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WILLIAMS v. KING

July 15, 1992

MICHAEL WILLIAMS, Plaintiff, against GWENDOLYN S. KING, Commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, 1329 Rockaway Parkway, Brooklyn, New York and ETTA VESELY, Director of the New York City Human Resources Administration, Office of Fiscal Affairs, Income Maintenance Operations and E. PRESSER, SSI Liaison Unit, 200 Church Street, New York, New York, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: I. LEO GLASSER

 GLASSER, United States District Judge:

 The pro se plaintiff in this action has alleged violations of his constitutional rights. Two of the three defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated below, the motion of those two defendants is granted.

 FACTS

 For the purposes of this motion, the facts as alleged in the complaint are assumed to be true. The plaintiff, Reverend Michael William applied in April of 1978 to the Social Security Administration ("SSA") of the Department. of Health and Human Services ("HHS" ) for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. Complaint at 2. He claimed that he was permanently disabled because of a "mental impairment." Id. This application for benefits was denied by HHS; a second application made by the plaintiff in 1982 was also denied. Finally, after a successful appeal of this second denial to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, the plaintiff in 1983 was awarded SSI benefits retroactive to April of 1978. Id. at 3.

 The plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in November of 1991; he alleges that the defendants -- Gwendolyn S. King (Commissioner of HHS), Etta Vesely (Director of HRA), and E. Presser designated by the plaintiff as "SSI Liaison") -- violated his federal rights under the Fifth and the Fourteenth Amendments to the United States constitution. He claims first that the defendants King, Vesely, and Presser denied him due process of law in that they provided him with notice of the HRA recoupment and with a hearing to contest that recoupment only after the actual withholding of benefit money by the HRA. Id. at 4-5. The plaintiff contends that the due process guarantee of the federal constitution requires the defendants to provide a "pre-recoupment" hearing. Id. Second, he contends that defendants Vesely and Presser denied him due process of law in that they "made at least two (2) mistakes and errors in calculating the amount" of the appropriate withholding. Id. at 5. The plaintiff seeks from each of these defendants $ 10,000.00 in compensatory damages, $ 250, 000.00 in punitive damages, and the $ 5,754.00 (with interest) that he alleges was wrongly recouped by the HRA. Id. at 7-8.

 The defendants Vesely and Presser have now moved this court under Federal Rule of civil Procedure 12(b)(6) to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. These defendants argue that this action was untimely filed, that due process does not require a pre-recoupment hearing, and that Section 1983 does not render state officials liable for negligence. The Office of the United States Attorney has not yet answered the complaint or otherwise appeared on behalf of the defendant King.

 DISCUSSION

 Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a court may dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. On a motion under this rule, a court must "accept the material facts alleged in the complaint as true . . . ." Easton v. Sundram, 947 F.2d 1011, 1014-15 (2d Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 112 S. Ct. 1943, 118 L. Ed. 2d 548, (1992). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion may not be granted "unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957). This caution about dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) assumes greater force if, as is the case here, the plaintiff proceeds pro se or if his complaint alleges a violation of his civil rights. Easton, 947 F.2d at 1015.

 This action arises out of the intricate network of federal, state, and municipal statutes and regulations that govern the administration of publicly sponsored disability benefits. Under 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A), a person who claims to have a disability is eligible for SSI benefits from the SSA if he demonstrates that he has a "medically determinable physical or mental impairment" that prevents him from engaging in "any substantial gainful activity" and which can be expected to last for more than one year or to result in death. The processing and adjudication of SSI disability applications, however, is rarely expeditious. For this reason, many states provide cash assistance payments to SSI claimants during the pendency of these applications. In order to facilitate such cooperation by the states, "Congress in 1974 provided a mechanism called the Interim Cash Reimbursement Program (IAR), 42 U.S.C. § 1383(g) . . ., whereby states could recoup interim assistance benefits paid to SSI applicants." Rivers by Rivers v. Schweiker, 692 F.2d 871, 872 (2d Cir. 1982), cert. denied, 460 U.S. 1088, 103 S. Ct. 1783, 76 L. Ed. 2d 353 (1983). Pursuant to this program:

 [A] state must (1) enter into a formal reimbursement agreement with [HHS], and (2) obtain written authorization from the individual applying for SSI benefits permitting [HHS] to withhold the individual's initial SSI check and pay to the state an amount sufficient to reimburse for interim assistance provided to the individual, 42 U.S.C. § 1383(g)(1) . . . .

 After a state has recouped the amount of interim benefit payments that it provided to a particular applicant, the applicant has a right to a hearing "by the State" if he disagrees with "the State's actions regarding repayment of interim assistance." 20 C.F.R. § 416.1920. That is, the applicant is entitled to a hearing before the appropriate state agency in order to contest the amount of the recoupment. Id. He is not "entitled to a Federal hearing on the State's action regarding repayment of interim assistance", id. (emphasis added); however, he may appeal to the SSA from the disposition of the state hearing, 20 C.F.R. § 416.1922.

 The state of New York, through the DSS, provides interim assistance payments under its "home relief" program to SSI applicants. As to SSI applicants in New York City, the interim assistance program is administered by the HRA. Pursuant to controlling federal and state provisions, the HRA is required to secure from an SSI applicant permission to recoup the amount of interim assistance paid to the applicant during the pendency of an ultimately successful SSI application. 18 N.Y.C.R.R. § 370.7(a)(4). Once ...


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