The opinion of the court was delivered by: WEINFELD
EDWARD WEINFELD, District Judge.
This is a case that does not belong in this court. It involves three governmental agencies - federal, state and city - and centers about regulations so drawn that they have created a Serbonian bog from which the agencies seemingly are unable to extricate themselves. An attorney representing one agency describes the situation as in "a confusing state of flux," a gross understatement. It is a mess. The city expresses concern that if it complies with the regulations as interpreted by the federal government it may not receive reimbursement from the state because the state differs from that interpretation. It borders on the absurd that federal, state and local officials charged with the administration of the Social Security Act cannot reach an accommodation as to the meaning of the regulations which they drafted themselves but instead force a court action for their interpretation.
Caught in the cross-fire of this bureaucratic controversy are the four plaintiffs, residents of nursing homes in New York City which provide skilled nursing care.
Two of the plaintiffs are 82 years of age, one is 77 years of age and the fourth is 62. They are supported solely by Medicaid
payments made by the New York City Department of Social Services. Each learned
that he was to be transferred to a facility which provides a lower level of care than the one in which he is now residing, with a corresponding reduction in his Medicaid benefits. These transfers were ordered by the City Department of Social Services as a result of "utilization review," a periodic assessment of the needs of nursing home patients to ensure that they are receiving an appropriate level of care and that Medicaid resources are not being wasted.
None of the plaintiffs received notice of his impending transfer from any governmental agency.
Upon learning of the decision to transfer him each patient requested and was granted a hearing to appeal the decision. Plaintiffs, now represented by counsel, sought to examine their case files and records prior to the hearings. With the exception of one document which merely states the reasons for the transfer, they were refused such inspection. A hearing was afforded plaintiff Feld. Although she defaulted because her attorney felt she could not adequately prepare for the hearing in the absence of meaningful discovery, the decision to transfer her was reversed after the commencement of this action.
Hearings have not been held as to the other plaintiffs. By stipulation of the parties they are continuing to receive Medicaid payments at their former levels and their hearings are deferred pending the outcome of this litigation.
Plaintiffs, suing on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated,
attack (1) the failure of defendants to give timely written notice of the decision to transfer them; (2) a provision of the state regulations which allows defendants to reduce a patient's level of aid prior to a hearing; and (3) defendants' refusal to allow plaintiffs to inspect their case files and the documents to be used at their hearings.
Plaintiffs allege both that defendants' practices deny them due process of law and that they violate applicable federal regulations. Plaintiffs claim that their transfer to another facility could cause them serious illness or death, both because they would receive a lower level of medical care and because of the psychological trauma inflicted by the transfer. Plaintiffs further claim that defendants' refusal to afford them timely notice or full discovery prevents plaintiffs from adequately contesting the decision to transfer them. They seek declaratory and injunctive relief against these practices and regulations. The defendants are the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Social Services
(the state agency responsible for the implementation of the Medicaid program throughout the state),
the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Social Services and two city officials responsible for administering the relevant aspects of the Medicaid program in New York City.
Before the court are plaintiffs' motion for class certification pursuant to Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment. Since the latter motion may be dispositive of the controversy, we consider it first. The defendants have not controverted any of the material facts upon which plaintiffs rely in support of their motion for summary judgment, nor have they submitted a statement pursuant to Local General Rule 9(g), indicating the existence of a genuine issue of material fact. Accordingly, the case is ripe for summary judgment.
NOTICE AND CONTINUATION OF AID
a. Federal Fair Hearing Regulations
New York State, as a participant in the Medicaid program, must conform to the Social Security Act and all valid regulations promulgated thereunder.
Those regulations mandate certain procedures in the event of any decision to "discontinue, terminate, suspend or reduce assistance."
A recipient of Medicaid has the right to an evidentiary hearing on appeal from a decision to reduce or terminate his aid.
Except in certain specified instances, which are at the center of this controversy and are discussed hereafter, he must be given "timely" and "adequate" notice of such action. Timely notice is defined as notice "mailed at least 10 days before the date... upon which the action would become effective."
Adequate notice means a written notice that includes a statement of what action the agency intends to take, the reasons for the intended agency action, the specific regulations supporting such action, explanation of the individual's right to request an evidentiary hearing (if provided) and a State agency hearing, and the circumstances under which assistance is continued if a hearing is requested.
If a recipient seasonably requests a hearing his assistance must be continued at its original level until a decision is rendered after the hearing.
b. State Fair Hearing Regulations
Despite the aforesaid provisions of the federal regulations, plaintiffs did not receive timely and adequate notice of the determination to reduce their benefits by transferring them to another facility. In addition, after plaintiffs filed their original complaint, the State Department of Social Services issued new regulations effective August 10, 1976, governing the procedures to be followed when financial assistance is reduced pursuant to utilization review.
This regulation provides in relevant part:
When utilization review committee determinations require that medical assistance payments be reduced or discontinued, the social services official or his designee who has the appropriate authority, shall take the following action:
(a) The recipient, his representative or appropriate relative shall be notified in writing of such action. Such notifications shall be by provision of "adequate" notice.... Such notice and the action taken thereon shall be consistent with both ...