Brooks v. Roberts, 16-CV-1025.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of New York
Writing for the CourtDAVID N. HURD, United States District Judge
Citation251 F.Supp.3d 401
Parties Derrick BROOKS, Clifton DeMeco, and Brian Blowers, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs, v. Samuel D. ROBERTS, Commissioner of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, Defendant.
Docket Number16-CV-1025.
Decision Date05 May 2017

251 F.Supp.3d 401

Derrick BROOKS, Clifton DeMeco, and Brian Blowers, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
Samuel D. ROBERTS, Commissioner of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, Defendant.


United States District Court, N.D. New York.

Signed May 5, 2017

251 F.Supp.3d 408

NATIONAL CENTER FOR LAW & ECONOMIC JUSTICE, INC., MARC COHAN, ESQ., PETRA T. TASHEFF, ESQ., Attorneys for Plaintiffs, 275 Seventh Avenue—Suite 1506, New York, New York 10001

EMPIRE JUSTICE CENTER—ALBANY, SAIMA A. AKHTAR, ESQ., SUSAN C. ANTOS, ESQ., Attorneys for Plaintiffs, 119 Washington Avenue, 2nd Floor, Albany, New York 12210

HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, Attorney General for the State of New York, C. HARRIS DAGUE, ESQ., Ass't Attorney General, Attorney for Defendant, The Capitol, Albany, New York 12224


DAVID N. HURD, United States District Judge





A. Federal Program...410

B. New York State's Implementation...411

C. Named Plaintiffs...413

D. Recent Document Revisions...414


A. Class Certification...415

1. Legal Standard...415

2. Rule 23(a)...417

a. Numerosity...417

b. Commonality...418

c. Typicality...419

d. Adequacy of Representation...419

3. Rule 23(b)...420

B. Preliminary Injunction...421

1. Legal Standard...421

2. Likelihood of Success...422

a. Fourteenth Amendment...424

i. ABAWD "Classification"...425

ii. Benefit Termination...426
251 F.Supp.3d 409
(1). Notice...426

(2). Opportunity to Be Heard...427

b. SNAP Act and Regulations...428

i. ABAWD "Classification"...428

ii. Benefit Termination...429

3. Irreparable Harm...432

4. Public Interest and Balance of Hardships...433

C. Failure to Name a Necessary Party...433

1. Legal Standard...433

D. Failure to State a Claim...434

1. Legal Standard...434

2. Fourteenth Amendment...435

a. ABAWD "Classification"...435

b. Benefit Termination...435

3. SNAP Act and Regulations...436

a. ABAWD "Classification"...436

b. Benefit Termination...436


V. ORDER...437



ABAWD: Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents

DSS: Department(s) of Social Services

FNS: Food and Nutrition Service

NOAA: Notice of Adverse Action

OTDA: New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance

SNAP: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

SNAP Act: Food and Nutrition Act of 2008

USDA: United States Department of Agriculture


The named plaintiffs Derrick Brooks ("Brooks"), Clifton DeMeco ("DeMeco"), and Brian Blowers ("Blowers") (collectively "plaintiffs") seek relief on behalf of themselves and a putative class of fellow New York State residents receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ("SNAP") benefits, commonly referred to as food stamps, who have had, are now having, or will have their benefits terminated.1 The benefits were terminated following New York's implementation of a federal rule imposing a three month time limit on receipt of food stamps by able bodied adults without dependents ("ABAWDs") unless they meet work requirements. Plaintiffs seek relief from defendant Samuel D. Roberts ("defendant"), in his official capacity as Commissioner of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (the "OTDA"). The OTDA is designated by the United States Department of Agriculture (the "USDA") Food and Nutrition Service (the "FNS") as the state agency to provide food stamp benefits to low income New York residents like plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs' Class Action Complaint ("Complaint") alleges declaratory and injunctive relief under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 – 02 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is necessary to enjoin defendant from terminating or continuing to terminate the SNAP benefits of plaintiffs and the proposed class and subclasses, a practice which allegedly violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth

251 F.Supp.3d 410

Amendment, federal statutes, and implementing regulations. Plaintiffs seek both a prohibitory injunction enjoining defendant's actions as well as a mandatory injunction compelling defendant to reinstate benefits.

The parties have filed three motions: (1) plaintiffs have moved for class certification under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 23 and (2) a preliminary injunction under Rule 65, while defendant has moved for (3) dismissal of the Complaint in its entirety under Rule 12 on the basis that plaintiffs fail to name a necessary party and fail to state valid causes of action for due process and statutory violations. The three motions were fully briefed, with supplemental briefing on plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction. Oral argument was heard on November 30, 2016 in Utica, New York, where decision on all three motions was reserved.


A. Federal Program

Congress established the federally funded, state-administered food stamp program in 1964. 7 U.S.C. §§ 2011 – 2036(c) ; 7 C.F.R. §§ 271–285. Food stamp applicants are entitled to food stamps under federal law subject to satisfying certain objective criteria for eligibility, such as employment requirements and household income. In 2008, the federal food stamp program was renamed SNAP, and the Food Stamp Act was renamed the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 (hereinafter the "SNAP Act"). The head of the USDA, the Secretary of Agriculture, is charged with promulgating implementing regulations for the food stamp program. 7 U.S.C. § 2013(c) ; 7 C.F.R. § 273.

At the federal level, SNAP is administered by the USDA FNS. The federal government provides complete funding to states for all benefits and provides fifty percent of the administrative costs. Each state must designate an agency responsible for administering SNAP and ensuring federal compliance; in New York this is the OTDA. As Commissioner of the OTDA, defendant is responsible for the operation of the SNAP program in New York, as carried out by the 58 social services districts.

The OTDA determines the eligibility of applicant households and certifies and recertifies their eligibility in accordance with rules set forth by the federal SNAP Act. The OTDA certifies eligible households for a specified period of time, called a certification period. 7 U.S.C. § 2020(e)(4) ; 7 C.F.R. § 273.10(f). Households must then apply to renew their eligibility, a process called recertification. 7 C.F.R. § 273.14. As part of the eligibility determination, applicants must have an interview with a SNAP worker (through the local county Departments of Social Services (the "DSS")).

In addition to meeting income requirements, work requirements are also in place for certain adults known as able bodied adults without dependents, or ABAWDs. 7 U.S.C. § 2015(o). An ABAWD is an individual between the ages of 18 and 50 who is not disabled and does not have a dependent under the age of 18. ABAWDs must satisfy work requirements to maintain eligibility for SNAP benefits. ABAWDs who are not working at least 80 hours per month (paid or unpaid), participating in an employment and training program at least 80 hours per month, or complying with a designated work program, cannot receive SNAP benefits for more than three

251 F.Supp.3d 411

months in a 36 month period (the "work rules"). Id.§ 2015(o)(2).

Federal law provides certain conditions under which ABAWDs may be exempt from the work rules and thus able to receive benefits in excess of three months within a 36 month period. These circumstances include if the ABAWD is receiving temporary or permanent disability benefits, responsible for the care of a child or incapacitated household member, pregnant, or already exempt on another basis, such as those receiving unemployment compensation for example, or meet certain other criteria (the "exemptions"). Id.§ 2015(o)(3). According to defendant, an ABAWD may assert and document an exemption at any time, including after receiving notice that benefits will be terminated for being an ABAWD and failing to comply with the work rules. Defendant contends that if an ABAWD properly asserts and documents an exemption, benefits are not terminated for failure to meet the work rules. A good cause provision also exists for individuals who temporarily cannot comply with the 80 hour a month work requirement because of temporary circumstances beyond their control, such as illness or lack of transportation (the "good cause exceptions"). 7 C.F.R. § 273.24(c).

In November 2015, the FNS issued a guidance document to states advising that they must screen ABAWDs for exemptions from the work rules and connect ABAWDs with information to maintain eligibility. Compl. ¶ 44. States are also responsible for assessing an individual's fitness...

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