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In re Concerned Home Care Providers, Inc.

Supreme Court of New York, Third Department

July 3, 2013

In the Matter of CONCERNED HOME CARE PROVIDERS, INC., et al., Appellants,
v.
STATE OF NEW YORK et al., Respondents.

Calendar Date: May 21, 2013

Appeal from an order and judgment of the Supreme Court (McDonough, J.), entered September 20, 2012 in Albany County, which, in a combined proceeding pursuant to CPLR article 78 and action for declaratory judgment, among other things, granted respondents' motion for summary judgment dismissing the petition/complaint.

Nixon Peabody, LLP, Albany (Philip Rosenberg of counsel), for appellants.

Eric T. Schneiderman, Attorney General, Albany (Jeffrey W. Lang of counsel), for respondents.

O'Connell & Aronowitz, Albany (Christine Lynn Johnston of counsel), for New York Association of Health Care, amicus curiae.

Nixon Peabody, LLP, Albany (Peter J. Millock of counsel), for Home Care Association of New York State, Inc., amicus curiae.

Levy Ratner, PC, New York City (David M. Slutsky of counsel), for Juana Fuentes and others, amici curiae.

Before: Rose, J.P., Spain, McCarthy and Egan Jr., JJ.

McCarthy, J.

As part of its effort to improve the quality of care for New Yorkers who receive home health care services, the Legislature enacted Public Health Law § 3614-c in 2011. Commonly known as the Wage Parity Law, the statute conditions Medicaid reimbursement for home health care services provided in New York City and the surrounding counties of Westchester, Suffolk and Nassau upon a home health care agency's certification that the home care aides who render the services are paid a minimum wage. That wage is determined by reference to New York City's Living Wage Law (see NYC Admin Code § 6-109 [b] [1] [a], [b] [3]), which sets a minimum wage and health benefits supplement rate that must be paid by any City service contractor or subcontractor to its employees who actually provide home care services. By referring to the New York City statute, the Wage Parity Law aims to bring total compensation for Medicaid-reimbursed home care aides in the metropolitan New York area into line with compensation paid to aides who are under contract with New York City, thereby furthering the legislative purpose of stabilizing the workforce, reducing turnover, and enhancing recruitment and retention of home care workers. [1]

Petitioners are licensed home care service agencies and a not-for-profit trade association comprised of service providers. They commenced this combined CPLR article 78 proceeding and action for declaratory judgment challenging both the constitutionality of the Wage Parity Law and the interpretation of the law by the Department of Health (hereinafter DOH), and seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting its enforcement. Upon the parties' cross motions for summary judgment, Supreme Court granted summary judgment in favor of respondents and denied all relief requested by petitioners. Petitioners now appeal.

Turning first to petitioners' constitutional arguments, we note that "[l]egislative enactments enjoy a strong presumption of constitutionality... [and] parties challenging a duly enacted statute face the initial burden of demonstrating the statute's invalidity beyond a reasonable doubt" (Overstock.com, Inc. v New York State Dept. of Taxation & Fin., 20 N.Y.3d 586, 593 [2013] [internal quotation marks and citation omitted]; see Catholic Charities of Diocese of Albany v Serio, 28 A.D.3d 115, 120 [2006], affd 7 N.Y.3d 510 [2006], cert denied 552 U.S. 816 [2007]). Here, petitioners first contend that by tying the minimum wage necessary to receive Medicaid reimbursement to New York City's Living Wage Law, the Legislature has improperly delegated its legislative authority to New York City in violation of NY Constitution, article III, § 1. [2]

We find no improper delegation. The Legislature has authority over the Medicaid program (see 42 USC § 1396 et seq.; Social Services Law § 363 et seq.; Matter of Medicon Diagnostic Labs. v Perales, 74 N.Y.2d 539, 545 [1989]), and has chosen to address a compelling state interest in stabilizing wage rates for home care aides in the metropolitan New York area by linking reimbursement in the target geographic area to the minimum wage law established by the City located within that area that employs the majority of home care workers. In enacting the Wage Parity Law, the Legislature did not delegate rulemaking, policy or regulatory authority over the Medicaid program to New York City (see People v Parker, 41 N.Y.2d 21, 27-28 [1976]; Matter of Levine v Whalen, 39 N.Y.2d 510, 515 [1976]; Matter of Mooney v Cohen, 272 NY 33, 37 [1936]; Darweger v Staats, 267 NY 290, 308 [1935]), but rather simply referenced New York City's Living Wage Law as a compensation baseline, which furthers the Legislature's policy goal of achieving wage parity. We find this to be an appropriate exercise of the Legislature's lawmaking powers. Furthermore, because the decision to condition Medicaid reimbursement on a minimum wage that is determined by reference to the New York City minimum wage is rationally related to the legislative purpose, petitioners' equal protection argument is likewise without merit (see Matter of Walton v New York State Dept. of Correctional Servs., 13 N.Y.3d 475, 492 [2009]; Matter of Novara v Cantor Fitzgerald, LP, 20 A.D.3d 103, 105-106 [2005], lv denied 5 N.Y.3d 710 [2005]).

Petitioners next contend that because the Wage Parity Law incorporates the Living Wage Law only by reference, it violates NY Constitution, article III, § 16, [3] which "prohibits enacting part of an existing law by reference without inserting the text of the existing law into the new act" (Matter of Delese v Tax Appeals Trib. of State of N.Y., 3 A.D.3d 612, 613 [2004], appeal dismissed 2 N.Y.3d 793 [2004]; see Matter of Medical Socy. of State of N.Y. v State of N.Y. Dept. of Health, 83 N.Y.2d 447, 452-453 [1994]). This argument is not persuasive. In a case similar to the case at bar, the Court of Appeals observed that "[i]ncorporation by reference is not prohibited in all instances" (Matter of Medical Socy. of State of N.Y. v State of N.Y. Dept. of Health, 83 N.Y.2d at 452). Rather, the constitutional proscription is intended "to prevent the Legislature from incorporating into its acts the provisions of other statutes or regulations which affect public or private interests in ways not disclosed upon the face of the act, and which would not have received the sanction of the Legislature if fully understood by it" (id. at 452-453). In short, "the evil in view in adopting article III, § 16 was the possibility of legislative misapprehension or unawareness" (id. at 453; see People ex rel. Everson v Lorillard, 135 NY 285, 289 [1892]).

Here, petitioners have neither alleged nor demonstrated that the Legislature acted in ignorance of the specific provisions of the Living Wage Law when it enacted the Wage Parity Law or, conversely, that reasonable legislators would not have enacted the statute had it incorporated the explicit language of the Living Wage Law (see North Shore Child Guidance Assn. v Incorporated Vil. of E. Hills, 110 A.D.2d 826, 829 [1985], appeal dismissed 69 N.Y.2d 707 [1986]). Indeed, the statute is "otherwise complete and contains all the information required for intelligent and discrete action by the Legislature" (Matter of Medical Socy. of State of N.Y. v State of N.Y. Dept. of Health, 83 N.Y.2d at 453), and petitioners have failed to overcome the presumption of its validity.

Petitioners next argue that the Wage Parity Law extends the reach of New York City's Living Wage Law into the adjoining counties, thereby violating the home rule provision of NY Constitution article IX, which states that "a local government shall not have power to adopt local laws which impair the powers of any other local government" (NY Const, art IX, § 2 [d]). Notably, however, "the home rule provisions of article IX do not operate to restrict the Legislature in acting upon matters of [s]tate concern" (Matter of Kelley v McGee, 57 N.Y.2d 522, 538 [1982]; see City of New York v Patrolmen's Benevolent Assn. of City of N.Y., 89 N.Y.2d 380, 389 [1996]; Patrolmen's Benevolent Assn. of City of N.Y. v City of New York, 285 A.D.2d 52, 55-56 [2001], mod 97 N.Y.2d 378 [2001]). As noted above, the Wage Parity Law regulates Medicaid reimbursement, which is a matter of state, rather than local, concern (see 42 USC § 1396 et seq.; Social Services Law § 363 et seq.; Matter of Medicon Diagnostic Labs. v Perales, 74 N.Y.2d at 545), and the home rule provisions therefore do not apply.

Petitioners' substantive due process claim also fails, as they are unable to establish a "cognizable... vested property interest" (Matter of Raynor v Landmark Chrysler, 18 N.Y.3d 48, 59 [2011] [internal quotation marks and citation omitted]; see Matter of Collins v Dukes Plumbing & Sewer Serv., Inc., 75 A.D.3d 697, 702 [2010], affd 17 N.Y.3d 906 [2011]). Medicaid providers have "no property interest in or contract right to reimbursement at any specific rate or, for that matter, to continued participation in the Medicaid program at all" (Matter of Rye Psychiatric Hosp. Ctr. v State of New York, 177 A.D.2d 834, 835 [1991], lv denied 80 N.Y.2d 751 [1992]; see Matter of Bezar v New York State Dept. of Social Servs., 151 A.D.2d 44, 49 [1989]).

Finally, we are unpersuaded by petitioners' challenge to DOH's interpretation of the term "total compensation" as it is contained in the Wage Parity Law [4]. DOH interprets total compensation as encompassing two components, a cash wage rate and a separate supplement rate, with the latter including either additional cash, fringe benefits, or a combination thereof. According to petitioners, DOH improperly construed the statute to mean that employers are precluded from using the value of benefits to offset cash wages. However, because this construction is consistent with the structure of New York City's Living Wage Law (see NYC Admin Code § 6-109 [b]), we find it to be rational inasmuch as any reduction of the cash wage rate below the floor provided for in the Living Wage Law would frustrate the legislative goal of achieving wage parity among home care workers throughout the metropolitan New York area (see Matter of Brooklyn Assembly Halls of Jehovah's Witnesses, Inc. v Department of Envtl. Protection of City of New York, 11 N.Y.3d 327, 334 [2008]; Samiento v World Yacht Inc., 10 N.Y.3d 70, 79 [2008]). Accordingly, we defer to DOH's interpretation of the statute.

Rose, J.P., Spain and Egan Jr., JJ., concur.

ORDERED that the order and judgment is affirmed, without costs.


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