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WYLIE v. KITCHIN

June 20, 1984

DELBERT F. WYLIE and JEANNETTE R. WYLIE, individually and on behalf of EUGENE J. WYLIE, a minor, and EVERETT J. WYLIE, Plaintiffs, v DONALD E. KITCHIN, individually and as Commissioner of the St. Lawrence County Department of Social Services, and CESAR A. PERALES, individually and as Commissioner of the New York State Department of Social Services, and MARGARET HECKLER, as Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCCURN

NEAL P. McCURN, D.J.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

 Plaintiffs, former recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children ["AFDC"], bring this action for declaratory and injunctive relief challenging the application of the so-called "lump sum rule." *fn1" Plaintiff's AFDC benefits were terminated when plaintiff Jeannette Wylie received an unexpected lump sum of money. Plaintiffs contend that Congress intended the lump sum rule to apply only to those AFDC recipients who have earned income. As the plaintiffs have no earned income they allege that their benefits were wrongfully terminated. Defendants contend that Congress intended the lump sum rule to apply to all AFDC recipients regardless of whether they have earned income.

 The plaintiffs have moved for a preliminary injunction and the defendants have cross-moved for summary judgment. The parties have stipulated to all the material facts. Oral argument on the motions was heard on November 21, 1983 and all supplemental briefs are now before the court.

 While the court is not unaware of the hardships that loss of AFDC benefits will cause the plaintiffs, the court finds that the plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction must be denied and the defendants' motion for summary judgment must be granted.

 BACKGROUND

 On February 22, 1983, plaintiff Jeannette Wylie received the sum of $1,401.20 as the result of an out-of-court settlement of a wrongful death action in which she was a distributee. None of the other plaintiffs was entitled to any of these proceeds. By February 28, 1983, Mrs. Wylie had spent all of the money she had received in the settlement. *fn2" On or about February 24, 1983, she reported the receipt of the money to the St. Lawrence County Department of Social Services ["SLCDSS"] and returned uncashed two public assistance checks she had received for February, 1983.

 By formal notice dated March 3, 1983, the SLCDSS terminated assistance to the entire Wylie family. The Wylie household at the time consisted of Delbert and Jeannette Wylie, their 20 year old son, Everett, and their minor son, Eugene. The first time that the plaintiffs realized that the receipt of the lump sum would result in a termination of public assistance was on March 3, 1983 when they received the notices of discontinuance sent by SLCDSS. *fn3" The notices also informed the plaintiffs that they had a right to a fair hearing to review the termination. Rather than request a fair hearing, the plaintiffs commenced this action seeking a declaratory judgment that the lump sum rule does not apply to them because they do not have any earned income.

 The parties have consented to the imposition of a temporary restraining order whereby all of the plaintiffs are continuing to receive their public assistance, medicaid, and food stamp benefits pending the outcome of this action. All parties concede that termination of the plaintiffs' public assistance will have serious consequences for the Wylies. These consequences include the possible loss of their home; the possible loss of their only vehicle which would hamper their ability to obtain food and medical care; possible loss of heat and electricity; and marked reduction in their ability to purchase necessities such as food, clothing, and medical care.

 DISCUSSION

 To prevail on a motion for a preliminary injunction a plaintiff must make "a showing of (a) irreparable harm and (b) either (1) likelihood of success on the merits or (2) sufficiently serious questions going to the merits to make them a fair ground for litigation and a balance of hardships tipping decidedly toward the party requesting the preliminary relief." Jackson Dairy, Inc. v. H.P. Hood & Sons, Inc., 596 F.2d 70, 72 (2d Cir. 1979) (per curiam).

 The court finds from the facts presented that plaintiffs have demonstrated that they will suffer irreparable harm if this court does not issue a preliminary injunction. The Wylies are in danger of losing their home, their transportation, and their access to the necessities of life such as food, clothing, and medical care if their public assistance is terminated. While the government argues that the Wylies may have access to other medical programs to help ease the loss of their AFDC benefits, the government concedes that termination of the benefits would result in a substantial loss of income to the family. A Virginia federal district court, in addressing the issue of irreparable harm in the context of termination of AFDC benefits, recently stated:

 The hunger or indignities that one may have to suffer from the unavailability of funds cannot be fully remedied by future payment of those sums. When the money is essential for life's basic necessities the considerations go beyond the mere "financial" ones that defendants say this case involves.

 Reed v. Lukhard, 578 F. Supp. 40, 42 (W.D. Va. 1968). Clearly the plaintiffs here have shown that future reimbursements of their lost benefits would not be ...


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