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Riddick v. D'elia

decided: May 15, 1980.


Appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Sifton, J., (1) permanently enjoining the defendants from requiring OASDI benefits paid to Eugene Riddick on behalf of his daughter, Constance Riddick, an OASDI beneficiary, to be considered as available income to reduce the AFDC benefit payable to Bertha Riddick on behalf of Constance's infant child Lulu, and (2) reimbursing the plaintiff, Bertha Riddick, for all reductions made from her AFDC grant for Lulu as a result of the inclusion of a portion of the OASDI benefits paid to Constance. Affirmed .

Before Lumbard and Mansfield, Circuit Judges, and Bartels, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Bartels

Appellee Bertha Riddick brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking declaratory and injunctive relief from the New York State practice of attributing a portion of a mother's federal Old Age, Survivors' and Disability Insurance ("OASDI") benefits as income to her minor daughter for the purpose of reducing the child's need for Aid to Families with Dependent Children ("AFDC") benefits. Riddick alleged that the state policy violated due process and conflicted with federal law governing OASDI. Jurisdiction was predicated upon 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3) and (4).

Both Joseph D'Elia, as Commissioner of the Nassau County Department of Social Services, and Barbara Blum, in her capacity as Commissioner of the New York State Department of Social Services, were named defendants in the action below. The District Court granted appellee's motion for summary judgment, permanently enjoining the state's practice, and Barbara Blum has appealed.

The appeal presents two questions: (1) whether appellee's constitutional claim is sufficiently substantial to support the exercise of federal jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3); and, if so, (2) whether the state's treatment of a portion of the OASDI benefits paid to a mother's representative payee as available income for purposes of calculating her minor child's entitlement to AFDC benefits, conflicts with the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq. and regulations promulgated thereunder.

AFDC is a federal-state benefit program designed to provide financial assistance to needy dependent children and their parents or relatives who live with or care for them. 42 U.S.C. §§ 601 et seq.; 45 CFR §§ 233.10 et seq. Under federal law, each state participating in the AFDC program "shall, in determining need, take into consideration any other income . . . of any child or relative claiming aid to families with dependent children." 42 U.S.C. § 602(a)(7). An applicant's eligibility and the amount of assistance granted are based on a comparison of a public assistance standard of need, 18 NYCRR §§ 352.1 et seq., with the income and resources "actually available (to the applicant) for current use on a regular basis." 45 CFR § 233.90(a)(1).


The facts are not in dispute. Bertha Riddick and her husband, Eugene, reside in Hempstead, New York with their 37 year-old, mentally-disabled daughter, Constance, and with Constance's 7 year-old daughter, Lulu. Bertha has received a monthly AFDC grant on Lulu's behalf since June 1, 1977. Constance is entitled to federal OASDI payments because of her disabling mental illness, but her father, Eugene, is the representative payee for the OASDI payments pursuant to 20 CFR §§ 404.1601 et seq. These regulations require Eugene to expend Constance's payments "for the purposes determined by him to be in (her) best interest." 20 CFR § 404.1603. A willful conversion of such monies to a use other than "for the use and benefit" of Constance would expose Eugene to criminal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 408(e). He is authorized, however, to apply some of the OASDI benefits to the support of Constance's legally dependent child if Constance's "maintenance needs . . . are being reasonably met." 20 CFR § 404.1607.

Until April 1978, the monthly AFDC grant for Lulu was in the amount of $212.30, but in that month Bertha received notice from defendant D'Elia that, effective April 24, 1978, the payment would be reduced to $143.90. The appellant recomputed Lulu's grant because the Department of Social Services had discovered that Constance was the beneficiary of a monthly OASDI payment of $189.10.*fn1 According to the state public assistance standard of need set out in 18 NYCRR §§ 352.1 et seq.,*fn2 Constance only required $166.50 for herself, so the balance, $22.60, was deemed available to Lulu, whose AFDC grant was reduced accordingly.*fn3

On April 19, 1978, Bertha requested a fair hearing to review the AFDC reduction. At the hearing, on May 23, 1978, Bertha's and Eugene's uncontradicted testimony indicated that all of the OASDI money for Constance was being used for Constance's needs, and there was no surplus available for Lulu. While Constance spent something over a dollar a day on personal expenses, mostly cigarettes, Bertha testified that she dipped into her own funds to help buy Constance's clothes. Defendant offered no evidence that Constance did not need for herself all of her OASDI grant, but instead took the position, as the hearing officer summarized it, of "relying on the public assistance budget, and they (the Department of Social Services) don't go into actual needs." The determination to reduce Lulu's AFDC grant was affirmed by Barbara Blum, Commissioner of New York State Department of Social Services, on June 27, 1978 and the reduction took effect on July 1, 1978, This action was commenced on July 31.*fn4

The District Court held it had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3) because the appellee's claim raised a question under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and then proceeded to adjudicate the pendent statutory claim in favor of appellee, on the ground that the state practice was invalid under the Supremacy Clause, thus avoiding the constitutional issue on the merits.


It is axiomatic that under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3), federal jurisdiction in this case must be based upon a noninsubstantial claim of deprivation of a "right . . . secured by the Constitution of the United States." It is equally undisputed that such a claim may not be predicated upon a mere conflict between state and federal statutes. Chapman v. Houston Welfare Rights Organization, 441 U.S. 600, 99 S. Ct. 1905, 60 L. Ed. 2d 508 (1979). As the District Court analyzed the state practice, Lulu's AFDC payments were being reduced as a result of an irrebuttable presumption that Eugene would use no more of the OASDI funds he received for Constance than necessary to meet New York's public assistance standard of need as set forth in 18 NYCRR §§ 352.1 et seq., and that he would make the surplus above such standard available to Lulu.

With this background in mind we must first decide whether the application of this presumption in appellee's case raises a constitutional question sufficiently substantial to support federal jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3). Our answer depends upon the criteria set out in Hagans v. Lavine, 415 ...

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