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WASSERMAN v. GLICKMAN

April 11, 1995

RENEE WASSERMAN, Plaintiff, against DANIEL R. GLICKMAN, et al., Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: LEONARD D. WEXLER

 WEXLER, District Judge

 Plaintiff Renee Wasserman brings this action against defendants Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture (the "Secretary"), Commissioner of the New York State Department of Social Services (the "New York Commissioner"), and Commissioner of the Nassau County Department of Social Services (the "Nassau County Commissioner") for declaratory and injunctive relief challenging defendants' denial of her application for food stamps. Presently before the Court are defendants' motions to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons below, defendants' motions are granted, and plaintiff's cross-motion is denied.

 I. BACKGROUND

 The Food Stamp Act (the "Act"), 7 U.S.C. § 2011 et seq., is a federal program created to "permit low-income households to obtain a more nutritious diet through normal channels of trade by increasing food purchasing power for all eligible households who apply for participation." Id. § 2011. Participants receive coupons that can be used to purchase food from approved retail food stores. Id. § 2013. The Secretary is charged with establishing uniform national eligibility standards for the food stamp program. Id. § 2014(b). The program is administered by state agencies, like the New York State Department of Social Services ("NYDSS"), which determine eligibility, figure the appropriate amount of stamps to issue, and issue the stamps. Id. § 2020. The state agencies, in carrying out their duties under the Act, must adhere to regulations promulgated by the Secretary to implement the Act. Id. § 2013(c). The NYDSS carries out its responsibilities through local agencies, such as the Nassau County Department of Social Services ("NCDSS").

 The requirements for food stamp eligibility are set forth in § 2014. Section 2014(c) establishes a "gross income standard," above which households are ineligible to participate in the food stamp program. See id. § 2014(c). Section 2014(d) and (e) prescribes exclusions from household income and the method for determining the standard deduction in computing household income. See id. § 2014(d), (e).

 Section 2014(g) establishes an "allowable financial resource" limit for eligibility, directing the Secretary to "prescribe the types and allowable amounts of financial resources . . . an eligible household may own," but requiring the Secretary to "assure that a household otherwise eligible to participate in the food stamp program will not be eligible to participate if its resources exceed $ 2,000, or, in the case of a household which consists of or includes a member who is 60 years of age or older, if its resources exceed $ 3,000." Id. § 2014(g)(1). The Act directs, however, that certain resources be included in, or excluded from, financial resources in determining eligibility. Among the resources specifically addressed are licensed vehicles. Since 1977, and through the time plaintiff applied for food stamps, the Act directed the Secretary to include in financial resources

 
any licensed vehicle (other than one used to produce earned income or that is necessary for transportation of a physically disabled household member and any other property, real or personal, to the extent that it is directly related to the maintenance or use of such vehicle) used for household transportation or used to obtain or continue employment to the extent that the fair market value of any such vehicle exceeds $ 4,500.

 Id. § 2014(g)(2). *fn1"

 United States Department of Agriculture ("USDA") regulations implementing § 2014(g)(2) provide that, subject to the exclusion of certain vehicles, *fn2" a portion of a licensed vehicle's fair market value which exceeds the vehicle limitation

 
shall be attributed in full toward the household's resource level, regardless of any encumbrances on the vehicles . . . , and regardless of the amount of the household's investment in the vehicle, and regardless of whether or not the vehicle is used to transport household members to and from employment.

 7 C.F.R. § 273.8(h)(3). The regulation further provides that all licensed vehicles are to be evaluated for equity value, except for one vehicle per household, vehicles excluded under 7 C.F.R § 273.8(h)(1), or vehicles necessary for employment reasons; the equity value of any such nonexcluded licensed vehicle is used in calculating a household's financial resources. Id. § 273.8(h)(4). However, if a licensed vehicle is assigned a fair market value in excess of $ 4,500 and an equity value, only the greater of the two is counted in the financial resource determination. Id. § 273.8(h)(5). As the regulation summarizes:

 
Each licensed vehicle shall be handled as follows: First it will be evaluated to determine if it is exempt as an income producer or as a home. If not exempt, it will be evaluated to determine if its fair market value exceeds $ 4,500. If worth more than $ 4,500, the portion in excess of $ 4,500 for each vehicle will be counted as a resource. The vehicle will also be evaluated to see if it is equity exempt as the household's only vehicle or necessary for employment reasons. If not equity exempt, the equity value will be counted as a resource. If the vehicle has a ...

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