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Judge Orders Md Dept. Of Human Resources To Refrain From Abusive Tactics, Citing "public Interest"
A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge has ordered the Maryland Department of Human Resources (DHR) to cease the abusive tactics it has pursued in shutting down a 40-year-old business that serves adolescent children in the DC metro area.
In his July 27, 2012 decision granting a preliminary injunction favoring the Koba Institute, Judge Eric M. Johnson ruled: “[P]ublic interest mandates that this Court issue a preliminary injunction. More specifically, this Court finds that Defendant MDHR’s failure to follow governing regulations are public interest issues that warrant issuing a preliminary injunction.”
By calling this a public interest matter, Judge Johnson has clearly indicated that the harm caused by DHR’s actions is not limited solely to the damage done to Koba. It affects the entire public at large.
Koba Institute, Inc., headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland, has operated a group of five residential child care facilities in Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties for over 20 years. These homes serve youth with behavioral and emotional health issues, pointing them toward personal, social, and professional success. As Koba president Ford T. Johnson, Jr., put it in a letter to DHR Secretary Theodore Dallas, Koba’s corporate commitment is “working with the most difficult population and social problem this country faces i.e. saving a generation of adolescents whose lack of education, motivation and direction requires dramatic intervention and assistance.”
Koba currently holds five licenses from DHR to operate its residential facilities, and it has consistently received excellent performance ratings from DHR and other agencies in Maryland and the District of Columbia that oversee Koba’s operations.
In October 2011, however, Darlene Ham, the new Acting Executive Director of DHR’s Office of Licensing and Monitoring (OLM), issued a “Letter of Intent to Revoke” (LIR) Koba’s licenses. This letter was sent in violation of the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR). These regulations require DHR to undertake an extensive monitoring investigation of any reported or identified problem surrounding a “specific”
Rather than base its LIR on information required by COMAR to be investigated by the Licensing Agency (OLM), Ms. Ham’s LIR was based on a document prepared by the Prince George’s County Department of Social Services (PGDSS). That document was based on rumor and innuendo and was never investigated or substantiated by OLM. In addition, the LIR described DHR’s intent to revoke Koba’s single “license.”
In the wake of OLM’s actions, which were contrary to COMAR and inconsistent with prior agency procedures, Koba’s long-experienced OLM licensing officer and the licensing officer’s supervisor left the agency. DHR’s violations were compounded in early 2012 when, in response to a motion filed by Koba with the Montgomery County Circuit Court for a Temporary Restraining Order, DHR was ordered to issue a letter to Koba’s client-referral agencies that made it clear Koba’s licenses were still valid and they were free to receive new referrals. This letter was issued under the authority and signature of Ted Dallas, Secretary of DHR, but contravened the intent of the TRO by reciting a litany of false and unproved allegations taken from the PGDSS report. The letter from Secretary Dallas was so defamatory that a Contempt Motion was filed by Koba with the court.
In spite of these actions, Koba sought an amicable solution to this crisis. In March 2012 a letter was sent to Secretary Dallas requesting that DHR officials take part in mediation, retract the department’s intention to revoke Koba’s licenses, follow the regulations and once again regard Koba as an organization in good standing. These efforts were to no avail.
The Court’s initial finding in the TRO case was that plaintiff had met its burden of establishing the likelihood of prevailing on the merits. However, DHR placed a moratorium on any new referrals from DHR local agencies and continued to block referrals from District of Columbia agencies. Many agencies had been informed that Koba’s licenses were already revoked even though no final resolution of Koba’s appeal had occurred.
Because of the high regard agencies had/have for Koba’s programs, not one local DHR/DSS agency, or any other agency, removed their residents. However, from the date the LIR was issued, no new referrals were received. Koba’s occupancy rate declined due to normal attrition associated with residents successfully completing the program. To exacerbate the situation, on May 1, 2012, Ms. Ham sent a letter to 24 social service agencies in Maryland and the District of Columbia, insisting that they not refer youth to Koba’s facilities.
Judge Johnson’s findings in the Preliminary Injunction issued on July 27, 2012 validated the positions Koba had put forth: “[T]
DHR’s actions have caused significant economic harm, not only to Koba and its staff, but also to the companies with which we do business. Koba has been forced to lay off more than 50 employees. Owners of the homes that Koba leased for housing its youth have lost significant rental income.
Koba is now attempting to rebuild its business through the courts, public action and through its damage claim against DHR.
Koba continues to fight the illegal and destructive actions taken by DHR to shut down one of the largest high intensity residential child care programs in the state. The state is the vehicle of the people and must act in a manner consistent with law and the “public interest.”
That is why Circuit Court Judge Eric Johnson, in observing the extent of COMAR violations perpetrated by the Office of Licensing & Monitoring under DHR’s Social Services Administration, headed by Ms. Carnitra White, held: “Defendant MDHR’s failure to follow governing regulations are public interest issues that warrant issuing a preliminary injunction.”
Koba has sought and continues to seek an amicable settlement. Koba’s president recently sent a second letter to DHR Secretary Dallas, asking: “that you direct staff to work through mediation to settle this matter in a manner consistent with the law, equity and the public interest and undo the damage these unlawful actions have caused.” The letter further urges the secretary “to take action and not allow staff to proceed in disregard of the trust citizens must have in their government.”
Because of the “public interest” involved in this case, Koba has asked relevant committees of the State Senate and House to initiate hearings on this matter brought to their attention by the Circuit Court. Finally, Koba is seeking the reinstatement of its contract with DHR, which DHR strategically cancelled in an effort to stop future referrals to Koba and to avoid the requirements of an impending Preliminary Injunction. Moreover, in a final effort to shut off any opportunity for Koba to resume business, DHR sent letters to twenty four (24) agencies prohibiting them from sending new referrals.