Judge gives more time in unemployment case

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Rejecting arguments by the state and Deloitte Consulting LLP, a circuit judge has given more time to plaintiffs to file a revised class-action lawsuit stemming from problems in Florida’s unemployment-compensation system.

Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper issued an order this week that gives plaintiffs' attorneys until Monday to file an amended complaint. But Cooper also issued a warning to the plaintiffs' attorneys, writing that if they “fail to amend the complaint within the time set by this order, the case will be dismissed with prejudice without further notice or hearing. The plaintiffs should not assume this court will grant another extension.”

Cooper on Sept. 30 dismissed the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of people who had trouble obtaining unemployment benefits amid the coronavirus pandemic. But Cooper gave plaintiffs' attorneys 30 days to file an amended complaint, which would refuel the legal fight. At the deadline, the plaintiffs' attorneys requested a two-week extension to file an amended complaint, pointing in part to needing “additional time to research certain issues raised by the defendants.”

But in documents filed last week, attorneys for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and Deloitte argued that Cooper should reject an extension, effectively scuttling the case. The state cited a June 22 hearing that went into detail about issues in the lawsuit.

“The bare assertion by plaintiffs' counsel of a need for two additional weeks of research time -- beyond the 30 days provided by the court’s order and the four months since the June 22 hearing -- provides an insufficient basis for disregarding the court’s clear directive to file a timely … amended complaint or face dismissal of the case with prejudice,” department attorneys wrote.

The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in April after hundreds of thousands of coronavirus-caused unemployment claims overwhelmed the state’s online CONNECT system.

The Department of Economic Opportunity runs the unemployment system, while Deloitte was a contractor that helped put CONNECT in place in 2013.

The lawsuit made a series of allegations, including negligence and breach of fiduciary duty.