Moore v. Ganim

Decision Date20 June 1995
Docket NumberNo. 14923,14923
Citation233 Conn. 557,660 A.2d 742
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesHamilton MOORE et al. v. Joseph GANIM et al.

Steven R. Berg, Wilton, with whom were Dennis J. O'Brien, Willimantic, and, on the brief, Maria A. Varone, New Haven, for appellants (plaintiffs).

Arthur C. Laske III, Asst. City Atty., with whom were John H. Barton, Associate City Atty., and, on the brief, Mark T. Anastasi, City Atty., for appellees (named defendant et al.).

Richard Blumenthal, Atty. Gen., with whom were Jennifer C. Jaff, Asst. Atty. Gen., and, on the brief, Richard J. Lynch and Hugh Barber, Asst. Attys. Gen., for appellees (State of Connecticut et al.).

Mary-Michelle U. Hirschoff, Bethany, for Connecticut Conference of Municipalities as amicus curiae.

Before PETERS, C.J., and CALLAHAN, BORDEN, BERDON, NORCOTT, KATZ and PALMER, JJ.

NORCOTT, Associate Justice.

In this expedited appeal, we are asked to determine whether, under the state constitution, the state of Connecticut has an affirmative obligation to provide its indigent residents with minimal subsistence. The plaintiffs 1 are three individuals who were eligible for general assistance, but whose cash benefits were to be terminated after nine months pursuant to General Statutes (Rev. to 1993) § 17-273b. They instituted this action for declaratory and injunctive relief against the defendants Joseph Ganim, mayor of the city of Bridgeport, Harold Fair, acting director of the Bridgeport department of welfare, and the city of Bridgeport (collectively, Bridgeport). The plaintiffs claim that the statute's durational limit abrogates the state's 2 affirmative obligation, under the Connecticut constitution, to provide its indigent citizens with a minimal level of subsistence. The trial court, after a hearing, rejected the plaintiffs' claim that the state had a mandatory constitutional obligation to provide indigent citizens with a minimal level of subsistence and, accordingly, denied the plaintiffs' request for a temporary injunction.

Despite the absence of a final judgment, the plaintiffs sought an appeal directly to the Supreme Court, and the Chief Justice, pursuant to General Statutes § 52-265a, granted certification to appeal. 3 Thereafter, the plaintiffs appealed from the denial by the trial court of their request for a temporary injunction. We conclude that the state constitution does not impose an affirmative duty on the state to provide the benefits claimed by the plaintiffs, and, accordingly, we affirm the order of the trial court.

The relevant factual and procedural background is as follows. General assistance is a state mandated program; see General Statutes (Rev. to 1993) § 17-273(a); 4 providing both financial and medical assistance to indigent people who lack sufficient income or assets and who fail to qualify for other assistance programs. 5 The program is administered by the 169 municipalities of this state, 6 each of which pays the administrative costs and 20 percent of the benefits; the state reimburses the towns for the remaining 80 percent of the benefits. 7 Currently, the flat grant rate for employable recipients is $300 per month, while unemployable recipients receive $356 per month. 8 General Statutes (Rev. to 1993) § 17-3a(a), as amended by Public Acts 1993, No. 93-418, § 2. 9 This appeal focuses on the revisions effected by No. 92-16, § 6, of the Public Acts, Special Session, May, 1992 (Spec.Sess.P.A. 92-16), 10 as incorporated in General Statutes (Rev. to 1993) § 17-273b. 11 As amended, § 17-273b provides that "financial assistance granted under this chapter to an employable person 12 shall be limited to no more than nine months in a twelve-month period. A town may extend the period during which assistance is granted by up to three months...." 13 (Emphasis added.) Prior to enactment of Spec.Sess.P.A. 92-16, municipalities were obligated by statute to provide benefits to all qualified persons, with no durational limit. See General Statutes (Rev. to 1991) §§ 17-273 and 17-273b. The amended statute limits to nine months the length of time employable persons are eligible to receive financial assistance (nine month rule) but gives each municipality the discretion to elect to extend such aid beyond the required nine month period, 14 in which case the state will continue to reimburse the town for 80 percent of the costs for the final three months of the year. 15 General Statutes (Rev. to 1993) § 17-273b.

During the three months that terminated recipients are denied cash assistance, they nonetheless remain eligible to receive medical assistance 16 and food stamp benefits. 17 They also may participate in educational programs, job training, job readiness programs and substance abuse treatment programs. 18 Terminated recipients are, however, ineligible to receive special needs grants to pay security deposits; General Statutes (Rev. to 1993) § 17-599, now § 17b-802; and are ineligible for emergency services such as food or housing in state funded emergency shelters. General Statutes (Rev. to 1993) § 17-273d, now § 17b-120. Upon expiration of the three month ineligibility period, recipients may reapply and receive another nine months of all the general assistance benefits, including cash assistance.

From July, 1992, 19 until March, 1994, Bridgeport had elected to continue to provide year-round benefits for all eligible general assistance recipients. In January, 1994, however, Bridgeport notified the state department of social services that, as of April 1, 1994, it would discontinue extending benefits beyond the statutorily mandated nine month period. Termination notices were mailed in March, 1994.

The plaintiffs initiated this action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against Bridgeport to prevent it from terminating the plaintiffs' general assistance benefits. The plaintiffs do not dispute that the state can condition the receipt of benefits upon the fulfillment of specified criteria and can impose reasonable requirements such as requiring recipients to perform workfare, to document their search for work, to register with the department of labor and to accept any job that is offered to them. Indeed, the plaintiffs argue that the state could provide assistance in any form that it chooses, whether that be through shelters and soup kitchens or through monthly assistance checks, as it currently has chosen. The fundamental premise of the plaintiffs' claims is that the state has a constitutional obligation to supply them with subsistence level resources irrespective of the availability of food and shelter from family, friends, charitable organizations, religious institutions and other community sources.

On March 31, 1994, the trial court granted an ex parte temporary restraining order enjoining Bridgeport from terminating general assistance benefits to the plaintiffs pending a hearing, and ordering Bridgeport to show cause as to why a class-wide injunction should not be granted. On April 14, 1994, the state and its department of social services intervened as defendants.

The hearing on the plaintiffs' request for a temporary injunction was held over two days, on April 14 and 15, 1994. At the hearing, the plaintiffs offered the following evidence. First, several terminated general assistance recipients testified that without general assistance, their sole source of income, they were uncertain about how their basic needs would be met during the three month ineligibility period. In particular, these terminated recipients testified that without this support, they would not be able to afford housing. Indeed, three of the five witnesses testified that since their general assistance benefits had been terminated, they had left their former living quarters and had been residing in local shelters. 20 The witnesses also testified, however, that, despite the termination of their general assistance benefits, they continued to receive food stamps and medical benefits, and could continue to participate in job placement and job retraining programs. No testimony was offered regarding nongovernmental sources of economic aid or benefits in kind, such as churches, synagogues, private shelters and soup kitchens, friends or family.

Next, there was testimony from the coordinators of a number of area shelters 21 who stated that the beds in the homeless shelters were full to capacity 22 and that they had to turn people away. 23 Although the coordinators "anticipate[d] turning away more than last year because of people not having income for three months," whether the implementation of the nine month rule was the cause of the increase in the number of people seeking shelter was not established.

There was also testimony as to the legislative intent underlying the enactment of Spec.Sess.P.A. 92-16. Witnesses stated that the bill was, in part, the result of the work of an interagency task force established in 1991 by Governor Lowell P. Weicker, Jr., to make recommendations for improvement of the welfare system. In particular, those witnesses stated that the nine month rule was intended to reinforce the principle that general assistance was, as a matter of policy, intended as a temporary program for employable persons and had been instituted in order to provide an incentive for people to find employment. See footnote 67. The nine month limit was chosen because it mirrored the average time span for which recipients received general assistance benefits. 24

Finally, the plaintiffs called as a witness Christopher Collier, an historian and author of numerous articles on the constitutional and legal history of Connecticut, who testified that Connecticut has had a long tradition of supporting its poor. In addition, Collier gave his opinion, based on the philosophical and historical underpinnings of the Connecticut constitution, that the framers of the 1818 constitution intended to incorporate in that...

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