In the Matter of the Application of Carol PUERTO, Petitioner, I
Robert DOAR, as Commissioner of the New York City Human Resources Administration, and Elizabeth R. Berlin, as Executive Deputy Commissioner of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, Respondents.
[975 N.Y.S.2d 529] Sienna Fontaine Esq., Legal Services NYC-Bronx, Bronx, for Petitioner.
Stephanie A. Feinberg, Special Assistant Corporation Counsel, New York City Human Resources Administration, New York City, for Respondent Doar.
Domenic Turziano, Assistant Attorney General, New York City, for Respondent Berlin.
LUCY BILLINGS, J.
Petitioner seeks declaratory and injunctive relief regarding respondents' conciliation, conference, and hearing procedures intended to resolve disputes over the imposition of sanctions against public assistance recipients charged with failing to comply with work requirements. Respondent Commissioner of the New York City Human Resources Administration moves to dismiss the petition on the grounds that it fails to state a claim, because petitioner's claims are moot. C.P.L.R. §§ 3211(a)(7), 7804(f).
Petitioner and her two children have received public assistance since 2007. In June 2010, City respondent approved her participation in a medical billing training program. Concurrent with her academic [975 N.Y.S.2d 530] training, City respondent assigned her to work in its Medical Assistance Program office in New York County. The academic training included an internship at a physician's office in New York County as well.
According to City respondent, it mailed petitioner a notice dated November 26, 2010, to attend a mandatory " Training Assessment" appointment December 9, 2010. V. Pet. Ex. O, at 1. The appointment was:
for an interview to discuss your employment goals. At this appointment we will assess/reassess your marketable skills as well as your employment, training and educational needs so that appropriate activities, which include work experience, job search and approved educational training, can be assigned.
The parties agree that the address of this notice omitted petitioner's apartment number. Respondents do not dispute that petitioner never received this notice or that on December 9, 2010, she was at the assigned full-time internship.
Without recognizing these facts, however, after petitioner failed to attend the appointment, according to City respondent it mailed her a Conciliation Notification dated December 26, 2010, to contact City respondent's Job Center to explain why she did not report to or cooperate with the mandatory appointment December 9, 2010. Again, the parties do not dispute that the address of this Conciliation Notification omitted petitioner's apartment number or that petitioner never received this notice.
Without further investigation or review of petitioner's case record, which would have revealed the omission in the mailing address and her scheduled internship, City respondent mailed petitioner a Notice of Decision dated January 12, 2011, that her public assistance would be reduced. The reason for the reduction was that she " willfully and without a good reason failed or refused to comply with the requirement to keep an employment or work activity appointment." V. Pet. Ex. B, at 2. In response to the reduced assistance, petitioner requested an administrative hearing to challenge the reduction.
At the hearing, City respondent presented the notice of the appointment and the Conciliation Notification, each bearing the incomplete address; her " Work, Accountability, and You (WAY) Activity Inquiry," V. Pet. Ex. I; and her " Client Infraction History." V. Pet. Ex. J; Aff. of Stephanie A. Feinberg Ex. 1, at 1. Petitioner testified that she never received either notice, and, had she received the appointment notice, she would have notified City respondent that her full-time internship precluded her attendance at the scheduled appointment.
Nevertheless, respondent Executive Deputy Commissioner of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance upheld City respondent's decision to reduce petitioner's public assistance because petitioner willfully and without good cause had failed to attend the appointment December 9, 2010. Even after petitioner commenced this proceeding, pointing out the incomplete address on City respondent's mailings and her assigned work activity that conflicted with the scheduled appointment, City respondent twice acted to reduce her assistance due to appointment notices and Conciliation Notices mailed to an incomplete address.
II. SANCTIONS BASED ON THE FAILURE TO ATTEND AN APPOINTMENT
All non-exempt public assistance recipients " must be engaged in work." N.Y. Soc. Serv. Law (SSL) §§ 335-b(5)(a). See 18 N.Y.C.R.R. § 385.2(f). To carry out this mandate, local social services districts [975 N.Y.S.2d 531] assign recipients to work activities. SSL § 336; 18 N.Y.C.R.R. § 385.9(a). Districts define " engaged in work" in their local plans. City respondent's employment plan defines " engaged in work" as: " Compliance with assessment, employment planning, all activities included in the individual's Employment/Self-Sufficiency plan including ... any of the work activities listed." Supp. Aff. of Sienna Fontaine Ex. F § 3.1. The employment plan, as well federal and state law, list assigned and approved educational activities and internships as allowable work activities. Id. § 3.4(a); 42 U.S.C. § 607(d)(4)-(5) and (8)-(11); SSL § 336(1); 18 N.Y.C.R.R. § 385.9(a)(8)-(11) and (14) and (b)(4). Recipients who ...