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HODECKER v. BLUM

November 6, 1981

David HODECKER and Connie Hodecker, Individually and on behalf of their minor children and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
Barbara B. BLUM, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Social Services, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MUNSON

MEMORANDUM-DECISION

The plaintiff Connie Hodecker is a disabled, "medically-needy" adult who is in receipt of medical assistance (Medicaid) benefits. With her non-disabled husband and minor children, Ms. Hodecker has instituted this civil rights action for declaratory and injunctive relief to challenge State Social Service Commissioner Blum's alleged practice of computing Medicaid for aged and adult blind or disabled recipients in a manner more restrictive than that method used to determine Medicaid for minor blind or disabled recipients. Jurisdiction lies under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

Presently before the Court are motions by the plaintiff for class action certification and for summary judgment on Counts 2 and 6 of their complaint. *fn1" The defendant has cross-moved for summary judgment on Counts 2 and 6, and has moved for a stay pending appeal in the event that the plaintiffs prevail on their claims.

 I.

 The following material facts are undisputed.

 David and Connie Hodecker share a common household as husband and wife in Rochester, New York, with their two children, Kenneth, age 9, and Lisa, age 6. Only Mr. Hodecker is employed. Ms. Hodecker is disabled because she is bed-ridden from multiple sclerosis; she has no income other than her husband's earnings.

 On September 29, 1980, the State Commissioner issued administrative directive 80 ADM-78, which sets forth a budgeting methodology for determining the amount of Medicaid for persons like Ms. Hodecker. New York converted to this plan on August 29, 1980. Under this methodology, Ms. Hodecker's Medicaid is budgeted by deducting from her husband's earned income his taxes, work expenses, and a $ 20.00 monthly earned income disregard, and by comparing the resulting net income to the medically needy income level for a family of four, as specified in N.Y. Social Services Law § 366(2)(a)(8). In this regard, only Mr. Hodecker, as the spouse of Ms. Hodecker, is financially responsible for his wife's care. See N.Y. Social Services Law § 366(2)(b). According to the defendant's methodology, Mr. Hodecker has a "spend-down" liability of approximately $ 742.00, which he is expected to incur for his wife's medical care. Were Ms. Hodecker a disabled or blind minor, however, Mr. Hodecker's liability could be $ 276.00, because reference could be made not to the income levels set forth in the N.Y. Social Services Law § 366(2)(a)(8), but to a table of responsible relative support obligations set forth in 18 N.Y.C.R.R. § 360.7(d). Thus, the amount of money that Mr. Hodecker must contribute toward the medical care of his spouse exceeds the amount he would be required to contribute toward the medical care of a blind or disabled minor.

 It is the defendant's practice of budgeting minor Medicaid recipients differently than adult Medicaid recipients which the plaintiffs contest.

 II.

 The plaintiffs seek to represent a class comprised of

 
(all) aged, and adult blind or disabled persons who are now or may in the future be recipients of medical assistance (Medicaid) in the State of New York who live with their spouses, and their non-disabled minor children, who reside with them.

 As a threshold matter, the defendant objects that this proposed class definition is overbroad, to the extent that it includes non-disabled minor children. The Court, however, is of the opinion that non-disabled children may properly be included in the class definition because the State Commissioner's challenged practice affects the amount of money that disabled adults and their spouses can spend on behalf of such children.

 Proceeding to the plaintiffs' motion, both sides are aware of the four requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a), viz., numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation. With respect to numerosity, the defendant does not appear to disagree with the plaintiffs' estimate that 360 cases fall within the scope of the class definition. In regard to commonality, a question of law indeed appears to be common to all members of the class-namely, whether the State Commissioner's use of Medicaid budgeting procedures for aged and adult blind or disabled persons which differ from procedures for minor blind or disabled persons violates federal law. Respecting typicality, the named plaintiffs' claims seem typical to those claims that might be asserted by the proposed class members. As for the adequacy of the plaintiffs' representation of absent class members, the defendant maintains that a conflict of interest might exist, insofar as class members might not wish to advocate a position that could affect the benefit levels of minor blind or disabled Medicaid recipients. The Court does not share this position, because it appears to assume that absent class members are more concerned for the welfare of non-class members, namely, minor aged or disabled persons, than for their own welfare. Such a presumption is speculative, and fails to overcome the apparent unity of interest that the named representatives share with the proposed class members. Given this unity of interest, and the experience of the plaintiffs' attorneys in class action welfare litigation, the Court is of the view that the named plaintiffs will adequately protect the interests of absent class members.

 Having met the requirements of Rule 23(a), the plaintiffs seek also to satisfy the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(2). This provision provides for class action certification in actions where "the party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on grounds generally applicable to the class, thereby making appropriate final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief with respect to the class as a whole." The plaintiffs contend that their action falls under this section because the defendant has refused to apply the same standards to themselves and the absent class members as she applies to minor blind or disabled persons. As additional reasons for class action certification, the plaintiffs cite the problems of enforcement and mootness. Because the Court is familiar with the enforcement problems in this context, because the illness of Connie Hodecker presents a concrete problem of ...


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