Baker-Chaput v. Cammett

CourtUnited States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of New Hampshire
Citation406 F. Supp. 1134
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 75-133.
PartiesSharon BAKER-CHAPUT v. Gordon CAMMETT as Overseer of the Poor for the Town of Raymond, et al.
Decision Date23 January 1976

Barbara Sard, Staff Atty., N. H. Legal Assistance, Manchester, N. H., for plaintiffs.

Peter F. Kearns, Kearns & Colliander, Exeter, N. H., for defendants.


BOWNES, District Judge.

Plaintiff alleges that the Town of Raymond administers its general assistance program, NH RSA 165:1, without any written standards and thereby contravenes her Fourteenth Amendment guarantees of due process and equal protection of the laws. This is not a class action.

Defendant Gordon Cammett is a Raymond Town Selectman and the Overseer of Public Welfare. He is statutorily charged with the administration of Raymond's general assistance program. NH RSA 41:46 (Supp.1975). Defendants Ivan Reed and James Turner are Raymond Selectmen and statutorily charged with the management of the Town's "prudential affairs." NH RSA 41:8. Also named as a defendant is Ralph Southwick, County Welfare Commissioner for Rockingham County.

Jurisdiction is based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3).


The basic facts are not in dispute. In April of 1975, plaintiff was thirty-one years old, single, and five months pregnant. Her weekly income of $20.00 was insufficient to meet her necessary and minimum monthly expenses; her landlord was threatening her with eviction and the utilities company was threatening to cut off her electricity.

On April 14, 1975, plaintiff applied to the Town of Raymond Selectmen for general assistance. NH RSA 165:1. Because talking to Cammett and the other Selectmen made plaintiff nervous and caused her physical discomfort, she did not meet with them personally and, instead, submitted her application through a secretary. On April 28, 1975, plaintiff was informed by letter that her application for assistance was denied. The letter went on to state that she could receive assistance only if she moved into the center of town and agreed to an attachment being placed on her truck and furniture. (Exhibit A, attached to plaintiff's Complaint.)1

On June 6, 1975, a hearing for the issuance of a temporary restraining order was held. On June 9, 1975, the parties entered into a consent decree and I dismissed the suit as being moot.

On September 22, 1975, plaintiff moved to have the mootness order vacated due to defendants' failure to meet the consent decree conditions and their unwillingness to promulgate written general assistance standards.

Although plaintiff is now receiving AFDC benefits, I found that

in light of defendants' failure to agree to administer the program pursuant to written and ascertainable standards, "the defendant is free to return to his old ways." W. T. Grant, supra, 345 U.S. 629 at 632 73 S.Ct. 894, 97 L.Ed. 1303. This fact is "enough to prevent mootness because of the `public interest in having the legality of the practices settled.'" DeFunis v. Odegaard, 416 U.S. 312, 318 94 S.Ct. 1704, 40 L.Ed.2d 164 (1974). Baker-Chaput v. Cammett, Civ.No. 75-133 (D.N.H. filed Sept. 30, 1975).

Cf. Frost v. Weinberger, 515 F.2d 57, 62-65 (2d Cir. 1975). But see, Pregent v. N. H. Dept. of Employment Sec., 361 F.Supp. 782 (D.N.H.1973) (three-judge court), vacated, 417 U.S. 903, 94 S.Ct. 2595, 41 L.Ed.2d 207 (1974), on remand, Pregent v. The State of N. H. Dept. of Civil Employment, Civ.No. 72-160 (D.N.H. filed Sept. 23, 1974) (dismissing the suit on mootness grounds). In the instant case, however, it is possible that plaintiff may in the future seek general assistance from the defendants.

The parties have submitted the case on cross-motions for summary judgment.


New Hampshire has two systems of public welfare: "categorical assistance programs," 42 U.S.C. § 601 et seq. and 42 U.S.C. § 801 et seq., and the "general assistance program," NH RSA 165:1. The categorical assistance programs are federally funded and administered by a central state agency, whereas the general assistance program is locally funded and administered. See generally, Kravit, Standards for General Assistance in New Hampshire: An Analysis and Proposal, 16 N.H.B.J. 136 (1974).

The general assistance program is one of New Hampshire's oldest statutes, having its origin in the English Poor Laws passed in 1601. The statute reads as follows:

Whenever a person in any town shall be poor and unable to support himself he shall be relieved and maintained by the overseers of public welfare of such town, whether he has a settlement there or not.2 RSA 165:1

The statute is to be administered so as to promote its "humanitarian purpose," Derry v. County of Rockingham, 64 N.H. 499, 500, 14 A. 866 (1888), and is "simply one of the benefits of good government and humane laws." Hollis v. Davis, 56 N.H. 74, 86 (1875). Financial need and an inability to support one's self are the sole criteria for eligibility. Town of Poplin v. Town of Hawke, 8 N.H. 305 (1836); Glidden v. Town of Unity, 30 N.H. 104, 122 (1855).


The question is whether the due process clause of the United States Constitution mandates that defendants administer the general assistance program pursuant to written, objective, and ascertainable standards. This is essentially a question of substantive due process. I believe that procedural due process and substantive due process are inextricably intertwined and that the issue should be resolved within the Goldberg and Roth analytical framework.3

To determine whether there has been a violation of the due process clause, the court must engage in a two-step analysis. First, an inquiry must be made to determine whether the private interest at stake is a "property" or "liberty" interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 569, 92 S.Ct. 2701, 33 L.Ed.2d 548 (1972). In the context of this case, the question is whether an applicant who has satisfied the statutory requisites for aid has a "property interest" in the benefits. If it is found that the applicant has a protectable Fourteenth Amendment interest, then the second step is to weigh the individual's interest in being informed of the standards regarding welfare eligibility and assistance levels against the government's interest in not promulgating these standards. Cf. Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 90 S.Ct. 1011, 25 L.Ed.2d 287 (1970); Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 484-90, 92 S.Ct. 2593, 33 L.Ed.2d 484 (1972).

Goldberg involved the narrow issue of "whether the Due Process Clause requires that the Welfare recipient be afforded an evidentiary hearing before the termination of benefits." Id., 397 U.S. at 260, 90 S.Ct. at 1016. The Court found that the "termination of aid pending resolution of a controversy over eligibility may deprive an eligible recipient of the very means by which to live while he waits," id. at 264, 90 S.Ct. at 1018, and that due process required the convening of a pretermination hearing. The Supreme Court has not specifically dealt with the issue presented in this case — whether the denial of an application for welfare benefits triggers due process considerations. Cf. Daniel v. Goliday, 398 U.S. 73, 90 S.Ct. 1722, 26 L.Ed.2d 57 (1970); Wheeler v. Montgomery, 397 U.S. 280, 282-84, 90 S.Ct. 1026, 25 L.Ed.2d 307 (1970) (Burger, C. J., dissenting).4

It has been held that, because there is no constitutional right to welfare, due process guarantees should not be extended to the denied applicant. Zobriscky v. Los Angeles County, 28 Cal. App.3d 930, 105 Cal.Rptr. 121 (1972). While plaintiff was not receiving any welfare benefits and, therefore, in a technical sense, was not relying on welfare payments for her daily support, stark facts are that she desperately needed assistance in order to live. The important determination is whether she was statutorily entitled to receive benefits; the inquiry should focus on entitlement and not on dependency. See, Barnett v. Lindsay, 319 F.Supp. 610 (D.Utah 1970); Alexander v. Silverman, 356 F.Supp. 1179 (E.D.Wis.1973). See generally, Note, The Rejected Applicant For General Assistance And His Right To A Review, 25 Hastings L.J. 678 (1974).5

The key question is whether the person seeking the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment has "a legitimate, objectively justifiable claim to the benefits of the governmental program." Geneva Towers Tenants Org. v. Federated Mortgage Inv., 504 F.2d 483, 489 (9th Cir. 1974). In order to qualify as a Fourteenth Amendment interest, it must be shown that the deprived individual has a legitimate claim of entitlement which is rooted in a legal obligation. Roth, supra, 408 U.S. 564 at 577, 92 S.Ct. 2701, 33 L.Ed.2d 548. Plaintiff, like the Goldberg plaintiffs, bases her claim on a state statute under which she has made a prima facie showing of eligibility. She has shown both financial need and an inability to support herself. Since, under the statute, she has a right to general assistance from the town, it follows that she has a "property" interest in general assistance benefits and that due process considerations attached upon her application for public welfare.

Because I have found that plaintiff has a protectable Fourteenth Amendment interest, I must address myself to the issue of what process is "due" her.

Due process is an "elusive concept," and the determination of what process is "due" "must being with a determination of the precise nature of the government function involved as well as of the private interest that has been affected by governmental action." Cafeteria & Restaurant Workers Union v. McElroy, 367 U.S. 886, 895, 81 S.Ct. 1743, 1748, 6 L.Ed.2d 1230 (1961).

Plaintiff's interests in knowing what standards are to be followed so that her welfare benefits will not be arbitrarily withheld or circumscribed must be weighed against the defendants' interests in determining welfare eligibility on an ad hoc basis.

Plaintiff does not...

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