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HART v. WESTCHESTER CTY. D.S.S.

March 30, 2001

HERBERT HART, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WESTCHESTER COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pauley, District Judge.

  MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Pro se plaintiff Herbert Hart ("Hart") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that defendant Westchester County Department of Social Services ("WCDSS") violated his constitutional rights by reducing his public assistance grant and denying him emergency financial relief. WCDSS moves for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and Hart moves for discovery sanctions pursuant to Rule 37(b). For the reasons set forth below, WCDSS's motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part and Hart's motion for sanctions is denied.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The following facts are not in dispute. Hart, a 67-year old African-American, began receiving public assistance in 1989. (Pl.'s Aff. of Facts in Opp. to Mot. for Summ. J. ("Hart Aff.") ¶ 4, 5; Decl. of Habeeb Mohammed ("Mohammed Decl.") ¶ 3.) In May 1995, WCDSS modified Hart's monthly public assistance budget to provide a rent allowance of $350, cash assistance of $58, $115 in food stamps, and medical coverage. (Hart Aff. ¶ 9; Decl. of Joan C. Waters ("Water Decl.") Ex. C: WCDSS Budget.) Thereafter, Hart authorized WCDSS to remit the $350 rent allowance directly to his landlord Greenow Realty ("Greenow"). (Hart Aff. ¶ 10, Ex. B: Request for Vendor Payment.)

In August 1995, Hart applied for federal social security income benefits ("SSI") and was advised that the Social Security Administration would notify WCDSS when his SSI payments commenced. (Hart Aff. ¶ 13.) Hart apprised his WCDSS case worker of his SSI application. (Hart Aff. ¶ 11.) In October 1995, Hart began receiving SSI payments in the amount of $350. (Hart Aff. ¶ 14.) By letter dated November 27, 1995, WCDSS claims to have notified Hart that state law required that his SSI benefit would be deducted from his state public assistance grant. (Waters Decl. Ex. G: Notice of Intent to Change Benefits.) Hart asserts that he never received that November 1995 notice. (Hart Aff. ¶ 15.) On December 15, 1995, WCDSS reduced Hart's public assistance by the amount of his SSI benefit and began remitting only $58 to Greenow.

On January 31, 1996, Hart requested a hearing to review the $350 reduction in public assistance. (Waters Decl. Ex. H: Notice.) A WCDSS investigator met with Hart at his home on March 11, 1996 to review his eligibility and a hearing was scheduled by WCDSS for March 22, 1996. (Waters Decl. Ex. H: Notice.) In the interim, a deputy marshal for the City of Yonkers served an eviction warrant demanding that Hart vacate his residence by March 27, 1996 for rental arrears of $919. (Hart Aff. ¶¶ 16, 17, Ex A.: Eviction Warrant.) For reasons that are not elucidated in the record, Hart failed to appear at the WCDSS hearing on March 22, 1996. (See Waters Decl. Ex. J: Default Notice.)

On March 27, 1996, Hart informed Mohammed Habeeb, his WCDSS case worker, of his imminent eviction and requested emergency funding. By mistake, Habeeb furnished Hart with the wrong application form; the following day, Habeeb provided Hart with the proper form for Emergency Adult Assistance ("EAA"). (Hart Aff. ¶ 18, 19, 21, Ex. D: Recertification Form.) That same day, Hart submitted his EAA request and WCDSS denied it. (Hart Aff. ¶ 22, 23.) WCDSS's decision denying EAA advised Hart:

Your rent is $350.00 and your total welfare grant is only $58.00 after deduction of your [SSI benefit] of $350 per month. Dept. of Social Services, under these circumstances, cannot capture your future rent for payment directly to the landlord.

(Hart Aff. Ex. G: EAA Decision.) Later on March 28, 1996, Hart was evicted and rendered homeless. (Hart Aff. ¶ 23.)

The notice denying Hart's EAA application advised him that he had two alternative avenues for review: an informal conference or a fair hearing. Hart opted for a fair hearing and on April 1, 1996, he requested both by telephone and certified mail that the hearing be expedited. (Hart Aff. 27; Ex. H: Certified Mail Receipt.) Despite the fact that Hart was homeless, WCDSS scheduled the hearing for May 21, 1996. (Waters Decl. Ex. M: Fair Hearing Notice.) On April 4, 1996, the fair hearing was adjourned inexplicably from May 21 to July 3, 1996. On the July 3 adjourn date, Hart withdrew his request for a fair hearing for reasons not revealed on the record before this Court. (Waters Decl. Ex. N: Notice of Fair Hearing.)

On January 23, 1998, Hart filed this civil action claiming equal protection and procedural due process violations pursuant to the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments and intentional infliction of emotional distress under New York law.

DISCUSSION

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 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 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); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2509-10, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine dispute as to a material fact rests with the moving party. See, e.g., Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 1608, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970); Grady v. Affiliated Cent., Inc., 130 F.3d 553, 559 (2d Cir. 1997). In evaluating the record to determine whether there is a genuine issue as to any material fact, "[t]he evidence of the nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255, 106 S.Ct. at 2513. If the moving party meets its initial burden, the non-moving party must then come forward with ...


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