QUANISHA SMITH and ANTHONY COLAVECCHIO, Individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs
KRISTIN M. PROUD, as Commissioner of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, and ROBERT DOAR, as Commissioner of the New York City Human Resources Administration, Defendants Index No. 400903/2010
For Plaintiffs: Lester Helfman Esq.
Susan Jacquemot Esq., Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, LLP
For Defendant Doar Stephanie A. Feinberg, Special Assistant Corporation Counsel
For Defendant Proud: Domenic Turziano, Assistant Attorney General
DECISION AND ORDER
LUCY BILLINGS, J.S.C.
I. THIS ACTION
In this class action, plaintiffs are public assistance recipients who claim the notices issued by the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA) when it charges that they have not complied with work requirements violate the New York Social Services Law (SSL), its implementing regulations, and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Plaintiff class members who receive assistance from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program further claim that the notices violate federal regulations.
Plaintiffs specifically claim that the first notice issued, the Conciliation Notification, violates SSL § 341(1)(a), because the notice fails to set forth the instance of noncompliance or the necessary actions to avoid a reduction of public assistance. Plaintiffs claim this notice lacks examples of evidence to establish (1) an exemption from work requirements, (2) that noncompliance was unwillful, or (3) that noncompliance was with good cause, each of which would avoid a sanction.
When the conciliation process fails to resolve the charged noncompliance, plaintiffs claim that the second notice issued, the Notice of Decision, violates SSL § 341(1)(b). Specifically, they claim the notice similarly fails to set forth how or why noncompliance with work requirements was willful, how or why it was without good cause, and the necessary actions to avoid a reduction of assistance, as well as how the assistance recipient did not comply. Finally, plaintiffs claim this omitted information regarding the substance of evidence assistance recipients must present to avoid a punitive sanction compromises their rights to adequate notice provided by SSL §§ 22(12)(f) and (g) and 341(1), 18 N.Y.C.R.R. § 358-3.3, 7 C.F.R. § 273.13(a)(2), and due process, to enable them to challenge the Notice of Decision at an administrative hearing.
II. STATE DEFENDANT'S MOTION
Defendant Proud of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance moves to stay this action pending a decision on appeal of Puerto v. Doar, __ Misc.3d __, 975 N.Y.S.2d 527 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Co. 2013). That proceeding is by a petitioner different from the named plaintiffs here, albeit a member of the plaintiff class, against the same State and City parties who are defendants here.
In this action, plaintiffs challenge the adequacy of the notices' information regarding the reasons a recipient may show for failing to participate in a work activity that may avoid a reduction in assistance. Plaintiffs focus on the reasons that establish the failure was unwillful or with good cause.
In Puerto v. Doar, the petitioner has emphasized that establishing unwillfulness or good cause is not the only means to avoid a reduction in assistance. As this court held in that proceeding: "A recipient also may show, as petitioner maintains she does, that she did not fail or refuse to participate in her work activities at all." Puerto v. Doar, 975 N.Y.S.2d at 533. Therefore the court held that HRA's Conciliation Notification and Notice of Decision and the Social Services Law's implementing regulation 18 N.Y.C.R.R. § 385.11(a)(2), "insofar as they omit that a showing of compliance with . . . work activities is action a ...