Utah has filed a federal court action contesting a $518,933 penalty charged the state's Department of Human Services for an allegedly excessive error rate in its food stamp program.

The appeal says the penalty should be waived because of federal computing flaws and because the charged errors occurred during the worst flooding in the state's history, which caused extraordinary growth in the food stamp caseload.According to court documents filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service originally assessed a $1.5 million penalty against Utah for fiscal year 1983. The federal action was based on a finding that the state had an error rate of 13.29 percent compared to an acceptable rate of 9 percent.

Utah appealed the penalty through administrative channels and received a 50 percent reduction, which was later lowered to $518,933. According to state officials, the federal agency failed to review the required minimum number of cases on a timely basis. Other factors, such as the caseload increase, also should have been taken into account, the state argued.

The error rate is based on a review of a sample of food stamp allotments and reflects ineligible recipients and overpayments.