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Guzman v. United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 18, 2013

JUAN F. GUZMAN, FRANCISCO G. GUZMAN, OWNERS 3607 BROADWAY FOOD CENTER, INC., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE FOOD AND NUTRITION SERVICE, Defendant

Page 489

Juan F. Guzman, Plaintiff, Pro se, New York, NY.

For United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, Defendant: Jeffrey Kenneth Powell, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney's Office, SDNY, New York, Ny.

OPINION

Paul G. Gardephe, United State District Judge.

Page 490

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

In this action, pro se Plaintiffs 3607 Broadway Food Center, Inc. (" 3607 Broadway" ) and its owners Juan F. Guzman and Francisco G. Guzman challenge an administrative decision of the United States Department of Agriculture (" USDA" ) disqualifying 3607 Broadway from participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (" SNAP" ) for six years. (See Am. Cmplt. ¶ IV)[1] The USDA Food and Nutrition Service (" FNS" ) imposed the six-year disqualification sanction after 3607 Broadway had been disqualified from participating in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (" WIC" ).

The Government has moved for summary judgment. (Dkt. Nos. 7, 11) Plaintiffs do not dispute or challenge the validity of the WIC disqualification but contend that they should not have been disqualified from participation in the SNAP program. The Government argues that the USDA's decision to suspend 3607 Broadway from the SNAP program was mandated by the relevant regulations and, in any event, was not arbitrary and capricious. For the reasons stated below, the Government's motion for summary judgment will be granted.

BACKGROUND

I. STATUTORY AND REGULATORY BACKGROUND

WIC provides " supplemental foods and nutrition education" to pregnant, post-partum, and breast-feeding women, as well as to children from low-income families. 42 U.S.C. § 1786(a) WIC is funded by the USDA and is subject to federal regulations, but is state-administered. In New York, WIC is administered by the New York State Department of Health (" DOH" ). DOH authorizes vendors to participate in WIC and sanctions vendors who violate the regulations that govern the program. See 42 U.S.C. § 1786(f); 7 C.F.R. § § 246.3, 246.4, 246.12(j); Kim v. United States, 822 F.Supp. 107, 108 (E.D.N.Y. 1993).

SNAP provides benefits designed to increase the food purchasing power of eligible beneficiaries. These benefits are distributed through Electronic Benefits Transfer (" EBT') cards, and are used to purchase eligible food items at participating retail food stores. The Government then pays those food stores the full face value of the purchased items. 7 U.S.C. § 2013.

Pursuant to its authority under the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 (" FNA" ), the USDA has promulgated regulations that govern the WIC and SNAP programs.

Page 491

While the DOH sanctions those vendors that violate WIC regulations, FNS is responsible for imposing sanctions on vendors that violate SNAP regulations. 7 C.F.R. § 278.6(a). Violations of the SNAP regulations may result in temporary or permanent suspension from the SNAP program. (Id.) FNS may impose a civil monetary penalty in lieu of disqualification, however, where it " determines that a disqualification would cause hardship" to households receiving SNAP benefits. (Id.) Such a hardship exists where " the firm subject to a disqualification is selling a substantial variety of staple food items[] and . . . there is no other authorized retail food store in the area selling as large a variety of staple food items at comparable prices." 7 C.F.R. § 278.6(f)(1).

Under certain circumstances, FNS is required to disqualify a food store from participating in the SNAP program where that store has been disqualified from participating in the WIC program. For example, reciprocal disqualification from the SNAP program is required where a food store has been disqualified from WIC based on a " pattern of claiming reimbursement for the sale of an amount of a specific food item which exceeds the store's documented inventory of that food item for a specified period of time." 7 C.F.R. § 278.6(e)(8)(i)(A); see also 7 U.S.C. § ...


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