Martin et al v. Werner et al

Filing 25

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER granting 12 plaintiffs' Motion for TRO. Signed by Judge John T. Elfvin on 2/21/06. (RAZ)

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Martin et al v. Werner et al Doc. 25 Case 1:06-cv-00094-JTE Document 25 Filed 02/21/2006 Page 1 of 7 U N IT E D STATES DISTRICT COURT W E S T E R N DISTRICT OF NEW YORK TONIA MARTIN, D IA N A GRAFF and V I C K I E WOODS, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, P l a i n t if f s , 0 6 - C V- 0 0 9 4 E ( S c ) M EM ORANDUM -v s and M IC H A E L WEINER, as Commissioner of the Erie County Department of Social Services, and R O B E RT DOAR, as Commissioner of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, D e fe n d a n t s . ORDER1 On February 10, 2006 the named Plaintiffs Tonia Martin, Diana Graff and Vic k ie Woods filed a Complaint seeking relief on their own behalf and on behalf of a class of persons similarly situated alleging violations of the Food Stamp Act, th e Medicaid Act, New York State Social Services Law and the Due Process C la u s e of the Fourteenth Amendment, all in violation of 42 U.S.C. 1983, in that D e fe n d a n t Michael Weiner, as Commissioner of the Erie County Department of S o c ia l Services ("the County"), failed to timely process their applications for food s ta m p s , Medicaid and/or temporary assistance, and Defendant Robert Doar, as C om m iss ion e r of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability 1 This decision may be cited in whole or in any part. Case 1:06-cv-00094-JTE Document 25 Filed 02/21/2006 Page 2 of 7 A s s is ta n c e ("the State"), failed to properly oversee the County's administration o f the food stamp, Medicaid and/or temporary assistance programs. On February 1 5 , 2006 at 7:25 p.m. Plaintiffs filed a motion for an ex parte temporary restraining o rd e r, a copy of which motion was provided to the undersigned on February 16, 2 0 0 6 . Because Plaintiffs had previously served the Defendants with the Summons a n d Complaint and also served Defendants on February 15, 2006 with copies of th e motion for a temporary restraining order and the supporting papers, the Court d e c lin e d to issue a temporary restraining order on an ex parte basis and s c h e d u le d the matter for oral argument on February 17, 2006. In order to obtain an temporary restraining order, Plaintiffs must d e m o n s tr a te that the order is necessary to prevent irreparable harm and that they a re likely to succeed on the merits of their claims or that there are sufficiently s e rio u s questions going to the merits of the claims to make them a fair ground for litig a tion , with a balance of hardships tipping decidedly in Plaintiffs' favor. See P h illip v. Fairfield Univ., 118 F.3d 131, 133 (2d Cir. 1997). Because the Plaintiffs s e e k a mandatory injunction requiring the County to perform certain acts rather th a n refraining from performing certain acts, Plaintiffs must show a greater lik elih oo d of success on the merits of their claims. See Tom Doherty Assocs. Inc. v. Saban Entm't Inc., 60 F.3d 27, 34 (2d Cir. 1995). -2- Case 1:06-cv-00094-JTE Document 25 Filed 02/21/2006 Page 3 of 7 A f te r reviewing the submissions of the parties and hearing oral argument, th e Court concludes that Plaintiffs have satisfactorily demonstrated that, if a te m p o r a r y restraining order does not issue, they have suffered and will continue to suffer immediate irreparable injury consisting of the deprivation of food stamps, M e d ic a id coverage and/or temporary assistance for which they are likely eligible. " D e n y in g welfare benefits to an eligible applicant may deprive that person `of the v e r y means by which to live.'" Reynolds v. Giuliani, 35 F. Supp.2d 331, 339 ( S . D .N .Y. 1999) (quoting Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 264 (1970)). "To indigent p e r s o n s , the loss of even a portion of subsistence benefits constitutes irreparable in j u r y." Ibid. (quoting Morel v. Giuliani, 927 F. Supp. 622, 635 (S.D.N.Y. 1995)). P la in tiffs have also satisfactorily demonstrated that they are likely to prevail o n the merits of their claims. Under the Food Stamp Act, eligible applicants are to be provided with food stamps as soon as possible, but no later than 30 calendar d a y s following the date the application was filed. 7 U.S.C. 2020(e)(3). With re q u e s ts for expedited food stamps, eligible applicants must receive them no later th a n 7 days after filing the application. 7 U.S.C. 2020(e)(9). A household is e n t itle d to apply for food stamps on the first day it contacts the food stamp office. 7 U.S.C. 2020(e)(B)(iii). Under the Medicaid Act, applications must be processed a n d eligibility determined within 45 days. 42 C.F.R. 435.911(a)(2). -3- Case 1:06-cv-00094-JTE Document 25 Filed 02/21/2006 Page 4 of 7 P la in t iffs provided sworn declarations in support of the motion for a te m p o r a r y restraining order which aver the following facts. On December 30, 2 0 0 5 Plaintiff Tonia Martin reapplied for food stamps, Medicaid and public a s s is ta n c e . She subsequently received a letter from the County scheduling her c e r tific a tio n appointment (necessary in order to obtain benefits) for March 13, 2 0 0 6 . While she believes she is still covered under Medicaid, she has not been re c e iv in g food stamps. Plaintiff Diana Graff is a single mother of two children. On D e c e m b e r 16, 2005 she applied for Medicaid benefits and for temporary cash a s s is t a n c e . She was informed that she was eligible for those benefits but they w e re not provided to her at that time. Instead she was informed by letter that her c e r tific a tio n interview for those benefits was scheduled for February 21, 2006. As s h e was due to deliver her second child in January 2006, she inquired of the C o u n t y as to whether she could obtain an earlier date for her certification in t e r v ie w. She was told that no earlier date could be provided due to budget c o n s tr a in t s . She subsequently delivered her child without Medicaid coverage. Fin a lly, Plaintiff Vickie Woods is homeless and resides in a shelter with her three c h ild re n . On December 12, 2005 she applied for Medicaid, food stamps and public a s s is ta n c e . She began receiving food stamps on or about December 19, 2005 but h a s received no word as to when she will have her certification interview for M ed ic a id or public assistance. -4- Case 1:06-cv-00094-JTE Document 25 Filed 02/21/2006 Page 5 of 7 A t oral argument, the County asserted that it has provided or is in the p ro c e s s of providing all of the relief sought by means of the temporary restraining o rd e r and thus such order is unnecessary. At argument, the County represented th a t Tonia Martin's case had been opened on February 12, 2006, that she was s c h ed u le d to receive a check on February 17, 2006 for a security deposit for an a p a r tm e n t which would allow her to move out of the shelter, that she will be re c e iv in g food stamps as of March 1, 2006, that she will be receiving a shelter a llo w a n c e and that she has been receiving "non-public" food stamps throughout h er application process. The County indicated that Diana Graff's certification appointment is s c h e d u le d for Tuesday, February 21, 2006 2 and, if eligible, her benefits will c om m en c e . The County also indicated that Medicaid benefits are retroactive to 9 0 days prior to the application for benefits. The County made no representation a s to how long it would take Graff's benefits to begin if she is found eligible. With re s p e c t to Vickie Woods, the County argued that she orally withdrew her a p p lic a t io n for public assistance on February 1, 2006 and supported such a rg u m e n t with a copy of a County-generated notice of withdrawal of application a d d re s s e d to Woods and dated February 15, 2006. The County further argued th a t, if its records are incorrect and Woods did not withdraw her application, she 2 Monday, February 20, 2006 was President's Day. -5- Case 1:06-cv-00094-JTE Document 25 Filed 02/21/2006 Page 6 of 7 w o u ld be provided with a certification appointment on Tuesday, February 21, 2 0 0 6 . At argument, Woods disputed the County's assertion that she withdrew h er application. Regardless of the status of her public assistance application, Wo o d s still has not been afforded a certification appointment with respect to her M ed ic a id application. The Court concludes that, notwithstanding the County's intended efforts to process Plaintiffs' applications, Plaintiffs have made the necessary showings a n d that a temporary restraining order should issue. It is accordingly O R D E R E D that the County is directed to: ( 1 ) expeditiously process Plaintiffs' applications and, if found eligible fo r food stamps, Medicaid and/or temporary assistance, provide such a s s is t a n c e within 2 business days of the date of this Order; (2) provide Plaintiffs with expedited food stamps and temporary prein v e s tig a tiv e grants within 24 hours of this Order; and (3) provide adequate written notice of determination of eligibility for a n y and all benefits for which each Plaintiff has applied and e lig ib ility for expedited food stamps within 2 business days of the d a t e of this Order; and it is further -6- Case 1:06-cv-00094-JTE Document 25 Filed 02/21/2006 Page 7 of 7 ORDERED that this Order will expire ten days after entry unless further e x te n d e d , for good cause shown, by Order of this Court or upon consent of the p a r tie s ; and it is further O R D E R E D that this Order is effective immediately and that no security is re q u ired to be posted pursuant to Rule 65(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Pro c e d u re ; and it is further O R D E R E D that this temporary restraining order is entered this 21st day of Feb r u a r y, 2006 at p.m., in Buffalo, New York. DATED: B u ffa lo, N.Y. Fe b r u a r y 21, 2006 /s/ John T. Elfvin JOHN T. ELFVIN S.U.S.D.J.

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