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Baltimore judge dismisses lawsuit over delayed unemployment claims, saying procedure must be followed

A Baltimore judge dismissed a lawsuit that had been filed on behalf of unemployed workers whose claims are sitting in “purgatory,” finding that they can’t use courts to circumvent the claims and appeal process.

The Unemployed Workers’ Union, a group affiliated with the Baltimore activist group Peoples Power Assembly, filed an amended lawsuit in July against the state and Maryland Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson reiterating its contention that scores of out-of-work Marylanders are being denied the benefits they’re entitled to after being falsely flagged for fraud or other issues.

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The plaintiffs asked Circuit Court John Nugent to find that Robinson and the state “failed to establish and execute policies required by statute to ensure timely processing of claims.”

But in a ruling Wednesday, Nugent said that the General Assembly did not spell out any “private right of action” allowing those with claims to seek relief from the courts.

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An individual is first entitled to file an appeal of a benefits determination with the lower appeals division, then a hearing is held before a hearing examiner who makes a decision, he said. An individual may file an appeal to the Board of Appeals, and that panel’s ruling can be appealed to the courts.

“There is no evidence that the General Assembly intended to provide private remedies to unemployed workers,” Nugent wrote. “As pointed out by the defendants, allowing private rights of action would interfere with the administrative functions of the Department and only further delay the timely processing of benefits claims.”

The Maryland Department of Labor hailed the ruling in a statement.

“Having already paid-out more than $14 billion in unemployment benefits since the start of the pandemic, Judge Nugent’s decision allows us to continue our focus on assisting Maryland residents while also protecting the taxpayer from an onslaught of fraudulent claims,” said Joseph E. Farren, the department’s chief strategy officer, in the statement.

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The plaintiffs had said that delays were occurring without explanation or the opportunity for a hearing, causing risks of foreclosure, eviction and car repossession.

Nugent said he recognized the impact of delayed processing of claims, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The responsibility for resolving these issues, however, has been placed with the department” of labor, he wrote.

The Unemployed Workers’ Union issued a statement vowing to “the fight will continue.”

“We will review and assess other legal strategies. We will continue protesting. We will continue to pressure the General Assembly to use their power to end the suffering of unemployed workers,” the group’s statement said.

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