413 U.S. 528 (1973), 72-534, United States Department of Agriculture v. Moreno

Docket Nº:No. 72-534
Citation:413 U.S. 528, 93 S.Ct. 2821, 37 L.Ed.2d 782
Party Name:United States Department of Agriculture v. Moreno
Case Date:June 25, 1973
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 528

413 U.S. 528 (1973)

93 S.Ct. 2821, 37 L.Ed.2d 782

United States Department of Agriculture

v.

Moreno

No. 72-534

United States Supreme Court

June 25, 1973

Argued April 23, 1973

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Syllabus

Section 3(e) of the Food Stamp Act of 1964, as amended in 1971, generally excludes from participation in the food stamp program any household containing an individual who is unrelated to any other household member. The Secretary of Agriculture issued regulations thereunder rendering ineligible for participation in the program any "household" whose members are not "all related to each other." Congress stated that the purposes of the Act were

to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the Nation's population and raise levels of nutrition among low income households . . . [and] that increased utilization of food in establishing and maintaining adequate national levels of nutrition will promote the distribution . . . of our agricultural abundance and will strengthen cur agricultural economy. . . .

The District Court held that the "unrelated person" provision of § 3(e) creates an irrational classification in violation of the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

Held: The legislative classification here involved cannot be sustained, the classification being clearly irrelevant to the stated purposes of the Act and not rationally furthering any other legitimate governmental interest. In practical operation, the Act excludes not those who are "likely to abuse the program," but, rather, only those who so desperately need aid that they cannot even afford to alter their living arrangements so as to retain their eligibility. Pp. 533-538. 345 F.Supp. 310, affirmed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which DOUGLAS, STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 538. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., joined, post, p. 545.

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BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case requires us to consider the constitutionality of § 3(e) of the Food Stamp Act of 1964, 7 U.S.C. § 2012(e), as amended in 1971, 84 Stat. 2048, which, with certain exceptions, excludes from participation in the food stamp program any household containing an individual who is unrelated to any other member of the household. In practical effect, § 3(e) creates two classes of persons for food stamp purposes: one class is composed of those individuals who live in households all of whose members are related to one another, and the other class consists of those individuals who live in households containing one or more members who are unrelated to the rest. The latter class of persons is denied federal food assistance. A three-judge District [93 S.Ct. 2822] Court for the District of Columbia held this classification invalid as violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. 345 F.Supp. 310 (1972). We noted probable jurisdiction. 409 U.S. 1036 (1972). We affirm.

I

The federal food stamp program was established in 1964 in an effort to alleviate hunger and malnutrition among the more needy segments of our society. 7 U.S.C. § 2011. Eligibility for participation in the program is determined on a household, rather than an individual basis. 7 CFR § 271.3(a). An eligible household purchases sufficient food stamps to provide that household with a nutritionally adequate diet. The household pays for the stamps at a reduced rate based

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upon its size and cumulative income. The food stamps are then used to purchase food at retail stores, and the Government redeems the stamps at face value, thereby paying the difference between the actual cost of the food and the amount paid by the household for the stamps. See 7 U.S.C. §§ 2013(a), 2016, 2025(a).

As initially enacted, § 3(e) defined a "household" as

a group of related or non-related individuals, who are not residents of an institution or boarding house, but are living as one economic unit sharing common cooking facilities and for whom food is customarily purchased in common.1

In January, 1971, however, Congress redefined the term "household" so as to include only groups of related individuals.2 Pursuant to this amendment, the Secretary of Agriculture promulgated regulations rendering ineligible for participation in the program any "household" whose members are not "all related to each other."3

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Appellees in this case consist of several groups of individuals who allege that, although they satisfy the income eligibility requirements for federal food assistance, they have nevertheless been excluded from the program solely because the persons in each group are not "all related to each other." Appellee Jacinta Moreno, for example, is a 56-year-old diabetic who lives with Ermina Sanchez and the latter's three children. They share common living expenses, and Mrs. Sanchez helps to care for appellee. Appellee's monthly income, derived from public assistance, is $75; Mrs. Sanchez receives $133 per month from public assistance. The household pays $135 per month for rent, gas, and electricity, of which appellee pays $50. Appellee spends $10 per month for transportation to a hospital for regular visits, and $5 per month for laundry. That leaves her $10 per month for food and other necessities. Despite her poverty, appellee has been denied federal food assistance solely because she is unrelated to the other members of her household. Moreover, although Mrs. Sanchez and her three children were permitted to purchase $108 worth of food stamps per month for $18, their participation in the program will be

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terminated if appellee Moreno continues to live with them.

Appellee Sheilah Hejny is married and has three children. Although the Hejnys are indigent, they took in a 20-year-old girl, who is unrelated to them, because "we felt she had emotional problems." The Hejnys receive $144 worth of food stamps each month for $14. If they allow the 20-year-old girl to continue to live with them, they will be denied food stamps by reason of § 3(e).

Appellee Victoria Keppler has a daughter with an acute hearing deficiency. The daughter requires special instruction in a school for the deaf. The school is located in an area in which appellee could not ordinarily afford to live. Thus, in order to make the most of her limited resources, appellee agreed to share an apartment near the school with a woman who, like appellee, is on public assistance. Since appellee is not related to the woman, appellee's food stamps [93 S.Ct. 2825] have been, and will continue to be, cut off if they continue to live together.

These and two other groups of appellees instituted a class action against the Department of Agriculture, its Secretary, and two other departmental officials, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the enforcement of the 1971 amendment of § 3(e) and its implementing regulations. In essence, appellees contend,4 and the District Court held, that the "unrelated person" provision of § 3(e) creates an irrational classification in violation

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of the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.5 We agree.

II

Under traditional equal protection analysis, a legislative classification must be sustained if the classification itself is rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest. See Jefferson v. Hackney, 406 U.S. 535, 546 (1972); Richardson v. Belcher, 404 U.S. 78, 81 (1971); Dandridge v. Williams. 397 U.S. 471, 485 (1970); McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420, 426 (1961). The purposes of the Food Stamp Act were expressly set forth in the congressional "declaration of policy":

It is hereby declared to be the policy of Congress . . . to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the Nation's population and raise levels of nutrition among low income households. The Congress hereby finds that the limited food purchasing power of low income households contributes to hunger and malnutrition among members of such households. The Congress further finds that increased utilization of food in establishing and maintaining adequate national levels of nutrition will promote the distribution in a beneficial manner of our agricultural abundances and will strengthen our agricultural economy, as well as result in more orderly marketing and distribution of food. To alleviate such hunger and malnutrition, a food stamp program is herein authorized which will permit low income households to

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purchase a nutritionally adequate diet through normal channels of trade.

7 U.S.C. § 2011. The challenged statutory classification (households of related persons versus households containing one or more unrelated persons) is clearly irrelevant to the stated purposes of the Act. As the District Court recognized,

[t]he relationships among persons constituting one economic unit and sharing cooking facilities have nothing to do with their abilities to stimulate the agricultural economy by purchasing farm surpluses, or with their personal nutritional requirements.

345 F.Supp. at 313.

Thus, if it is to be sustained, the challenged classification must rationally further some legitimate governmental interest other than those specifically stated in the congressional "declaration of policy." Regrettably, there is little legislative history to illuminate the [93 S.Ct. 2826] purposes of the 1971 amendment of § 3(e).6 The legislative history that does exist, however, indicates that that amendment was intended to prevent so-called "hippies" and "hippie communes" from participating in the food stamp program. See...

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