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Davis v. Smith

decided: August 11, 1978.

PRISCILLA DAVIS, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF HER MINOR DAUGHTER ROBYN GRAY, AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES, AND ROSIE VASQUEZ, GAIL WARREN, GENEVA WARREN, LUIS MALAGON AND HARRIET DEMITROFF, PLAINTIFFS-INTERVENORS-APPELLEES,
v.
J. HENRY SMITH, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS COMMISSIONER OF THE NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, JAMES DUMPSON, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS FORMER COMMISSIONER OF THE NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, CHARLES BATES, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS COMMISSIONER OF THE WESTCHESTER COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, PHILLIP L. TOIA, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS COMMISSIONER OF THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, AND STEPHEN L. BERGER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS FORMER COMMISSIONER OF THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Cross appeals from a judgment entered in the Southern District of New York, Charles H. Tenney, District Judge, 431 F. Supp. 1206, (1) declaring invalid, because in conflict with the Social Security Act, two New York State regulations insofar as they automatically deny emergency assistance to individuals threatened with or subjected to utility shut-offs due to nonpayment of electric bills and enjoining defendants from implementing those regulations; and (2) denying plaintiffs' motion for class action certification for the reasons that retroactive monetary relief cannot be awarded and the prospective effects of declaratory and injunctive relief will inure to the benefit of all proposed members of the class. Affirmed.

Before Lumbard, Mulligan and Timbers, Circuit Judges.

Author: Timbers

We have before us cross-appeals from a judgment entered May 10, 1977 in the Southern District of New York, Charles H. Tenney, District Judge, 431 F. Supp. 1206. On defendants' appeal the question presented is whether the district court correctly enjoined implementation of two regulations of the New York State Department of Social Services to the extent they are inconsistent with the Social Security Act. On plaintiffs' cross-appeal the question presented is whether the district court correctly denied plaintiffs' motion for class action certification for the reasons that retroactive monetary relief cannot be awarded and the prospective effects of declaratory and injunctive relief will inure to the benefit of all proposed members of the class.

We hold that the district court correctly enjoined implementation of the state regulations and correctly denied class action certification. We affirm.

I.

The facts*fn1 are simple, straightforward and undisputed. Both sides below moved for summary judgment on the merits.*fn2

Plaintiffs*fn3 are recipients of grants under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children Program (AFDC) of the Social Security Act. For a variety of reasons beyond their control, plaintiffs were unable to pay their electric utility bills.*fn4 Accordingly, they either were threatened with a discontinuance of their utilities service or found their services shut off. To forestall discontinuance or to restore services, all sought emergency assistance from their local Department of Social Services center.

New York State participates in the federal emergency assistance program, 42 U.S.C. §§ 601 and 606(e) (1970 & Supp. V 1975), which awards non-recoverable*fn5 grants to AFDC recipients under emergency circumstances. However, pursuant to two New York State regulations, 18 N.Y.Code, Rules & Regs. §§ 352.7(g)(5) (1978)*fn6 and 372.2(a)(2) (1975)*fn7 (the regulations), aid is available to those who need the funds to pay utility bills only on the condition that they agree to have the amount which is advanced to them deducted from their future AFDC grants. The regulations in essence exclude plaintiffs from eligibility for the emergency assistance program and instead offer them an advance subject to a recoupment plan. Plaintiffs were compelled to agree to this recoupment plan in order to receive an advance.

Plaintiffs, in their action in the district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1970) and 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3) (1970), challenged the validity of the two New York State regulations. They contended that the regulations violated their constitutional rights under the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and their statutory rights under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 601, 602(a)(7), 602(a)(10), 606(a), and 606(e) (1970 & Supp. V 1975).

From "the plethora of motions" with which the district court was inundated, 431 F. Supp. at 1208, there emerged the opinion of Judge Tenney and the judgment entered thereon, from which both sides have appealed.

II.

The first legal issue presented is whether a state participating in the federal emergency assistance program may exclude automatically from eligibility persons who need such assistance to pay utility bills. Specifically, the issue here is whether, in enacting the emergency assistance program, Congress intended to extend relief to persons in the position of plaintiffs.

We have held that a state which participates in the federal emergency assistance program may not define eligibility more restrictively than the Social Security Act. Lynch v. Philbrook, 550 F.2d 793, 795 (2 Cir. 1977) (grants to AFDC families); Hagans v. Berger, 536 F.2d 525, 532 (2 Cir. 1976) (rent). We also have held that the emergency assistance program does not require the award of a non-recoverable grant to AFDC recipients "to remedy the anticipated demands created as the result of everyday life," such as "regular monthly rent and utility bills." Hagans v. Berger, supra, 536 F.2d at 532, citing Baumes v. Lavine, 38 N.Y.2d 296, 304, 379 N.Y.S.2d 760, 767, 342 N.E.2d 543, 548 (1975). And we have held that it is within the discretion of a state under the Act to deny requests for non-recoverable grants when recipients "diverted shelter allowances to other non-emergency purposes and became delinquent in rental payments." 536 F.2d at 528. It is the purpose of the emergency assistance plan to assist recipients faced with misfortune beyond their control, not to save them from their own irresponsibility.

Defendants, however, have interpreted Hagans as authority for automatically denying all requests for emergency assistance when the funds are to be used to pay utility bills. This extension of Hagans is unwarranted and runs afoul of the intent of Congress in allowing for emergency assistance, as the district court correctly held. 431 F. Supp. at 1211-12. Congress specifically provided that "emergency assistance to needy families with children" was "to provide living arrangements in a home for such child(ren)" at times when factors beyond the ...


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