JEFFERSON CITY — Several thousand blind Missouri residents could have a $30 million court judgment reduced by about one-quarter as a result of a state appeals court ruling, an attorney for the plaintiffs said Wednesday.
Deborah Greider, a suburban St. Louis attorney representing the blind plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit, said the ruling could reduce the award to $23 million, though the exact amount remains to be determined by a judge.
In March 2010, a Cole County judge ruled the state owed $18.8 million to make up for underpayments to blind Missourians from 1992 through 2009, plus $11.3 million of interest on that unpaid money. Agreeing with a state argument, a three-judge appellate panel ruled Tuesday that Missouri's statute of limitations barred the plaintiffs from recouping payments before Feb. 16, 2001, which was five years before the lawsuit was filed.
The appeals panel sent the case back to Cole County court to revise the calculation of how much money is owed to the blind residents.
Based on previous calculations from a court-appointed special master, the blind residents were underpaid $14.7 million from 2001 to 2009 and due nearly $7.7 million of interest for that period, Greider said. She said with accrued interest, the amount owed is probably around $23 million.
"All in all, we're pretty satisfied with the result," Greider said. But she said her clients had not decided whether to appeal the case further, allow the circuit court to carry out the revised calculations or pursue a settlement with the state for about $23 million.
Spokespeople for the Missouri Department of Social Services, which administers the program, and the Missouri attorney general's office both said their staff were reviewing the appeals court ruling and declined to comment.
The Missouri Constitution has required the legislature since 1875 to levy an annual property tax for the Blind Pension Fund. The appeals court had ruled in February 2009 that the state had been wrongly calculating the amount due to blind residents by basing payments on the growth of the fund's balance rather than on the growth of the fund's revenue. The previous appeals court ruling led to the 2010 decision by Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce, which was at issue in the latest appeal.
About 3,500 people receive benefits from Missouri's blind pension fund, Greider said. She said three times that amount could be eligible for money under the class action lawsuit, when including people who received benefits at any point during the past decade.