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ROUNDTREE v. BERGER

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK


September 17, 1976

Levan ROUNDTREE and Delores Roundtree, Individually, on behalf of their minor children and all other persons similarly situated, Plaintiffs, and John Folsom et al.
v.
Stephen BERGER, Individually and as Acting Commissioner of the New York State Department of Social Services, et al., Defendants

The opinion of the court was delivered by: COSTANTINO

MEMORANDUM and ORDER

COSTANTINO, District Judge.

In this action, plaintiffs seek (1) a declaratory judgment voiding New York State Social Services Law § 131-i and 18 N.Y.C.R.R. § 325.19(c) as unconstitutional, and (2) an injunction restraining defendants from enforcing the provisions of these sections.

 Both provisions are part of New York State's Home Relief Program. The program is completely state funded and provides cash assistance to persons who are ineligible for federally funded programs. Under the program, a standard of monthly need is determined according to the number of persons in a household. Social Services Law § 131-a(2).

 If no member of the household is employed, the household receives a grant equal to the standard of need. If a member of the household is employed the household receives a cash allowance to supplement the earnings. The allowance is equal to the difference between the standard of need and the net earned income of the household after deduction of work-related expenses. These expenses include (1) all non-personal work expenses such as union dues, costs of tools, materials, uniforms and other special clothing; (2) all personal work expenses such as Federal, State and local taxes, group insurance, meals and transportation; and (3) an allowance of $20 per month as a "special work expense." However, under the provisions challenged in this lawsuit (Social Services Law § 131-i and 18 N.Y.C.R.R. § 352.19(c)) the maximum which can be deducted from gross salary for these work-related expenses is $80 per month.

 The Roundtrees represent a class of people with work-related expenses of more than $80 whose net income would result in eligibility for home relief, but for the statutory relief. The Folsoms and Pelligrinos have work-related expenses of more than $80. While they are eligible for home relief aid, they receive "reduced" benefits because of the $80 limit. It is claimed that because of the $80 limit plaintiffs are denied equal protection and are deprived of their property rights without due process of law. We disagree.

 Equal Protection

 Although plaintiffs dispute the continuing viability of the "two-tiered" equal protection test, the Supreme Court has only recently re-affirmed its adherence to the traditional analysis. Massachusetts Board of Retirement v. Murgia, 427 U.S. 307, 96 S. Ct. 2562, 49 L. Ed. 2d 520 (1976). Since the class of those working poor who have more than $80 a month in work expenses does not constitute a suspect class, we conclude that the state classification should be examined under the rational basis standard. This standard requires that the "legislative classification must be sustained unless it is 'patently arbitrary' and bears no rational relationship to a legitimate governmental interest." Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677, 683, 93 S. Ct. 1764, 1768, 36 L. Ed. 2d 583 (1973). So long as the classification does bear a rational relationship to a legitimate governmental interest, the constitutionality of the statute's discrimination will be presumed "unless [it] trammels fundamental personal rights or is drawn upon inherently suspect distinctions such as race, religion or alienage." City of New Orleans v. Dukes, 427 U.S. 297, 96 S. Ct. 2513, 2516, 49 L. Ed. 2d 511 (1976).

 Plaintiffs have introduced voluminous studies of related programs contending that these studies indicate that the maximum limit on work expenses set by New York State serves as a work disincentive and in fact contributes to family disintegration. These studies, however, are not relevant to our analysis. For, as plaintiffs themselves admit, "[the] State is not bound to adopt a . . . scheme to encourage employment, it need not encourage employment at all. The State is not under an obligation to have a Home Relief program at all. . . ." *fn1"

 In the absence of invidious discrimination it is not the function of the judiciary to weigh or balance the side effects of legislation (as plaintiffs would have us do here) against the legitimate purpose sought to be achieved by the legislature. Cf. McGinnis v. Royster, 410 U.S. 263, 93 S. Ct. 1055, 35 L. Ed. 2d 282 (1973). To do so would mean the re-incarnation of a doctrine that the Supreme Court laid to rest in Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471, 484, 90 S. Ct. 1153, 25 L. Ed. 2d 491 (1970): the doctrine that the Fourteenth Amendment gave the judiciary leave to strike down state laws which the court found to be "unwise, improvident, or out of harmony with a particular school of thought." Williamson v. Lee Optical Co., 348 U.S. 483, 488, 75 S. Ct. 461, 464, 99 L. Ed. 563 (1955).

 "So long as its judgments are rational, and not invidious, the legislature's efforts to tackle the problems of the poor and needy are not subject to a constitutional straitjacket. The very complexity of the problems suggest that there will be more than one constitutionally permissible method of solving them," Jefferson v. Hackney, 406 U.S. 535, 546-547, 92 S. Ct. 1724, 1731, 32 L. Ed. 2d 285 (1972).

 Furthermore, it is entirely consistent with the Equal Protection Clause, for a state to "take one step at a time, addressing itself to the phase of the problem which seems most acute to the legislative mind" even if to do so means that other phases of the problem are neglected. Williamson v. Lee Optical, 348 U.S. 483, 489, 75 S. Ct. 461, 465, 99 L. Ed. 563 (1955).

 Therefore, the sole question before this court is whether the classification adopted by the legislature bears a rational relationship to a legitimate governmental interest. Frontiero v. Richardson, supra; Dandridge v. Williams, supra; Massachusetts Board of Retirement v. Murgia, supra; Geduldig v. Aiello, 417 U.S. 484, 495, 94 S. Ct. 2485, 41 L. Ed. 2d 256 (1974). "A statutory discrimination will not be set aside if any state of facts reasonably may be conceived to justify it." McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420, 426, 81 S. Ct. 1101, 1105, 6 L. Ed. 2d 393 (1961); Dandridge v. Williams, supra, 397 U.S. at 485, 90 S. Ct. 1153.

 We need look no further than the legitimate desire on the part of the state to conserve limited public resources in order to find a rational basis for the $80 limit on deductions. See Dandridge v. Williams, supra; Jefferson v. Hackney, supra; cf. Geduldig v. Aiello, supra; Hughes v. Alexandria Scrap, 426 U.S. 794, 96 S. Ct. 2488, 49 L. Ed. 2d 220 (1976). When the original limit of work-related expenses of $60 was raised to $80 in 1974, the additional cost to New York State was over $1 million dollars. The state could rationally have concluded that to eliminate the expense limitation completely or to raise it further, would result in larger expenditures of limited funds.

 Plaintiffs have argued that because of the work disincentive built into the program, the state would actually save money by eliminating the expense limitation. This argument, however, is addressed to the wrong forum. "[The] Constitution does not empower . . . [the] [Courts] to second-guess state officials charged with the difficult responsibility of allocating limited public welfare funds among the myriad of potential recipients." Dandridge v. Williams, supra, 397 U.S. at 487, 90 S. Ct. at 1163.

 Due Process

 Plaintiffs also challenge the statute on due process grounds, arguing that it creates a presumption that money actually spent on work expenses in excess of $80 per month is available to meet other needs. It is claimed that the presumption is arbitrary, capricious, erroneous and irrebuttable by its terms.

 We do not agree that the limitation violates the Due Process Clause. In Richardson v. Belcher, 404 U.S. 78, 81, 92 S. Ct. 254, 30 L. Ed. 2d 231 (1971) the Supreme Court concluded that a classification which "meets the test articulated in Dandridge is perforce consistent with the due process requirement of the Fifth Amendment." Since a non-contractual claim to receive funds from the public treasury is not constitutionally protected, Weinberger v. Salfi, 422 U.S. 749, 772, 95 S. Ct. 2457, 45 L. Ed. 2d 522 (1975), in evaluating a social welfare program, "the Due Process Clause can be thought to interpose a bar only if the statute manifests a patently arbitrary classification, utterly lacking in rational justification." Flemming v. Nestor, 363 U.S. 603, 611, 80 S. Ct. 1367, 1373, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1435 (1960).

 The limitation on work related expenses is not patently arbitrary nor utterly lacking in rational justification. The state makes no claim of allowing all deductions for work related expenses. Rather it has balanced the desire to provide incentives to work against use of the state's limited resources. The limit of $80 set by the legislature was apparently based to some extent upon a memorandum of the Deputy Commissioner of the New York State Department of Social Services which estimated average monthly work expenses at $75, although indicating that working persons often incurred more than $100 in work-related expenses. Whether or not we agree with the final decision of the legislature to place the maximum limitation for work expenses at $80, we must remain cognizant of the fact that "every line drawn by a legislature leaves some out that might well have been included. That exercise of discretion, however, is a legislative, not a judicial function." Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas, 416 U.S. 1, 8, 94 S. Ct. 1536, 1541, 39 L. Ed. 2d 797 (1973); see Louisville Gas Co. v. Coleman, 277 U.S. 32, 41, 48 S. Ct. 423, 72 L. Ed. 770 (Hughes, J., dissenting).

 We think it appropriate to re-emphasize what the Supreme Court said in Dandridge v. Williams:

 

We do not decide today that the regulation is wise, that it best fulfills the relevant social and economic objectives that . . . [the state] might ideally espouse, or that a more just and humane system could not be devised. Conflicting claims of morality and intelligence are raised by opponents and proponents of almost every measure, certainly including the one before us. But the intractable economic, social, and even philosophical problems presented by public welfare assistance programs are not the business of this Court. The Constitution may impose certain procedural safeguards upon systems of welfare administration, [citation omitted]. But the Constitution does not empower this Court to second-guess state officials charged with the difficult responsibility of allocating limited public welfare funds among the myriad of potential recipients. [citations omitted]

 397 U.S. at 487, 90 S. Ct. at 1162. Cf. Lavine v. Milne, 424 U.S. 577, 96 S. Ct. 1010, 47 L. Ed. 2d 249 (1976).

 Since we conclude that New York State Social Services Law § 131-i and 18 N.Y.C.R.R. § 352.19(c) do not violate the Constitution, plaintiffs' motion for a permanent injunction is denied and the complaint is dismissed. The Clerk of the court is directed to enter judgment accordingly.


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