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Social-services recipients entitled to injunctive relief

December 3, 2010

The Family and Social Services Administration’s adverse action notices pertaining to public benefits programs that don’t name specific missing eligibility documents don’t comport with the requirement of procedural due process, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana sued the FSSA on behalf of people who have applied for or receive public benefits to enjoin the state agency from issuing adverse action notices regarding Medicaid, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. If an applicant was denied, he would receive a generic notice alleging failure to cooperate but the notice didn’t specify what verification document was missing. The trial court certified specific classes of people who could sue.

Marion Superior Court found FSSA procedures as a whole satisfied procedural due process requirements and FSSA was entitled to summary judgment on that issue. It also issued a declaratory judgment and injunction against FSSA because the agency had, in violation of federal law governing SNAP, utilized a “failure to cooperate” standard as opposed to a “refusal to cooperate” standard. The trial court also ruled that FSSA had violated class member Sheila Perdue’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act when FSSA automatically scheduled her for a phone interview with a caseworker despite her known hearing impairment and denied her benefits for “failure to cooperate.”
 
In Sheila Perdue, et al. v. Anne W. Murphy, et al., No. 49A02-1003-PL-250, the appellate court reversed the lower court’s ruling that the adverse action procedures as a whole satisfied procedural due process rights. FSSA’s procedures place a great burden upon the disadvantaged person to show on appeal that each and every document was timely provided, wrote Judge L. Mark Bailey. He also noted the appellate court couldn’t find that making the FSSA specify the reason for its denial would place a great burden on the agency.

“We are persuaded by the Recipients’ argument that they may not effectively exercise a right to be heard on appeal absent sufficient information to adequately prepare for and pursue the appeal. Mindful that an individual receiving an FSSA adverse action notice likely has a physical, mental, or economic disadvantage (or combination thereof), it is unreasonable to expect that the recipient can act to protect his or her interests without specific information,” wrote the judge.

In addition to reversing summary judgment for FSSA on this issue, the judges also upheld the lower court’s grant of declaratory judgment and injunctive relief regarding SNAP and the finding that Perdue’s rights were violated. The agency didn’t demonstrate that the injunction was overbroad or a genuine issue of material fact existed precluding summary judgment. In addition, FSSA even conceded at oral argument that it wasn’t demonstrably harmed by the injunctive orders that amounted to orders to follow existing law, wrote the judge.

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