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SCHWARTZ v. DOLAN

June 10, 1994

JANE SCHWARTZ; LORRAINE TUFARELLA; YVONNE S. CARMONA, individually and on behalf of their minor children and on behalf of a class of all other persons similarly situated, Plaintiffs, and GEORGIANNA BLOCH; MARIA SANTIAGO; MARIA MOORE; JANET RIVERA; DONEEN JOHNSON, Intervenor-Plaintiffs,
v.
MARY PAT DOLAN, Commissioner of the Tompkins County Department of Social Services; EDWIN J. MINER, Commissioner of the Chautauqua County Department of Social Services; MICHAEL J. DOWLING,1 Commissioner, N.Y.S. Dept. of Social Services, Defendants.


SCULLIN, JR.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: FREDERICK J. SCULLIN, JR.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

 I. Background

 Plaintiffs Jane Schwartz, Lorraine Turafella and Yvonne S. Carmona, individually, on behalf of their minor children, and on behalf of a class of all persons similarly situated, together with plaintiff-intervenors Georgiana Bloch, Doneen Johnson, Maria Santiago, Maria Moore and Janet Rivera, individually, on behalf of their minor children and on behalf of all persons similarly situated (collectively, the "plaintiffs") are recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children ("AFDC") or home relief benefits for themselves and their minor children. Plaintiffs bring this lawsuit against the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Social Services (currently Michael J. Dowling) (the "defendant"), Mary Pat Dolan, the Commissioner of the Tompkins County Department of Social Services, and Charles V. Fiorella, the Commissioner of the Chautaugua County Department of Social Services (collectively, the "defendants").

 Pursuant to assignments voluntarily provided by individuals receiving Home Relief or assignments that must be given by persons as a condition of receiving AFDC, *fn2" local support collection units ("SCUs") are entitled to receive and collect child support payments that are due plaintiffs. In accordance with the Deficit Reduction Act of 1984, codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 602 (a)(8)(A)(vi) and 657(b), as well as New York Social Services Law § 131-a(8)(a)(v), plaintiffs are entitled to receive the first $ 50.00 of current support collected by SCUs on behalf of AFDC recipients, and to have these payments, known as "pass-through" payments, disregarded in determining a household's eligibility to receive public assistance benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 602(a)(8)(A)(vi).

 SCUs inform public assistance recipients of the amount of the pass-through payments received by SCUs through, inter alia, monthly mailers that are sent out by the New York State Department of Social Services ("NYSDSS") to public assistance recipients. *fn3" The NYSDSS does not provide a monthly mailer to an individual if no such support has been received by the social services district for two consecutive months since, under such circumstances, there is no collection or disbursement activity regarding their right to a pass-through. These monthly mailers resume whenever a support payment is subsequently collected.

 In their complaint, plaintiffs seek, inter alia, declaratory and injunctive relief against the defendants for their alleged failure to (i) pay plaintiffs support payments to that which they claim they are entitled; (ii) provide plaintiffs with adequate notice concerning support collected on their behalf along with the basis for determining their eligibility for pass-through payments; and (iii) provide administrative hearings to review and correct errors concerning pass-through payments. They also seek a one-time notification to all class members of all support collected for their respective cases since October 1, 1984, along with a notification that if a class member believes that any support payments should have been passed through but were not, or were passed through but in the wrong amount, that a fair hearing will be held to review the matter on request within sixty (60) days after such one-time notice is given.

 II. Procedural History

 In 1990, plaintiffs conducted a review of all desk reviews performed in upstate New York, and a sample of desk reviews performed in New York City. Plaintiffs claim that such review confirmed their belief that the mailers sent by the NYSDSS failed to provide public assistance recipients adequate notice concerning the basis of the determinations made by the NYSDSS regarding the public assistance recipients' right to pass-through payments. Plaintiffs claim that their review also identified inadequate procedural due process protections existing in the desk review procedure, and that such defects should be remedied by affording public assistance recipients a right to an administrative hearing before an administrative law judge wherein disputes concerning pass-through payments could be heard.

 As of January 1, 1993, federal law has required AFDC recipients who have assigned their support rights to SCUs to be provided with detailed monthly or quarterly -- as opposed to annual -- notices of support collected. If a state utilizes monthly notices, such notices must detail the support collected for that month, unless no support has been collected on behalf of the public assistance recipient for the month in question. A state may provide quarterly, rather than monthly, notices to public assistance recipients if such state also provides an automated voice response system ("VRS") to its public assistance recipients that provides users of the system with the information that would otherwise be included in the detailed monthly notice.

 The NYSDSS has developed a VRS that is accessible to public assistance recipients via touch-tone telephones, and provides users of the system with the information that would otherwise be included in the detailed monthly notices required by federal regulations. Since it has implemented a VRS, the NYSDSS has opted to provide public assistance recipients in the state with quarterly, rather than monthly, notices. *fn5"

 In its cross-motion for summary judgment, defendant NYSDSS claims that the notices provided by the NYSDSS and the desk reviews provided by this Department, in conjunction with the right of public assistance recipients to appeal the determination made by the Department under Article 78 of the CPLR, affords the plaintiffs all that process necessary under the Due Process clause.

 III. Discussion

 A. Summary Judgment Standard.

 Pursuant to Rule 56(c), the moving party bears the initial burden of showing the court that summary judgment is appropriate by pointing to "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with [any] affidavits . . . that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In deciding such a motion, the court is not to resolve disputed issues of fact, but rather, to assess whether a genuine issue regarding a material fact remains for the trier of fact. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). To avoid summary judgment, a non-movant must demonstrate that there is some evidence which would create a genuine issue of material fact. See Twin Laboratories, Inc. v. Weider Health and Fitness, 900 F.2d 566, 568 (2d Cir. 1990) (emphasis added). Without a genuine issue or issues of material fact, there is no need for trial, because there is no triable dispute between the parties which would warrant continuing the action at the trial level. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 327.

 In the case before the Court, the parties do not dispute the facts regarding the procedures utilized by the NYSDSS in notifying public assistance recipients about pass-through payments. Rather, the principle issue that this Court must resolve concerns plaintiff's contention that the procedures that are used by the NYSDSS regarding these payments violate the Due Process clause of the United States Constitution.

 In determining the salient factors to be considered in ascertaining whether the plaintiff has a meritorious claim, the Court finds the Supreme Court's decision in Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 47 L. Ed. 2d 18, 96 S. Ct. 893 (1976) to be instructive. In that case, the Court held that three factors are to be considered by courts in determining the amount of procedural due process that is warranted in a given case: (i) the private interest affected by the government action; (ii) the risk of erroneous deprivation of that interest through the procedures used, and the probable value, if any, of additional or substitute safeguards; and (iii) the government interest, including the administrative and fiscal burdens which would result from the additional or substitute procedural safeguards. Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. at 335; Goetz v. Crosson, 838 F. Supp. 136, 139 (S.D.N.Y. 1993); see also Beasely v. Ginsberg, 1989 WL 202144 (D.Conn. October 2, 1989) at *10 (applying Mathews factors to due process claim regarding pass-through payments). Thus, this Court must review each of plaintiffs' claims in light of these three factors in order to determine whether the current procedures utilized by the NYSDSS comport with the requirements of Due Process.

 As discussed supra, monthly mailers are utilized by the NYSDSS in providing public assistance recipients information about pass-through payments received by the NYSDSS. Moreover, the NYSDSS also provides public assistance recipients with a VRS and quarterly notices that provide such recipients with further information about the status of their pass-through payments and their ability to contest the amounts provided by the NYSDSS.

 The plaintiffs claim that the notices currently provided by the NYSDSS fail to provide public assistance recipients with enough information to permit them to evaluate the state's allocation of support payments and determine whether they are receiving the entire pass-through to which they are entitled. They claim that the following information must be included on the monthly mailers issued by the NYSDSS in ...


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