Aleman v. Glickman

Decision Date04 November 1999
Docket NumberNo. 98-16893,98-16893
Citation217 F.3d 1191
Parties(9th Cir. 2000) CELIA ALEMAN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. DAN E. GLICKMAN, Secretary of Agriculture, in his official capacity, Defendant-Appellee
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

[Copyrighted Material Omitted] William E. Morris, Arizona Justice Institute, Tucson, Arizona, for the plaintiff-appellant.

Deborah Ruth Kant, United States Department of Justice, Civil Division, Washington, D.C., for the defendant-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Arizona; Robert C. Broomfield, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-00090-RCB

Before: Procter Hug, Jr., Chief Judge, Kim McLane Wardlaw, Circuit Judge, and Barry Ted Moskowitz,* District Judge.

WARDLAW, Circuit Judge:

Celia Aleman ("Aleman"), a 62-year-old permanent resident alien, appeals the district court's dismissal of her action challenging a provision of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-193, 110 Stat. 2105 (1996) (the "Welfare Reform Act" or the "Act"), the application of which denied her food stamps from September of 1997 to November 1, 1998. We conclude that, in determining a permanent resident alien's eligibility for food stamps, the provision at issue, now codified at 8 U.S.C. SS 1612(a)(2)(B) and 1645, does not irrationally differentiate between marriages that end in divorce and those that end in death. We therefore hold that the challenged provision does not violate the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and we accordingly affirm.

I.

The Food Stamp Act of 1964, 7 U.S.C. S 2011 et seq., established a state-administered federal program to supplement the food purchasing power of low-income households. See id. S 2011. Eligibility for participation in the program is determined on a household rather than an individual basis, see id. S 2014; 7 C.F.R. S 273.1, and the program is restricted to households with net incomes below the federal poverty level and resources below $2,000 or, if a household member is disabled or age 60 or older, below $3,000, see 7 U.S.C. S 2014(c); 7 C.F.R. S 273.8; 7 C.F.R.S 273.9. Once eligible, households receive coupons that may then be used to purchase food from approved retail stores. See 7 U.S.C. S 2013(a).

The Welfare Reform Act significantly restricted the eligibility of permanent resident aliens to receive food stamps. In particular, the Act provides that, subject to certain enumerated exceptions, a "qualified alien" is ineligible for food stamps, 8 U.S.C. S 1612(a)(1), and it defines "qualified alien" to include "an alien who is lawfully admitted for permanent residence," id. S 1641(b)(1).

At issue in this case is the exception to this general prohibition now codified at 8 U.S.C. S 1612(a)(2)(B) (the "qualifying-quarters provision"). This exception provides that food stamps remain available to a qualified alien who "is lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence" and who "has worked 40 qualifying quarters of coverage as defined under Title II of the Social Security Act . . . or can be credited with such quarters under [8 U.S.C.S 1645]." Id. S 1612(a)(2)(B).1 Under 8 U.S.C. S 1645, "an alien shall be credited with--(1) all of the qualifying quarters of coverage . . . worked by a parent of such alien before the date on which the alien attains age 18, and (2) all of the qualifying quarters worked by a spouse of such alien during their marriage and the alien remains married to such spouse or such spouse is deceased." Id. S 1645. However,"[n]o such qualifying quarter of coverage . . . may be credited to an alien . . . if the parent or spouse (as the case may be) of such alien received any Federal means-tested public benefit . . . during the period for which such qualifying quarter of coverage is credited." Id.2

Before the enactment of the Welfare Reform Act, Aleman received food stamps as the sole member of her eligible household. As "an alien who is lawfully admitted for permanent residence," however, Aleman is a "qualified alien" under the Act, and because she could not invoke any of the statutory exceptions, the Arizona Department of Economic Security (the "ADES") terminated Aleman's certification for food stamps beginning in September of 1997.

In determining that Aleman no longer qualified for food stamps, the ADES noted that she could not invoke the qualifying-quarters provision. That is, although Aleman was married to Cosme Aleman ("Cosme") from June 6, 1956, to May 8, 1975, and although Cosme worked 40 qualifying quarters during their marriage, the marriage ended in divorce. Thus, Aleman could not be credited with Cosme's quarters under 8 U.S.C. S 1645. Neither could she qualify for food stamps through her parents, who had not worked in covered employment in the United States before Aleman reached the age of 18. Consequently, Aleman, who had not worked 40 qualifying quarters herself, did not retain her eligibility for food stamps under 8 U.S.C. S 1612(a)(2)(B).

On January 16, 1998, Aleman filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona against U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Daniel Glickman, in his official capacity ("Secretary Glickman" or "government"), challenging the termination of her food stamps. She asserted that, in determining eligibility for food stamps, the qualifyingquarters provision of the Welfare Reform Act irrationally distinguishes between two otherwise identical classes of lawful residents: (1) "[t]he disadvantaged class, of which plaintiff is a member, all of whom are completely denied necessary credit for quarters of covered employment worked by former spouses during marriages that ended in divorce"; and (2) "[t]he favored class, all of whom are [granted] full credit for documented quarters of covered employment worked by former spouses, during marriages that ended in their deaths." Aleman argued that this classification system violates the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and she prayed for declaratory and injunctive relief.

Five months after Aleman filed her complaint, the President signed into law the Agricultural Research, Extension & Education Reform Act of 1998, Pub. L. No. 105-185,SS 503508, 112 Stat. 523 (1998), (the "1998 amendments"). This statute restored food-stamp eligibility for, inter alia, "[d]isabled aliens lawfully residing in the United States on August 22, 1996." 8 U.S.C. 1612(a)(2)(4). Because she meets the statutory definition of "disabled," Aleman satisfied this provision, and, on November 1, 1998, the effective date of the 1998 amendments, she regained her eligibility for food stamps. Thus, after this date, Aleman's claims for prospective relief became moot, and her only remaining claim was for a retroactive award of food stamps for the period during which her benefits were cut off, from September of 1997 to November 1, 1998. See Yang v. California Dep't of Soc. Servs., 183 F.3d 953, 957 (9th Cir. 1999); see also 7 U.S.C. S 2023(b) (stating that "any food stamp allotments found to have been wrongfully withheld shall be restored only for periods of not more than one year prior to the date of the commencement of [the judicial] action").

Secretary Glickman moved to dismiss Aleman's complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The government argued that Aleman could not state an equal protection violation because the qualifying-quarters provision is supported by a rational basis.

On August 7, 1998, the district court granted the government's motion. Consistent with Aleman's allegations, the district court stated that the statutory classification at issue was "between those marriages ending in divorce and those ending in death." Because it determined that "no fundamental right or suspect classification [was] involved," and because it found that the challenged statute involved "Congress['s] plenary power to regulate immigration and naturalization, " the district court reviewed this classification under the rational basis test. Applying this standard, it found "the provision [to be] rationally related to the legitimate interests of promoting self-sufficiency within a household, minimizing the welfare dollars spent on non-citizens, and discouraging divorce." Accordingly, the district court held that 8 U.S.C. SS 1612(a)(2)(B) and 1645 did not violate the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and it therefore dismissed Aleman's complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). This appeal followed.

II.

In resolving Aleman's equal protection challenge, we must first determine what classification has been created by the qualifying-quarters provision. See Attorney General of New York v. Soto-Lopez, 476 U.S. 898, 906 n.6 (1986) (plurality opinion); Memorial Hosp. v. Maricopa County, 415 U.S. 250, 253 (1973); San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 17 (1973); Dunn v. Blumstein, 405 U.S. 330, 335 (1972). We review de novo the district court's interpretation of this statute. See Yang, 183 F.3d at 957.

The qualifying-quarters provision allows a permanent resident alien whose spouse has worked 40 qualifying quarters "during their marriage and the alien remains married to such spouse or such spouse is deceased," 8 U.S.C.S 1645, to remain eligible for food stamps. See id.S 1612(a)(2)(B). In interpreting this language, we hold, as did the district court, that the relevant statutory classification is between (1) those legal aliens, like Aleman, whose spouse had worked 40 qualifying quarters during a marriage that ended in divorce, and (2) those legal aliens whose spouse had worked 40 qualifying quarters during a marriage that ended in death. Under the Welfare Reform Act, this second group of aliens (the widowed spouses) is eligible for food stamps, but the first group (the...

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