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JOHNSON v. WING

July 9, 1998

BEULAH JOHNSON, Plaintiff, against BRIAN J. WING, as Commissioner of the Department of Social Services of the State of New York, MARY E. GLASS, as Commissioner of the Department of Social Services of Westchester County, and VOLUNTEERS OF AMERICA, INC., Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: BRIEANT

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

 Brieant, J.

 Before the Court for decision are four summary judgment motions pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, heard and fully submitted on June 5, 1998: (1) the motion of plaintiff Beulah Johnson (2) the motion of State defendant Brian J. Wing, the Commissioner of the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance for the State of New York ("the State"); (3) the motion of County defendant Mary E. Glass, the Commissioner of the Department of Social Services of Westchester County ("the County"); and (4) the motion of Volunteers of America-Greater New York, Inc. ("VOA"). Also before the Court is VOA's motion pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 13(g) for leave to file and serve a cross-claim against the County for indemnification in the event plaintiff obtains a damage award against VOA. For the reasons set forth below the summary judgment motions of the State, the County and VOA are granted and the motion of Ms. Johnson is denied. VOA's 13(g) motion is also denied without prejudice.

 I. Background

 Beulah Johnson is a 41 year old, disabled, homeless individual who resided at the Yorktown Country Residence ("the Shelter"), a temporary housing facility in Yorktown Heights, New York, for a period beginning in August 1996. The Shelter is operated by VOA (a not-for-profit corporation) pursuant to contract with the County. Under the contract the County pays VOA a per diem sum to provide emergency shelter, food, transportation, medical expenses and other services to Ms. Johnson, and others referred to VOA.

 Ms. Johnson's sole source of income is a federal Supplemental Security Income grant ("SSI") of $ 580 (composed of a federal payment of $ 494 and a state supplementation of $ 86) and $ 42 worth of food stamps per month. Federal Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") provides financial assistance to aged, blind and disabled persons whose income falls below a statutory minimum. 42 U.S.C. §§ 1382-1382f. The County budgets an individual's SSI income when determining his or her eligibility for public assistance, and in Ms. Johnson's case required her to pay over all but $ 45 of her SSI income to VOA in order to remain at the Shelter. This budget required the County to pay VOA $ 2,489 per month to cover the remaining costs of maintaining Ms. Johnson at the Shelter.

 Ms. Johnson signed an agreement to make her monthly payments and did so from August 1996 until May 1997. At that time she discontinued making payments, in part because she was told by another resident at her facility that the County was responsible for paying the Shelter cost and that some residents at the Shelter were not paying a contribution. On June 23, 1997 VOA notified Ms. Johnson that pursuant to its contract with the County her case would be referred back to the County and her accommodations at the Shelter would be canceled if her payment was not forthcoming. Ms. Johnson requested and was granted a state administrative appeal to challenge her required payment. On July 23, 1997 the State Department of Social Services ("State DSS") issued a Decision After Fair Hearing affirming the determination of the County that Ms. Johnson was responsible for contributing to her costs at the Shelter.

 By agreement between the attorneys for the parties, Ms. Johnson's shelter was continued pending the outcome of this lawsuit. The County also extended the moratorium on evictions for nonpayment to all homeless SSI recipients in County sponsored shelters and to all disabled SSI recipients in the shelters as well.

 Ms. Johnson brought this civil rights action in September 1997 to recover the money she paid to the County and VOA during the time she was there (approximately $ 4,894). She is also seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. *fn1" She alleges that the defendants' policy of requiring her to contribute to the cost of her services at the Shelter (1) violates the anti-alienation provisions of federal law, 42 U.S.C. § 1383(d)(1); (2) conflicts with federal law by reducing her federal SSI grant; (3) conflicts with federal law by depriving her of some or all of her state supplemental SSI payment in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1382e and New York Social Services Law §§ 209 and 211; (4) violates her rights under the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses; and (5) violates her rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Ms Johnson also asserts three claims under state law: the first against the State DSS for "erroneously relying on state social services regulations;" the second against the County for assuming legislative power in violation of Article three, section one of the New York Constitution by requiring contributions without statutory authority; and the third against VOA and the County alleging that they breached their contract and that plaintiff was a third-party beneficiary of that contract.

 In essence Ms. Johnson alleges a statutory conflict. She concedes that an individual receiving SSI income must pay rent out of that income to a private landlord. However, she contends that her case, in which an SSI recipient is required to make payments to a County-run temporary housing shelter, is different because payment of SSI income to the State or the County conflicts with federal law. As set forth in more detail below this Court finds no basis in the context of this case for the distinction between payments to a private landlord and payments to a State or County landlord and rejects the contention that the defendants' policy conflicts with federal law. Furthermore, the statutory mandates which require the defendants to budget Ms. Johnson's SSI income while she lives in the Shelter provide an incentive for Ms. Johnson, as well as others similarly situated, to seek permanent housing. If the defendants did not budget Ms. Johnson's SSI income she would have no incentive to accept private housing, for if she did she would then be required to spend her SSI income on rent, food and the other forms of assistance which she now receives at the Shelter. The summary judgment motions of the defendants are granted and Ms. Johnson's federal claims are dismissed. This Court declines to exercise jurisdiction over her supplemental state law claims.

 II. Summary Judgment Standard

 Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) provides that summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." See Silver v. City University, 947 F.2d 1021, 1022 (2d Cir. 1991). A genuine issue of material fact exists if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." R.B. Ventures, Ltd. v. Shane, 112 F.3d 54, 57 (2d Cir. 1997) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986)). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. See D'Amico v. City of New York, 132 F.3d 145, 149 (2d Cir. 1998); Repp v. Webber, 132 F.3d 882, 889 (2d Cir. 1997). Both sides of the litigation conceded at the hearing that there are no disputed issues of material fact.

 III. The Anti-Alienation Provision

 In her first claim Ms. Johnson contends that the requirement that she contribute all but $ 45 of her monthly SSI grant violates the anti-alienation provision of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 407(a) and 1383(d)(1), which forbids the enforcement of claims against persons receiving SSI benefits by means of "execution, levy, attachment, garnishment or other legal process." The State, the County and VOA argue that their policy does not violate the anti-attachment statute because Ms. Johnson voluntarily chose to stay at the Shelter and pay her costs and because they have not initiated "legal process" in order to collect her SSI benefits.

 The anti-alienation provision "imposes a broad bar against the use of any legal process" to reach social security benefits. Philpott v. Essex County Welfare Bd., 409 U.S. 413, 417, 34 L. Ed. 2d 608, 93 S. Ct. 590 (1973). In Bennett v. Arkansas, 485 U.S. 395, 99 L. Ed. 2d 455, 108 S. Ct. 1204 (1988) the Supreme Court held that an Arkansas statute authorizing the state to seize prisoners' social security benefits to pay for the cost of incarceration violated the anti-alienation provision. A number of courts subsequently held that the state may not compel contribution of social security benefits or SSI from involuntarily institutionalized persons. See Crawford v. Gould, 56 F.3d 1162 (9th Cir. 1995) (psychiatric patients' social security benefits beyond the reach of state's attempt to recover expense of institutional care); King v. Schafer, 940 F.2d 1182 (8th Cir. 1991) (Missouri officials barred from threatening legal action to recover costs of institutional care of mental patients out of social security benefits); Brinkman v. Rahm, 878 F.2d 263 (9th Cir. 1989) (mental patients' federal benefits exempt ...


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