Wilczynski v. Harder

Citation323 F. Supp. 509
Decision Date16 February 1971
Docket NumberCiv. No. 13382.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
PartiesFrances WILCZYNSKI, Esta Watson, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated v. John HARDER, Individually, and as Commissioner of Welfare, State of Connecticut.


Laurens H. Silver, Malvina Guggenheim, Mark Edelstein, Los Angeles, Cal., National Legal Program on Health Problems of the Poor, amicus curiae.

Robert P. Borsody, New York City, Center on Social Welfare Policy and Law, amicus curiae.

Kenneth R. Kreiling, New Haven, Conn., amicus curiae.

William H. Clendenen, Jr., Steven P. Floman, John H. Doermann, David M. Lesser, New Haven, Conn., for plaintiffs.

James M. Higgins, Asst. Atty. Gen., East Hartford, Conn., for defendant.

Before ANDERSON, Circuit Judge, and BLUMENFELD and CLARIE, District Judges.


BLUMENFELD, District Judge.

I. Facts

The facts of this case have been stipulated by the parties and may be simply stated. Plaintiff Wilczynski is a 75 year old woman in poor health who has for some time been a recipient of medical assistance under the provisions of Title XIX of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1396-1396g. (Sometimes hereinafter referred to as "Title XIX assistance" or "Medicaid.")1 Her sole source of income is social security, from which she receives $85.90 per month. Her sole assets are two life insurance policies with a combined face value of $1,000.00 and cash surrender value of about $700.00. Plaintiff Watson is a 36 year old woman who is permanently and totally disabled. Like Mrs. Wilczynski, she has been receiving Title XIX medical assistance for several years. Similarly her sole source of income ($149.00 per month) is social security, and her sole asset is an insurance policy of $1,000.00 face value and approximately $230.00 cash surrender value.

Both plaintiffs have been notified by the defendant2 that by reason of a change in the resource limitation for Connecticut's Medicaid program, they will no longer be eligible to receive medical assistance unless and until they use up their resources in excess of the new limitation. They brought this class action3 to challenge on both constitutional and statutory grounds, the validity of the Connecticut Welfare Department regulation (1 Conn.Welfare Man. § D-244.1 (1970)) promulgating that new limitation. The regulation is set out in the margin.4 Plaintiffs seek by this action a declaration of its invalidity and an injunction against its enforcement.

II. Jurisdiction

Plaintiffs rely on their constitutional claim to support jurisdiction in the federal court. That claim can be briefly stated. The challenged regulation (sometimes hereinafter referred to as "§ 244.1") excepts from inclusion in the sum of an applicant's total resources "real property used as a home, * * * an automobile essential for transportation, or United States Government Veterans' life insurance."5 Plaintiffs claim this provision of the regulation creates an arbitrary distinction between two classes of Medicaid applicants on grounds wholly irrelevant to eligibility for medical assistance. Specifically, they contend, the regulation renders them ineligible, while others, with equal or greater assets, may, provided they have invested their resources in the right kind of assets, remain eligible. For purposes of eligibility for Medicaid, plaintiffs argue, no rational distinction can be drawn between the two classes; and consequently plaintiffs are by application of the regulation denied equal protection of the laws. Plaintiffs allege that this suit is authorized by the Civil Rights Act, 42 U. S.C. § 1983,6 and that a jurisdictional basis is provided by 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3).7

The hitherto troublesome problems of fitting all welfare cases within § 1343(3)'s judicial limitation to cases where "the right or immunity allegedly infringed is one of personal liberty, not dependent for its existence upon the infringement of property rights," Hague v. CIO, 307 U.S. 496, 531, 59 S.Ct. 954, 971, 83 L.Ed. 1423 (1939) (opinion of Mr. Justice Stone); Eisen v. Eastman, 421 F.2d 560 (2d Cir. 1969); see, e. g., Campagnuolo v. Harder, 319 F.Supp. 414 (D.Conn.1970); McClellan v. Shapiro, 315 F.Supp. 484 (D.Conn.1970) (three-judge district court), have now been resolved for the district courts in this circuit.8 In Johnson v. Harder, 438 F.2d 7, (2d Cir. 1971),9 rev'g 318 F. Supp. 1274 (D.Conn.1970), the court analyzed the recent Supreme Court welfare cases10 and concluded they were reconcilable with the Stone formula on the following grounds:

"Since welfare cases by their very nature involve people at a bare subsistence level, disputes over the correct amounts payable are treated not merely as involving property rights, but some sort of right to exist in society, a personal right under the Stone formula." Id. at 12.

The court held that in welfare cases of this type, "so long as a colorable constitutional claim has been raised, jurisdiction will properly lie." Id. at 12.

Plaintiffs' constitutional claim before this court is at least colorable. It is not "obviously without merit" nor does "its unsoundness so clearly result from the previous decisions of the Supreme Court as to foreclose the subject." California Water Serv. Co. v. City of Redding, 304 U.S. 252, 255, 58 S.Ct. 865, 867, 82 L.Ed. 1323 (1938). Cf. Dandridge v. Williams, supra, 397 U.S. 471, 90 S.Ct. 1153, 25 L.Ed.2d 491; Rosado v. Wyman, supra, 397 U.S. 397, 90 S.Ct. 1207, 25 L.Ed.2d 442; Johnson v. Harder, supra, 438 F.2d at 12. Because plaintiffs seek an injunction against the enforcement of a regulation of statewide application, on constitutional grounds that are not unsubstantial, a three-judge district court was convened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2281 to hear and decide the issues presented.

III. Statutory Claims

In addition to their equal protection claim, plaintiffs contend that the state regulation is invalid because antithetical to the Social Security Act and regulations promulgated thereunder.11 Having jurisdiction over plaintiffs' constitutional claim, this court may also exercise pendent jurisdiction over the statutory claims. Wyman v. Rothstein, 398 U.S. 275, 90 S.Ct. 1582, 26 L.Ed.2d 218 (1970); Rosado v. Wyman, supra, 397 U.S. at 402, 90 S.Ct. 1207; King v. Smith, supra, 392 U.S. at 312 n. 3, 88 S.Ct. 2128. Rothstein requires the court to consider the statutory claims for relief prior to reaching the constitutional issues.

A. The Federal Statutory Scheme—Eligibility Provisions

A brief description of the relevant statutory scheme12 for Medicaid will serve to provide a context within which to later consider the specific conflicts alleged. The Medicaid program cuts across the four categorical public assistance programs to meet a special need common to all.13 There are three different classes of eligible recipients provided for by Title XIX:

(1) The first class is composed of those receiving aid under any of the four categorical assistance programs, viz, the programs for assistance to the aged (OAA), the blind (AB), the disabled (AD), and families with dependent children (AFDC). 42 U.S.C. § 1396a(a) (10). HPAA, Supp. D, § D-4020(1) (a). Neither plaintiff being a beneficiary under any of these programs, eligibility is not claimed under this section.

(2) Secondly, the state must provide assistance to persons who would be eligible for aid under one of the categorical programs listed in (1) above but for state eligibility requirements applicable to those programs which are at the same time specifically prohibited as eligibility requirements for Title XIX assistance. HPAA, Supp. D, §§ D-4020(c), D-4030 (b). Persons in these first two classes are called "categorically needy." HPAA, Supp. D, § D-4020. Plaintiff Wilczynski claims eligibility for Medicaid as a categorically needy person because she would be eligible for OAA but for her refusal to assign her life insurance to the Welfare Commissioner—an eligibility requirement for OAA14 but prohibited as an eligibility requirement for Medicaid. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 1396a(a) (17) (D) and (a) (18). HPAA, Supp. D, §§ D-4000 (1) (c), D-4020(1) (c), and D-5700.

(3) Thirdly, the state may (and Connecticut does—Conn.Welfare Man.Supp. D, § D-230; Conn.Regs. § 17-134d-1) provide medical assistance to those who are related to the categorical programs (i. e., by being old, or disabled, or blind, or having dependent children) but whose incomes and/or assets exceed the eligibility limits of the appropriate category. 42 U.S.C. § 1396a(a) (10) (B). HPAA, Supp. D, §§ D-4000(A) (2) (b) (1), D-4020.2(b). When their income and/or assets are nevertheless not adequate to pay for their medical care, they may qualify for assistance as "medically needy" persons. It is in this third class that plaintiff Watson claims to be because she is permanently and totally disabled and her income slightly exceeds that for AD assistance, but is insufficient to meet her medical needs.

Under Title XIX, the state may determine the income and asset limitations for eligibility so long as the limits are reasonable. HPAA, Supp. D, § D-4240(A) (5). The state may not consider income or assets not actually available to the applicant, 42 U.S.C. § 1396a(a) (17) (B), assets must be reasonably evaluated, 42 U.S.C. § 1396a(a) (17) (C), and the limitation must at a minimum be at the most liberal level used in any money payment program in the state on or after January 1, 1966. 45 C.F.R. § 248.21(a) (1) (iv).15

B. Connecticut's Eligibility Limits for Medicaid—1 Conn. Welfare Manual § 244.1 (1970)

Section 244.1 sets out the income and resource limitations for eligibility for Medicaid in Connecticut.16See n. 4, supra. A single beneficiary may have up to $250.00 liquid assets and in addition thereto the "categorically needy" and "medically needy" may retain up to $600.00 in a burial reserve. The latter may be in the form of a prepaid funeral contract with a...

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