Aiken v. Obledo

Citation442 F. Supp. 628
Decision Date02 November 1977
Docket NumberCiv. No. S-75-76 TJM.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of California
PartiesCarl AIKEN et al., Plaintiffs, Richard Miller, Tom Gilley, Helen Gilley, Plaintiffs in Intervention, v. Mario OBLEDO et al., Defendants. Mario OBLEDO, Secretary, Health and Welfare Agency of the State of California, and Marion J. Woods, Director, Department of Benefit Payments in the State of California, Cross-Complainants, v. Earl L. BUTZ, Secretary, United States Department of Agriculture, Cross-Defendant.




Robert M. Teets, Jr., Frances A. Zwenig, Richard H. Hart, Jr., Food Law Center, California Rural Legal Assistance, San Francisco, Cal., John F. O'Toole, Michael B. Weisz, California Rural Legal Assistance, Marysville, Cal., Jerry Wilhelm, California Rural Legal Assistance, Healdsburg, Cal., Ralph Santiago Abascal, California Rural Legal Assistance, Sacramento, Cal., for plaintiffs and plaintiffs in intervention.

Dwayne Keyes, U.S. Atty., Richard W. Nichols, Chief Asst. U.S. Atty., Sacramento, Cal., for Federal defendants.


MacBRIDE, Chief Judge.

This action was initiated by plaintiffs to redress alleged improper and unlawful administration of the Food Stamp Program by federal and state officials.

The cast of characters is considerable. Plaintiffs, as set forth in their First Amended Complaint of March 3, 1975, are Carl Aiken, Barry Johnston, Los Angeles Health Care Rights Organization (hereinafter "LAHCRO"), an unincorporated association, and San Francisco Neighborhood Legal Assistance Foundation, Inc. (hereinafter "SFNLAF"), a not-for-profit California corporation.1 The defendants named in this complaint are Earl Butz, as Secretary, United States Department of Agriculture, Mario Obledo, as Secretary, Health and Welfare Agency, State of California, and Jerold Prod, as Acting Director, Department of Benefit Payments, State of California.2 On December 29, 1975, the court granted the motion of Richard Miller and Tom and Helen Gilley for leave to file their Complaint in Intervention. In said complaint the movants are named as plaintiffs in intervention (hereinafter "Intervenors" to distinguish them from "Plaintiffs"), and the named defendants are Earl Butz, as Secretary, United States Department of Agriculture, Mario Obledo, as Secretary, Health and Welfare Agency, State of California, and Marion Woods, as Director, Department of Benefit Payments, State of California. On July 12, 1976, the court granted Plaintiffs' and Intervenors' joint motion to file a Supplemental Complaint, pursuant to FRCP 15(d), which names the same parties defendant but sets forth facts alleged to have taken place subsequent to the filing of the First Amended Complaint and the Complaint in Intervention.

Plaintiffs and Intervenors have moved this court to certify a nationwide class of food stamp applicants. Additionally, they have moved this court for partial summary judgment against the defendants on the claims which are the subject of the class certification motion. Butz has responded by opposing the motions for class certification and for partial summary judgment. The state defendants have responded by opposing the Plaintiffs' and Intervenors' motion for partial summary judgment, by filing a cross-claim against defendant Butz, and by moving for summary judgment on their cross-claim. The court will first take up the Plaintiffs' and Intervenors' motion for partial summary judgment, then the state defendants' motion for summary judgment on their cross-claim, and finally will consider the Plaintiffs' and Intervenors' motion for class certification.

I. Plaintiffs' and Intervenors' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment

A. Summary Judgment Motion Against the Federal Defendant

(1) Background

The Food Stamp Program was created by the Food Stamp Act of 1964, 7 U.S.C. § 2011 et seq. The purpose of this legislation was to maintain adequate levels of nutrition and to strengthen the nation's agricultural economy. 7 U.S.C. § 2011; Moreno v. U. S. Dept. of Agriculture, 345 F.Supp. 310 (D.D.C.1972). The Program is jointly administered by the federal and state governments. The Secretary of the Department of Agriculture is charged with the responsibility of administering the federal aspects of the Program, 7 U.S.C. § 2013(a), and is authorized to issue regulations, not inconsistent with the Act, as he deems necessary or appropriate for the effective and efficient administration of the Program. 7 U.S.C. § 2013(c). The United States Department of Agriculture (hereinafter "USDA") Food and Nutrition Service (hereinafter "FNS") has been delegated the responsibility, by the Secretary, of administering the Program. 7 CFR §§ 270.2(y), 270.3(a). To perform this function, the FNS promulgates rules which are referred to as USDA FNS Food Stamp (hereinafter "FS") Instructions.

A household must be "certified" to receive food stamps. Under the "normal" procedure of certification, a household applies for food stamps and is certified to receive stamps if it satisfies the eligibility requirements. The standards for eligibility are uniform throughout the nation. 7 U.S.C. § 2014(b). Food stamps or coupons received by a household after certification have a "face value" which is equal to the dollar value of food which may be received by the household when it uses the stamps to purchase food at a retail store. The face value of stamps received by a household is equal to the value of a "nutritionally adequate diet," as determined by the Secretary. 7 U.S.C. § 2016(a). A certified household must generally purchase its allotment of stamps, paying an amount deemed by the Secretary to be a "reasonable investment on the part of the household, but in no event more than 30 per centum of the household's income," 7 U.S.C. § 2016(b), except that households with an income below a specified amount may be issued stamps without charge — those households which do not pay for their stamps are said to be at the "zero purchase level." 7 U.S.C. § 2016(b). The difference between the face value of the coupons received by a household and the amount which the household must pay for the coupons is referred to as the "bonus value." Certification of a household is normally accomplished after at least the income of the applicant household is verified in some manner, and other eligibility factors may also be verified prior to certification. 7 CFR § 271.4(a)(2)(iii). The period of time for which a household is certified is to be determined by the state agency administering the Program locally, 7 CFR § 271.4(a)(4), through its eligibility worker (EW), with the maximum certification period being twelve months. 7 CFR § 271.4(a)(4)(iii)(c), (d). Verification of income and eligibility factors is a process which is described by FNS(FS) Instruction 732-1, § 2123.1 (See Plaintiffs' and Intervenors' Exhibit H to February 11, 1976 Memorandum):

"Verification means that information has been secured which will establish the accuracy, or lack thereof, of information provided by the applicant. Gross non-exempt income and mandatory deductions are the minimum verification required at the initial certification and at subsequent certifications when the amount of this income has changed by more than $25 or the source has changed. This does not preclude verification of other items necessary to determine eligibility particularly when information provided by the applicant is unclear, incomplete, or inconsistent. The State agency should provide EWs with guidelines to determine when additional verification is required.
Sources of verification include documentary evidence, collateral contacts, or home visits. Applicants are primarily responsible for furnishing documents sufficient for verification, or at least information from which the verification must necessarily result in a denial of benefits since no basis is provided from which eligibility for program participation or basis of coupon issuance may be determined.
While the applicant household does have primary responsibility for providing verification, the EW is expected to aid the applicant. Collateral contacts by means of telephone calls, letters, or personal visits may suffice in some instances. In other cases, the applicant should be informed that certain documents will be necessary and provided a reasonable opportunity to comply with such requests. In cases of extreme emergency, especially when the employer refuses to provide documentation or information concerning income, the household should not be denied solely on that basis, but the EW shall, in consultation with the applicant or other sources, arrive at a figure to be used for certification purposes."

The Secretary, on July 27, 1971, caused to be published in the Federal Register, the following regulation concerning verification of eligibility for food stamps (7 CFR § 271.4(a)(2)(iii)):

"(a) Household certification
* * * * * *
(2) Certification of other households. The State agency shall provide for the certification of other households by:
* * * * * *
(iii) Verification of income upon initial certification and, if the amount of household income has changed substantially or if the source of the income has changed, upon recertification. Verification is required for other factors of eligibility only to the extent that the information furnished by the applicant is unclear, incomplete, or inconsistent or otherwise raises doubt concerning any factor affecting eligibility or the basis of coupon issuance. In any case where a household indicates that it has income so low that there is a likelihood that a change must occur in order for the household to continue to subsist as an economic unit, verification of eligibility is required unless expenditures and income are so stable as to indicate that the household could maintain this level of existence for an extended period of time. At

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