said. "By recognizing an overpayment and then failing to take any steps to remedy the overpayment, the Department is not performing its duties under the statute."