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Bacon v. Toia

decided: May 4, 1981.

JEANNE BACON, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF HER MINOR CHILDREN, ROBERT BACON AND IFE BACON, AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHER PERSONS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS-CROSS-APPELLEES, AND FREDDIE MAE GOODWINE, LINDA SELDERS AND GERTRUDE PARRISH, PLAINTIFFS-INTERVENORS-APPELLANTS-CROSS-APPELLEES,
v.
PHILIP L. TOIA, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS COMMISSIONER OF THE DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE-CROSS-APPELLANT, CHARLES W. BATES, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS COMMISSIONER OF THE WESTCHESTER COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, DEFENDANT .



Appeal from judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Lee P. Gagliardi, J., granting in part and denying in part plaintiffs' motion to enjoin enforcement of certain provisions of New York State's emergency assistance program, N.Y. Soc. Serv. L. § 350-j. Affirmed in part and reversed in part.

Before Feinberg, Chief Judge, Kearse, Circuit Judge, and Edelstein, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Feinberg

This class action for declaratory and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 challenges the constitutionality of certain amendments adopted in 1977 to section 350-j of the New York Social Services Law,*fn1 the provision governing the state's program of emergency assistance to needy families with children.*fn2 We conclude that the statute, as amended, is not invalid under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, but we hold that the two particular provisions raised in this appeal one denying cash emergency assistance to persons eligible for or receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)*fn3 and the other denying all forms of emergency assistance in cases of loss or theft of a public assistance grant deny the members of the plaintiff class of AFDC recipients the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of the district court, and enjoin enforcement of the constitutionally defective provisions.

I

The named original and intervening plaintiffs, recipients of benefits under New York's AFDC program, brought this action in 1977 to enjoin enforcement of certain amendments adopted in that year to the state's emergency assistance program, the effect of which was to limit and in some circumstances to deny such assistance to AFDC recipients. Plaintiffs initially moved for summary judgment in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, before Judge Lee P. Gagliardi. In September 1977, in an opinion reported at 437 F. Supp. 1371, Judge Gagliardi granted the motion on the ground that the amendments impermissibly narrowed the eligibility standards for emergency assistance imposed on the states by federal law specifically, section 406(e) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 606(e) and was thus invalid under the Supremacy Clause. We affirmed in an unpublished memorandum order, accepting the analysis of the district court's opinion. 580 F.2d 1044 (2d Cir. 1978). Shortly thereafter, however, the Supreme Court, in Quern v. Mandley, 436 U.S. 725, 98 S. Ct. 2068, 56 L. Ed. 2d 658 (1978), held that section 406(e) did not preclude the states from setting eligibility standards for emergency assistance more narrowly than for AFDC benefits. Defendants moved for rehearing in this court in light of Quern ; granting their motion, we recalled our order of affirmance, vacated the judgment of the district court, and remanded the action for further consideration and for resolution of any remaining issues, if necessary.

On remand, the district court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment on the Supremacy Clause claim in an opinion dated January 30, 1979, reversing its prior decision and concluding that the New York statute as amended was valid under the Supreme Court's "definitive statutory interpretation" of section 406(e) of the Social Security Act. At the same time, the court gave the parties leave to file further briefs addressed to the constitutional issues.

Finally, in June 1980, in an opinion reported at 493 F. Supp. 865, Judge Gagliardi held that one of the challenged amendments, the provision denying emergency assistance in the form of cash to persons receiving or eligible for AFDC assistance (the "no-cash provision"),*fn4 deprived plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws. The court upheld, however, the other amended provisions cited in the complaint, one barring emergency assistance in any case of loss, theft, or mismanagement of a regular public assistance grant (including AFDC) (the "loss-or-theft provision")*fn5 and the second prohibiting emergency assistance to replace or duplicate certain recurring public assistance grants (the "duplication provision").*fn6 In the final judgment entered pursuant to the court's opinion, Judge Gagliardi reserved the issue of attorneys' fees, costs, and disbursements for determination on motions to be made within three months after completion of all appellate proceedings in this case.

In this court, plaintiffs appeal from the district court's ruling on the Supremacy Clause claim,*fn7 and from that part of the judgment upholding the loss-or-theft provision. They do not attack the ruling with respect to the duplication provision. Defendant Commissioner of the Department of Social Services of the State of New York (the "Commissioner") cross-appeals from the part of the judgment striking down the no-cash provision and from the order reserving the issue of attorneys' fees.

II

We turn first to plaintiffs' claim that the district court erred in finding no conflict under the Supremacy Clause between the amended New York statute and the emergency assistance eligibility standards set by the federal Social Security Act. Plaintiffs' essential argument is that the Supreme Court's decision in Quern v. Mandley, supra, does not control this case; they point instead to our own earlier decision in Lynch v. Philbrook, 550 F.2d 793 (2d Cir. 1977). In Lynch, we struck down a Vermont statute that sharply limited AFDC recipients' entitlement to emergency assistance,*fn8 reasoning that the emergency assistance program as defined in the Social Security Act "was designed to cover, at a minimum, AFDC recipients," id. at 796, and that while the program was "only an optional component of AFDC, once Vermont decided to participate in it, it was bound to follow the eligibility conditions established by federal law." Id. at 795. Those conditions, set out in section 406(e) of the federal statute, we treated as a "mandate." Id.

Though the Supreme Court in Quern made no specific reference to Lynch,*fn9 it held squarely that section 406(e) does not "impose( ) mandatory eligibility standards on States that elect to participate in the (emergency assistance) program"; rather, it "defines the permissible scope" of such programs "for purposes of federal funding." 436 U.S. at 747, 98 S. Ct. at 2080 (emphasis in original). The statute thus does not preclude the states from establishing more restrictive standards of eligibility; as the Court observed, "the very breadth of the potential reach of (emergency assistance) to virtually any family with needy children of a certain age that faces a risk of destitution argues against the inference that Congress intended to require participating States to extend aid to all who were potentially eligible under § 406(e)." Id. at 745-46, 98 S. Ct. at 2079-80 (emphasis in original).

Plaintiffs contend that the issue in this case and in Lynch is not, as it was in Quern, whether states may define eligibility for emergency assistance more stringently than does section 406(e), but rather "whether (section 406(e)) allows the states to run an Emergency Assistance program that treats AFDC eligible persons worse than other persons." In this connection, they point to our express recognition in Lynch that we did not there "face the issue of how freely a state can define what constitutes an emergency for which (emergency assistance) will be paid," 550 F.2d at 797, the issue with which Quern was essentially concerned. In Lynch, we held "only that AFDC recipients need show no more pressing emergency than those not on AFDC." Id. This holding, plaintiffs argue, is still valid after Quern and requires that the statutory provisions challenged here be struck down under the Supremacy Clause. Indeed, they point out, the provisions before us now go even further than those at issue in Lynch, since they do not even permit AFDC recipients to obtain emergency assistance by meeting a heavier burden they are simply cut off altogether in the specified circumstances.

Plaintiffs' distinction of Quern has a certain appeal, but we find it ultimately unpersuasive. To apply Lynch at this stage, we would have to ignore the clear import of the Court's reasoning in Quern : that Congress intended to leave to the states substantial flexibility in determining the scope of emergency assistance programs suitable under local conditions. Beyond setting outside limits on eligibility for programs that qualify for federal funding, Congress provided no statutory basis for invalidating a state's decision in this area. Our view that this is the proper reading of Quern is strengthened by the Court's specific acknowledgement in that case, with no suggestion of disapproval, that some states (like New York) "exclude AFDC recipients if the emergency need is one theoretically covered by the basic assistance grant " 436 U.S. at 740 n.16, 98 S. Ct. at 2077 n.16 (emphasis in original).

We conclude, then, that Quern bars plaintiffs' challenge under the Supremacy Clause based on an allegation of conflict with section 406(e) of the Social Security Act. In so doing, we do not mean to say that Quern licenses any form of state classification for emergency assistance; state programs of ...


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