409 U.S. 413 (1973), 71-5656, Philpott v. Essex County Welfare Board

Docket Nº:No. 71-5656
Citation:409 U.S. 413, 93 S.Ct. 590, 34 L.Ed.2d 608
Party Name:Philpott v. Essex County Welfare Board
Case Date:January 10, 1973
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 413

409 U.S. 413 (1973)

93 S.Ct. 590, 34 L.Ed.2d 608



Essex County Welfare Board

No. 71-5656

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 10, 1973

Argued December 4, 1972



Social Security Act provision, 42 U.S.C. § 407, which prohibits subjecting federal disability insurance benefits and other benefits to any legal process, bars a State from recovering such benefits retroactively paid to a beneficiary, and in this case no exception can be implied on the ground that, if the federal payments had been made monthly, there would have been a corresponding reduction in the state payments. Pp. 415-417.

59 N.J. 75, 279 A.2d 806, reversed.

DOUGLAS, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

DOUGLAS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE: DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Wilkes,1 one of the petitioners, applied to respondent, one of New Jersey's welfare agencies, for financial assistance

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based upon need by reason of permanent and total disability. As a condition of receiving assistance, a recipient is required by New Jersey law to execute an agreement to reimburse the county welfare board for all payments received thereunder.2 The purpose apparently is to enable the board to obtain reimbursement out of subsequently discovered or acquired real and personal property of the recipient.

Wilkes applied to respondent for such assistance in 1966, and he executed the required agreement. Respondent determined Wilkes' monthly maintenance needs to be $108; and, finding that he had no other income, respondent fixed the monthly benefits at that amount and began making assistance payments no later than January 1, 1967. The payments would have been less if Wilkes had been receiving federal disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act, and respondent advised him to apply for those federal benefits.

In 1968, Wilkes was awarded retroactive disability insurance benefits under § 223 of the Social Security Act, 70 Stat. 815, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 423, covering the period from May, 1966, into the summer of 1968. Those benefits, calculated on the basis of $69.60 per month for 20 months and $78.20 per month for six months,

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amounted to $1,864.20. A check in that amount was deposited in the account which Philpott holds as trustee for Wilkes. Under New Jersey law, we are told, the filing of a notice of such a reimbursement agreement has the same force and effect as a judgment. 59 N.J. 75, 80, 279 A.2d 806, 809.

Respondent sued to reach the bank account under the agreement to reimburse. The trial court held that respondent was barred by the Social Security Act, 49 Stat. 624, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 407, from recovering any amount from the account.3 104 N.J.Super. 280, 249 A.2d 639. [93 S.Ct. 592] The Appellate Division affirmed. 109 N.J.Super. 48, 262 A.2d 227. The Supreme Court reversed.4 59 N.J. 75, 279 A.2d 806. The case is here on a petition for a writ of certiorari which we granted. 406 U.S. 917.

On its face, the Social Security Act in § 407 bars the State of New Jersey from reaching the federal disability payments paid to Wilkes. The language is all-inclusive:5

[N]one of the moneys paid or payable . . . under this subchapter shall be subject to execution, levy, attachment, garnishment, or other legal process. . . .


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moneys paid as retroactive benefits were "moneys paid . . . under this subchapter," and the suit brought was an attempt to subject the money to "levy, attachment . . . or other legal process."

New Jersey argues that if the amount of social security benefits received from the Federal Government had been made monthly, the amount of state welfare benefits could have been reduced by the amount of the federal grant. We see no reason to base an implied exemption from § 407 on that ground. We see no reason why a State, performing its statutory duty to take care of the needy, should be in a preferred position as compared with any other creditor. Indeed, since the Federal Government provides one-half of the funds for assistance under the...

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