The U.S. government performs audits and investigates allegations of violations in order to assure the integrity of the SNAP program. When they believe a business has committed food stamp fraud, they can take steps to disqualify the business from participating in the SNAP program. When this happens, you have a right to a judicial review of the Food and Nutrition Service’s action against you.
What is a judicial review?
A judicial review is your right to have a neutral third party examine the allegations against you and determine if disqualifying you from the SNAP program is the appropriate remedy. In this case, the third party that conducts the review is a federal judge. They don’t work for the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) or any division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Your judicial review is a lawsuit. You file a summons and complaint in a federal court. The case functions like any other lawsuit. The case may proceed to trial. After hearing the evidence, the judge may affirm the decision of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, they may throw it out completely, or they may order a different penalty.
How do you preserve your right to a judicial review?
There are a lot of things that need to happen in order for you to have the right to a judicial review. Preserving your right to appeal begins long before you file the case in district court. In fact, you need to begin preparing for your judicial review as soon as you receive a charging letter from the FNS.
When you first receive a charging letter, you have only 10 days to respond. You need to prepare documents that show the FNS why they’re wrong about the allegations against you. This response need to be detailed, and it needs to be carefully crafted to respond to the allegations. From there, you can ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture to review the claim. Again, you have only 10 days to demand the review.
Once you’ve exhausted your right to an administrative review, you have thirty days to ask for a judicial review. To get a judicial review, you file a summons and complaint in the appropriate U.S. district court. This is a civil lawsuit much like any other lawsuit in a federal court. You need to prepare court filings and serve the other party.
You have only 30 days to prepare the lawsuit and get it filed. This time limit begins when you receive the final decision from the administrative review. If your lawsuit isn’t timely, you’ll likely lose your opportunity to have a judge review the penalties against you.
Does the opinion of the FNS matter?
When you exercise your right to a judicial review, the district court judge conducts their case on a de novo basis. That means, they don’t have access to any kind of record from the administrative proceedings. They don’t start with the presumption that the person who conducted the earlier review made the correct choice. Instead, they conduct their own trial with an open mind. They admit evidence and they make their own determination from scratch.
How can a judicial review help my business?
If you believe that the person reviewing the case didn’t reach the correct conclusion, a judicial review is a way to get a neutral third party to review the case. You have the opportunity to participate in the discovery process. This process allows you to request documents from the government, conduct depositions and otherwise prepare your case.
The judicial review also gives you the opportunity to ask the court for a stay of the action against you. The court must review the case for whether they think it’s likely that you’ll succeed on the merits of your case. If the court believes that you have a good case, and they believe that someone’s likely to suffer permanent harm by the action against you, they can put the action on hold while you wait for trail.
Can I appeal?
If you’re unhappy with the decision of the federal district court, you can bring an appeal. That appeal goes to the U.S. Court of Appeals in your circuit. In the appeal, the court reviews the record from the lower court. They don’t conduct a completely new trial, but they review the district court’s decision for mistakes. If they believe the district court made errors that prevented you from having a fair trial on the issues, they can vacate the decision of the district court.
From there, the next court to hear an appeal is the U.S. Supreme Court. To have the Supreme Court hear your case, you must apply for a writ of certiorari. Very few food stamp fraud cases go to the Supreme Court. However, bringing a writ of certiorari is an option if that’s what it takes to get justice for you.
How can an attorney help?
If you’re facing an allegation of food stamp fraud and disqualification of your participation in SNAP or another SNAP penalty, an attorney can help you skillfully prepare your case. A judicial review is a court case just like any other court case. An experienced attorney can accurately prepare court documents in order to meet the deadlines and preserve your claims. An attorney knows the rules of evidence. This can help you prepare your case with admissible and convincing evidence, so that you can present the facts to the judge in the best light possible.
An experienced SNAP attorney can give you guidance based on their years of working in this area of law. They know what evidence the court needs to see in order for your judicial review to succeed. Their experience with evidentiary rules mean that you arrive at your trial date prepared and confident. They can tactfully and skillfully approach the government’s attorney to see if there’s a non-trial resolution that might work for you. This guidance can make a significant difference when it comes to protecting your rights and your business.