USDA DISQUALIFICATION DETERMINATION – APPEAL

USDA DISQUALIFICATION DETERMINATION – APPEAL

Overview of the USDA Vendor Disqualification Review Process
The U.S. Department of Agricultural Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is the primary food assistance program in the United States. Vendors or merchants are able to apply to participate in the program. If accepted, the merchants can sell certain foodstuffs to program participants via the SNAP EBT payment system.

Every year, vendors or merchants in New York, and across the United States, receive notification that they are alleged to have committed SNAP violations. Such allegations are communicated to vendors or merchants via what is known as a charging letter.

Upon receiving a charging letter, a vendor or business is able to take steps to defend against allegations being made. The first step in that process is responding directly to the allegations raised in the charging letter. That response is made directly to the USDA SNAP program itself. This initially response must be made within 10 days of receipt of the charging letter. Failure to meet that deadline results in the allegations made by the agency to be accepted as true, resulting in further agency action. That agency action can be disqualification of the vendor or merchant from participating further in the SNAP program.

If a vendor or merchant submits a timely response to the initial charging letter, and receives no relief from the initial allegations made by the USDA, the retailer has the opportunity to initiate a formal appeal from the USDA violation and disqualification process. A vendor or merchant needs to have a basic understanding of how that appeal process works.

Phase One of USDA Disqualification Appeals Process: Agency Review

In order to more clearly understand the appeals process involving SNAP violations, a merchant can think of it as consisting of two separate phases. The first phase involves lodging an appeal within the USDA itself. This is oftentimes is referred to as an administrative review or administrative appeal of an agency action.

The USDA has established specific rules, including a timeframe, for an internal administrative appeal of the initial determination of the agency regarding SNAP violations. A merchant must prepare an appropriate responsive pleading or legal document that sets forth with specificity why the initial determination of SNAP violations should be overturned via the administrative appeal.

The merchant, who technically is known as the appellant, has the legal burden of providing sufficient evidence to warrant reversing the initial decision of the USDA. Specifically, the vendor must demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that the decision of the USDA regarding SNAP violations should reversed. In other words, the vendor must demonstrate that its version of the facts are more likely than not to be true and correct.

Evidence regarding the allegations is presented by both the agency and the appellant or vendor. Once this process is completed, an administrative hearing officer will review and consider the evidence and make a decision regarding the initial determination of the agency finding SNAP violations.

If the appealing vendor fails to get a favorable decision during phase one, the merchant has another step to take in the appeals process. The second phase of the appeals process involves the local United States District Court.

Phase One of USDA Disqualification Appeals Process: Judicial Review

The next step in the process is appealing the final decision of the USDA to federal court. This phase is known as a judicial review of the agency action. As is the case with the process within the agency itself, there exists a specific timeframe through which the federal court phase of the appeal proceeds.

There are specific rules of the federal court that must be followed for the judicial review of the decision of the USDA regarding the SNAP violations determination made by the USDA. The failure to meet the deadlines established for the judicial review will result in the matter being dismissed and the agency decision left standing.

The complexities of the appeals process underscores the benefits that can be obtained through retaining the professional services of a skilled, experienced USDA SNAP violations order. There are New York attorneys, as well as lawyers across the United States, that have specific experience in the USDA disqualification appeals process.

The standard of review remains the same during the judicial process. In other words, the appellant or merchant must demonstrate with a preponderance of evidence that the SNAP violations issued by the USDA are incorrect.

If the appellant vendor prevails in court, the SNAP violations are overturned and any disqualification will be removed. The merchant will be able to continue participating in SNAP.

If the USDA’s actions are affirmed by the U.S. District Court, the SNAP violations are upheld. A disqualification of the vendor will remain in place. Usually, this is the final stop in the appeals process.

Technically, a merchant who loses during the judicial review process in the U.S. District Court can appeal that decision to the United States Court of Appeals. The vast majority of cases appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals will uphold the decision reached by the District Court. The possibility of the U.S. Supreme Court granting permission to appeal this type of case to the highest court in the land is virtually nil.

Retaining Legal Representation in an USDA Disqualification Appeal

The first step in retaining legal representation in an USDA disqualification case is arranging a preliminary appointment with legal counsel. In most situations, a USDA disqualification attorney does not charge a legal fee for an initial consultation with a potential client.

During an initial consultation, a discussion will be undertaken about strategies that might be utilized in a disqualification appeal. Answers to a prospective client’s questions will be provided as well.

When examining the USDA SNAP violations process overall, a vendor or merchant nearly always best protects legal rights by retaining legal representation at the time the initial charging letter is received. While legal counsel certainly can be hired once the case progresses to the appeals stages, there are instances in which SNAP violations can be dealt with early on and at the time the initial charging letter is issued.

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