Vargas v. Trainor

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
Citation508 F.2d 485
Docket Number74-1968,Nos. 74-1823,s. 74-1823
PartiesElvira VARGAS, Individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. James TRAINOR, Acting Director, Illinois Department of Public Aid,Defendant-Appellee.
Decision Date31 March 1975

Page 485

508 F.2d 485
Elvira VARGAS, Individually and on behalf of all others
similarly situated, Plaintiff-Appellant,
James TRAINOR, Acting Director, Illinois Department of
Public Aid,Defendant-Appellee.
Nos. 74-1823, 74-1968.
United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.
Argued Dec. 11, 1974.
Decided Dec. 27, 1974, Motion Granted March 24, 1975, See 95
S.Ct. 1421, Certiorari Denied March 31, 1975, See
95 S.Ct. 1454.

Page 486

Kenneth K. Howell, Robert Lehrer, Sheldon Roodman, Jane Stevens, James Weill, Legal Assistance Foundation, Chicago, Ill., for plaintiff-appellant.

George L. Grumley, William Scott, Atty. Gen., Bonny Setker Barezky, Chicago, Ill., for defendant-appellee.

Before FAIRCHILD, SPRECHER and TONE, Circuit Judges.

TONE, Circuit Judge.

The procedure by which the Illinois Department of Public Aid reduced or terminated certain public assistance to aged, blind, and disabled recipients is challenged under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. We hold that the procedure did not conform to constitutional standards and reverse the District Court's contrary judgment.

Until the end of the year 1973, needy, blind, and disabled persons in Illinois received cash assistance from the Illinois Department of Public Aid. The Federal Government provided 50 percent of the funds for these payments through the program of Aid to the Aged, Blind and Disabled (AABD) established pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 1381-1385 (1969 ed.). To arrive at the total amount of a recipient's grant, the Department determined how much he needed for each of a number of individual items of allowance, e.g., for food, clothing, rent, and furniture. The amounts of grants varied among recipients, depending on their needs as determined by the Department.

Effective January 1974, amendments to Title XVI of the Social Security Act

Page 487

established a new program, called Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which partly replaced the AABD program. Public Law 93-66, 93d Cong., 1st Sess. (1973), 42 U.S.C. 1381 et seq. (Supp. 1973). The new law provided for a uniform federal minimum assistance grant, currently $146 per month for each recipient, which is entirely federally funded and is administered by the Social Security Administration of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

To assure that payments to former AABD recipients would not be reduced, the new law required the state, as a condition of participation in the federalstate Medicaid Program (Title XIX of the Social Security Act), to supplement the monthly SSI payments to persons who were receiving assistance as of December 1973 in order to keep payments to those persons at their then level so long as their needs for assistance did not change. This 'mandatory state supplement' is funded by the state. Id. 212. Under the new, combined program, an AABD recipient who was receiving, for example, $200 per month would continue to receive that amount so long as his need for assistance did not change. He would receive $146 in SSI benefits and $54 as the mandatory state supplement. If, however, his December 1973 payment included an amount for 'a special need . . . or any special circumstance,' and 'a change with respect to such special need or circumstance' thereafter occurred, the mandatory state supplement could be reduced to reflect the reduction in need. Id. 212(a)(3)(D).

The state may administer and pay the mandatory supplement itself or elect to have the Social Security Administration do so. Id. 212(b)(1). At first the Illinois Department made this election, and from January until September 1974, the Social Security Administration's payment to each Illinois recipient included both the $146 SSI grant and the mandatory supplement. In September 1974 the Illinois Department took over the administration and payment of the supplement beginning with the October 1974 payment. This meant that each recipient would receive the $146 SSI grant from the Social Security Administration and the mandatory supplement from the Illinois Department of Public Aid.

To some 3,780 aged, blind and disabled recipients, approximately 10 percent of the total, the Department sent a written notice in late September advising each of them as follows:

'The amount of assistance you receive for October, 1974, will be reduced to the amount shown on the enclosed card.'

The reduction was said to be 'because of changes in your needs or living arrangements which occurred between January 1, 1974, and the current month, but which were not entered on your record so as to effect your check.' No other explanation or statement of reasons was given. The 'enclosed card' referred to in the notice was a computer printout which simply stated, 'The amount of your grant for October, 1974 will be' a stated amount and contained a code designation and the name and address of recipient.

The notice also stated that the reduction would not be made 'if you can show that it is wrong.' The recipient was advised, 'You may meet with a representative from your local office to question this action,' at an informal meeting where 'you may present information or evidence,' and 'be represented by a person(s) of your choice'; that if he wanted such a meeting he should contact his case manager; and that whether or not he had such a meeting he had a right of appeal.

In addition, the notice advised the recipient that he had a right to appeal in writing within 60 days of the date of the notice and thereby obtain a fair hearing. The Department's local office would provide him with an appeal form and stood ready to help fill it out. If an appeal was filed within 10 days of the date of the notice, the assistance payments would not be reduced until a decision on the appeal after the hearing.

Plaintiff Elvira Vargas was one of the AABD recipients to whom the notice of

Page 488

reduction of assistance was sent. Upon receiving it, she filed this action on behalf of herself and other members of the class composed of all aged, blind, and disabled recipients of mandatory supplements whose benefits would be reduced in October 1974 pursuant to the form notice described above. Naming the Director of the Illinois Department of Public Aid as the defendant, her complaint alleges in substance the foregoing facts, attacks the notice as inadequate and untimely, and asserts the right of each member of the class to a fair hearing prior to the time the reduction or termination of his benefits goes into effect. Plaintiff moved for interlocutory injunctive relief.

The District Court held a hearing on the motion on October 4, two days after the complaint was filed. The court certified the action as a class action, denied interlocutory relief, and denied an injunction pending appeal. Upon agreement by the parties that further proceedings would be unnecessary, the court found the notice and opportunity to be heard adequate and entered a final judgment for defendant.

On October 22 this court, on motion of plaintiff, entered an order enjoining defendant, pending appeal, from reducing or terminating grants based on the notice described above. In the order the court also established an expedited briefing schedule and set an early date for oral argument.

In late November, about three weeks before the daat set for argument in this court, the Department of Public Aid sent out to the members of the plaintiff class a new 'Notice of Reduction (AABD).' This notice advised the recipient that the amount of the grant he would receive in December would be less than the amount received from the Department in November. In other respects the notice was the same as the September notice. The 'enclosed card,' however, unlike the card accompanying the September notice, which showed only the total amount of the monthly state grant, contained a breakdown showing the amount allowed for each item, such as clothing, household supplies, rent, etc. The SSI grant of $146 was then shown as deducted from the total, and the balance was shown as the state income maintenance payment. Again neither the notice nor the enclosed card stated why the grant was being reduced. 1

One member of the class, Robert Collier, appealed after receiving the first notice, and, after a hearing, the Department restored his grant to the September level. One week after receiving notice of that action, however, he received his copy of the November notice and its enclosed card, which informed him that his grant had again been reduced to the October level specified in the previous notice. Defendant stated in oral argument that apparently a mistake was made with respect to Collier.

After receiving the November notice, plaintiff filed a new complaint in the...

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