Cotton v. Mansour, 86-1644

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
Citation863 F.2d 1241
Docket NumberNo. 86-1644,86-1644
PartiesPatricia COTTON, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Agnes M. MANSOUR, Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date01 December 1988

Page 1241

863 F.2d 1241
Patricia COTTON, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Agnes M. MANSOUR, Defendant-Appellant.
No. 86-1644.
United States Court of Appeals,
Sixth Circuit.
Dec. 1, 1988.
Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied March 20, 1989.

Page 1242

Louis J. Caruso, Sol. Gen., Thomas Case (argued), Christopher D. Dobyns, Asst. Atty. Gen., Lansing, Mich., for defendant-appellant.

Terri L. Stangl (argued), Legal Services of Eastern Michigan, Saginaw, Mich., for plaintiff-appellee.

Before ENGEL, Chief Judge, * and BOGGS, Circuit Judge, and HOLSCHUH, District Judge. **

ENGEL, Chief Judge.

The issue in this appeal is whether the eleventh amendment bars a suit in federal court by a food stamp recipient against the Director of the Michigan Department of Social Services (MDSS) to recover food stamp benefits allegedly wrongfully withheld by defendant in violation of federal law. Normally the food stamp program is fully funded by the federal government except that administrative costs are shared between the federal and state governments. It is by no means certain, however, that liability for the food stamp benefits withheld can be passed on to the federal government and it is to be noted that the United States is not a party to this suit. The program itself is administered by the state.

In May 1984, in response to a Department of Agriculture regulation, 7 C.F.R. Sec. 273.21(j)(1)(vii)(B), MDSS changed its method of counting supplemental Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) payments in calculating eligibility for food stamps. It began counting retroactive non-recurring lump sum payments, in this case reimbursement for the previous month's rent, as income rather than resources, thus reducing affected persons' food stamp benefits. In August 1984, the Deputy of the Food and Nutrition Service branch of the United States Department of Agriculture issued a clarifying memorandum to all the states indicating that these types of payments were to be considered resources rather than income and should not reduce food stamp eligibility. Michigan brought its policy into compliance, but the change did not take effect until December 1984.

Patricia Cotton brought a class action suit in federal court seeking a declaratory judgment that Michigan's policy had been in violation of federal law. She also sought

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restoration of the withheld food stamps for the period from March until December, and notice to the affected class of the state administrative remedies available to obtain restoration of similarly withheld food stamps.

The district court, 634 F.Supp. 1094, found that any claims for prospective relief were moot as Michigan was now in compliance with federal regulations. The court held, however, that Michigan had been in violation of federal law from March until December and ordered Mansour to arrange for restoration of the food stamps to Cotton and to provide notice to other class members. The district court held that the eleventh amendment was not a bar to suit in federal court for restoration of fully federally funded benefits, finding that the state had not shown that the administrative costs involved in the restoration would be effectively burdensome. The court found that notice to the class was allowed under Green v. Mansour, 474 U.S. 64, 106 S.Ct. 423, 88 L.Ed.2d 371 (1985), because it was "ancillary to the grant of some other appropriate relief that can be 'noticed,' " in this case the retroactive award of food stamps paid by the federal government. We reverse.


Plaintiff, Patricia Cotton, was a recipient of both AFDC and food stamps. For Cotton to receive an AFDC grant for shelter, MDSS required that her landlord complete a shelter verification form. In early 1984 plaintiff moved to a new apartment and gave a shelter verification form to her new landlord. The landlord failed to return the shelter verification form to MDSS until March of 1984. Plaintiff's February 1984 AFDC grant did not include an AFDC allowance for shelter.

Eligibility for individual benefits and benefit levels of food stamps are based upon household income. In determining what constitutes a household's income a state agency must take into consideration numerous exclusions and deductions from income. See 7 U.S.C. Sec. 2014(d), (e); 7 C.F.R. Sec. 273.8. Effective May 1, 1984, MDSS began counting all supplemental or corrective public assistance payments as income.

AFDC benefits are included within the definition of public assistance. 7 C.F.R. Sec. 271.2. Prior to May 1, 1984, MDSS had not counted such supplemental payments as income in calculating individual food stamp allotments. The change in MDSS policy was in response to a change in federal regulations relating to treatment of additional or corrective payments in calculating food stamp eligibility. 1 MDSS was required to be in compliance with this new regulation by May 1, 1984.

Plaintiff received a supplemental public assistance payment in May of 1984 to correct the February underpayment. Under the procedure then in effect, MDSS included the supplemental income in its calculation of food stamp allotments which resulted in a reduction of plaintiff's July food stamp award.

In August of 1984, MDSS received a policy memorandum from the Deputy Administrator for Family Nutrition Programs, United States Department of Agriculture, regarding the treatment of supplemental payments in calculating food stamp allotments and eligibility. This policy memorandum clarified the interaction between 7 C.F.R. Sec. 273.21(j)(1)(vii)(B) and 7 C.F.R. Sec. 273.9(c)(8), the latter requiring that certain

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payments be counted as resources rather than household income.

Effective December 1, 1984, MDSS changed its policy and began treating such corrective payments as nonrecurring lump sum payments which are not included in "income" upon which food stamp eligibility and allotments are based.

On February 15, 1985, plaintiff initiated a class action under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 against defendant, Mansour, personally and in her official capacity as Director of MDSS. Plaintiff sought four forms of relief: (1) injunctive relief; (2) a declaratory judgment that the defendant's method of calculating food stamp benefits between May 1, 1984, and December 1, 1984, had been unlawful; (3) that defendant be ordered to provide plaintiff with the food stamps wrongfully withheld; (4) that the defendant be ordered to issue notices of underpayment and also be ordered to provide notice of the procedure through which such claimants' eligibility could be determined.

Plaintiff and defendant filed cross motions for summary judgment. The trial court held that defendant Mansour was not personally liable for the actions of MDSS. Plaintiff has not challenged this decision on appeal. The trial court held that food stamps had been unlawfully withheld from Cotton during the period March 1, 1984 to December 1, 1984 and that notice be given to other members of the class. MDSS thereafter filed notice of this appeal. For the reasons which follow, we hold that plaintiff's claims for relief are barred by the eleventh amendment.


The eleventh amendment states that "[t]he judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of a Foreign State." The Supreme Court has long held that the amendment also applies to suits against a state by one of its own citizens. See Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 662-63, 94 S.Ct. 1347, 1355-56, 39 L.Ed.2d 662 (1974).

The Supreme Court has also clearly determined that relief under the Ex Parte Young exception [209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714 (1908) ] to the eleventh amendment bar must be prospective in nature.

Both prospective and retrospective relief implicate Eleventh Amendment concerns, but the availability of prospective relief of the type awarded in Ex Parte Young gives life to the Supremacy Clause. Remedies designed to end a continuing violation of federal law are necessary to vindicate the federal interest in assuring the supremacy of that law. See Pennhurst [State School & Hospital v. Halderman], supra, 465 U.S. at 102 [104 S.Ct. 900, 909, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984) ]. See also Milliken v. Bradley, 433 U.S. 267 [97 S.Ct. 2749, 53 L.Ed.2d 745 (1977) ]. But compensatory or deterrence interests are insufficient to overcome the dictates of the Eleventh Amendment.

Green, 474 U.S. at 68, 106 S.Ct. at 426.

In the words of the district court, "[P]laintiff requests a declaratory judgment holding that defendant's prior policy of calculation was unlawful, that defendant be ordered to provide plaintiff wrongfully-withheld food stamps and that defendant be ordered to issue notice of underpayment and notice of administrative mechanisms through which claimant's eligibility will be calculated."

1. Injunctive Relief

The district court concluded, "To the extent plaintiff seeks ... any prospective injunctive relief as to defendant's food stamp allotment budget policies that portion of plaintiff's claim[s] should be dismissed as moot." We agree with the district court's conclusion that any request for prospective injunctive relief was moot. MDSS had clearly changed its policy of calculation months before plaintiff had filed suit and MDSS had even personally informed plaintiff's counsel of this change

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in MDSS policy. There was simply no ongoing violation by MDSS to enjoin.

2. Food Stamps

The district court also stated, "Plaintiff's claim for retroactive relief is different," and, "Plaintiff requests retroactive relief in the form of unissued food stamps and that defendant be required to notify class members whose stamps were wrongfully withheld." In our view the district court's reasoning with respect to these issues, while possessing some appeal, is nonetheless flawed.

In reaching its conclusion that a retroactive award of...

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