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Leitter v. Armstrong

September 15, 2010

ALICE LEITTER, CHRISTOPHER BOYLE, DORIS ANDERSON, RUSSELL ANDERSON, NOREEN DAINES, AND ELLEN BROWER, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
RICHARD ARMSTRONG, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS DIRECTOR OF THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND WELFARE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: B. Lynn Winmill Chief Judge United States District Court

ORDER ON PLAINTIFFS' RESTRAINING ORDER MOTION FOR TEMPORARY

Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Temporary Restraining Order (Dkt. 3). The Court has considered the parties' briefing, including letter briefs submitted after hearing, and oral argument from the hearing held on September 3, 2010. For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED in part, DENIED in part.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs are developmentally disabled individuals, and seek to represent a class of other developmentally disabled individuals. The Plaintiffs and the proposed class members are all individuals with a tested functional age of no more than eight years. Some of them have had guardians appointed, some have not. Defendant Armstrong is the Director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (Department) and, pursuant to Idaho law, responsible for directing the exercise of the Department's powers, including the power to administer public assistance programs. Defendant Armstrong, in his official capacity, is aware of the developmental disabilities of the Plaintiffs and the members of the class Plaintiffs seek to represent.

Due to fiscal constraints, the 2010 Legislature did not appropriate enough state general funds to fully fund the programs administered by the Department. As a result, the Department determined that it had to reduce payments made to certain individuals under the state's Aid to the Aged, Blind and Disabled (AABD) program. The Department changed the eligibility requirement so that all individuals receiving the AABD benefits must receive Supplemental Security Income, capped the cash assistance for certain living arrangements, and terminated the cash assistance for those living in a Certified Family Home (CFH). In this way, the Department believed it would level benefits between the DD Waiver participants and the A&D Waiver participants living in CFHs. Before the rule change, Plaintiffs and the class they seek to represent were the only persons residing in a CFH to receive AABD benefits. All other residents in CFHs did not receive AABD benefits.

The Department took several steps to implement the rule change. On April 29, 2010, the Department sent a letter to affected CFH providers. The Department issued a news release on April 30, 2010, explaining the change in eligibility. On May 4, 2010, the Department published notice of the temporary and proposed rule in the Idaho administrative bulletin. The Department sent individual notices to both CFH residents and to CFH providers on May 10, 2010. More detailed notices were subsequently sent and the effective date of the temporary rule was changed from July 1, 2010 to September 1, 2010.

Disability Rights Idaho (DRI) is Idaho's designated Protection and Advocacy System for people with disabilities. DRI's Mission Statement is to "assist people with disabilities to protect, promote and advance their legal and human rights, through quality legal, individual, and system advocacy." According to the parties in this case, DRI is aware of the cuts to the AABD benefits, and has responded by referring affected individuals to legal aid. It is unclear how many affected individuals have been referred to legal aid by DRI. However, Defendants assert that, of the 1200 affected individuals, administrative appeals have been pursued by 79 who are not cared for by a family member, 29 who are cared for by a family member, and 19 others whose care arrangement has yet to be determined.

DISCUSSION

The United States Supreme Court fairly recently reiterated the standard for a preliminary injunction in Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 129 S.Ct. 365, 374 (2008). A plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction must establish: (1) that it is likely to succeed on the merits; (2) that it is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief; (3) that the balance of equities tips in its favor; and (4) that an injunction is in the public interest. A preliminary injunction is "an extraordinary remedy never awarded as of right." Id. at 376. The standard for issuing a preliminary injunction is identical to that for issuing a temporary restraining order. Lockheed Missile & Space Co., Inc. v. Hughes Aircraft Co., 887 F.Supp. 1320, 1323 (N.D. Cal. 1995).

1. Success on the merits

The issue of Plaintiffs' likelihood of succeeding on the merits turns on the Court's analysis of their due process claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Fourteenth Amendment provides that no State "shall... deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." U.S. Const. amend. XIV § 1. In this case, Plaintiffs claim a property interest in continued receipt of AABD benefits. Regarding the property interest in a benefit, the Supreme Court has held that one "must have more than an abstract need or desire... [or] unilateral expectation of it... [but must] have a legitimate claim of entitlement to it." Board of Regents of State College v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577 (1972). Here, Plaintiffs' claim to AABD benefits arises from Idaho's Public Assistance Law, I.C. § 56-201 et seq. The state statute provides that a recipient of benefits, aggrieved by a decision of the state, "shall be entitled to appeal... and shall be afforded reasonable notice and opportunity for a fair hearing by the state department." I.C. § 56-216.

"[D]ue process is flexible and calls for such procedural protections as the particular situation demands." Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 321 (1976), citing Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 481 (1972). The Ninth Circuit has questioned the necessity of pre-termination proceedings where a state agency "makes a broadly applicable, legislative-type decision" to reduce benefits. Curlott v. Campbell, 598 F.2d 1175, 1181 (1979). In that case, the Court addressed reductions in cost of living (COLA) allowances to federal civil employees, and found that judicial review after promulgation of the rule was proper under the circumstances. Id. In so holding, the Court in Curlott reasoned that a reduction in COLA payments "neither would, nor did, imperil life," as would a termination of welfare benefits which "provide the means by which welfare recipients live." Id., distinguishing Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254 (1970). The Curlott Court also quoted the Supreme Court's finding that a "claim to a predeprivation hearing as a matter of constitutional right rests on the proposition that full relief cannot be obtained at a post-deprivation hearing." Id., quoting Mathews, 424 U.S. at 331.

Here, Plaintiffs assert that a reduction in AABD benefits will result in Plaintiffs' discharge from their CFH, and ultimately to their institutionalization. If the benefit reduction is later shown to be erroneous, the harm would arguably be irrevocable, so that full relief would be unobtainable. In light of the circumstances, the case law cited herein, and I.C. § 56-216, the Court here finds that predeprivation hearings are warranted, and thus meaningful notice of the benefit reduction is necessary.

Defendant provided indirect notice through the IDHW website, a news release, and notice on the Idaho administrative bulletin. Defendant provided direct notice to the CFH residents and CFH providers. The parties agree that Plaintiffs and members of their proposed class function at a level of no more than eight years of age. These individuals lack sufficient capacity to meaningfully understand a notice of the reduction in their AABD benefits. The Court finds that actual notice to the members of the proposed class would be meaningless, and that actual notice ...


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