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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
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State Isn’t Liable to Blind Vendor Ousted by Feds

(CN) - The California rehabilitation department did not have an obligation to sue a federal agency that ousted a blind snack vendor and then refused to honor an arbitration award, the 9th Circuit ruled.

David Zelickson, a blind vendor licensed under the federal Randolph-Sheppard Vending Stand Act, won a contract in 1993 to operate a snack shop in the Roybal Federal Building. Four years later, however, Zelickson's allegedly unprofessional behavior led the Generals Services Administration to license another party for the stand in its downtown Los Angeles building.

The California Department of Rehabilitation, which administers the Randolph-Sheppard Act for the benefit of blind vendors, challenged the GSA's action in arbitration.

In 1998, an arbitration panel within the Department of Education, which oversees the licensing agency, said the GSA's expulsion of Zelickson had violated the act.

The decision said GSA would have to pay Zelickson damages if it did not litigate his qualifications within 30 days. Though the state agency pressed GSA to comply with the decision, nothing ever came of it.

Zelickson then challenged the state department's alleged inaction in a new arbitration proceeding. This time, the panel faulted the rehabilitation department to the tune of $140,000 for not suing the GSA to force compliance with the arbitration award.

A federal judge upheld this decision in 2008 when the rehabilitation department filed suit, but the department fared better on appeal.

"While a state agency that elects to participate in the Randolph-Sheppard program agrees to a number of detailed requirements and duties ... there is no provision in the act even mentioning judicial enforcement of arbitration awards, let alone requiring a state licensing agency to bring a judicial enforcement action against a federal agency that refuses to comply with the Act," Judge Sandra Ikuta wrote for a three-judge panel.

"Because Congress gave the state licensing agency the option whether or not to pursue arbitration with a noncompliant federal agency, we can infer that Congress did not intend to impose a statutory duty on a state licensing agency to bring a judicial enforcement action against the federal agency if it refuses to comply with an arbitration decision," the Friday decision states.

The act should not be interpreted "as imposing a requirement on a state licensing agency to sue any noncompliant federal agency, as such an interpretation would be at odds with the act's emphasis on cooperation between the states and the federal government," Ikuta found.

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