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EDITH GOOD v. HELENE WOHLGEMUTH (10/25/74)

decided: October 25, 1974.

EDITH GOOD, APPELLANT,
v.
HELENE WOHLGEMUTH, SECRETARY OF DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WELFARE, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEE



Appeal from an Order of the Department of Public Welfare in case in In re: Appeal of Mrs. Edith Good, No. 46 152 J.

COUNSEL

Eugene F. Zenobi, with him Alan Linder and J. Richard Gray, for appellant.

Darius G. C. Moss, Assistant Attorney General, with him Marx S. Leopold, General Counsel, for appellee.

President Judge Bowman and Judges Crumlish, Jr., Kramer, Wilkinson, Jr., Mencer, Rogers and Blatt. Opinion by Judge Rogers.

Author: Rogers

[ 15 Pa. Commw. Page 525]

This is the appeal by Edith S. Good from an adjudication of the Department of Welfare dismissing her appeal from the action of the Lancaster County Board of Assistance denying her claim to the sum of $2630.70, allegedly wrongfully collected from her by a caseworker of the County Board.

The facts are set forth in the adjudication of the hearing examiner of the Department of Welfare as follows:

"Edith Good is a widow. On December 9, 1970, while her husband was living, they applied for assistance. It was set up effective December 10, 1970, supplementing Mrs. Good's Social Security. Mr. Good died on May 28, 1971. Mrs. Good continued on Welfare.

"On August 31, 1972, Mrs. Good received a lump sum Social Security check in the amount of $3,886.30.*fn1 This check represented Social Security benefits to her husband which, through an error, were not paid to him during his lifetime. The Board of Assistance learned that this money was coming to Mrs. Good and they contacted her a number of times about it, warning her not to cash the check and spend the money.

[ 15 Pa. Commw. Page 526]

"On the day she received the check, a caseworker called her and, ascertaining that the check was in her hands, told her to do nothing with it until she (the caseworker) could come out and drive her to the Bank.

"She did this. Mrs. Good was upset emotionally. Since she is a cardiac case, she was in a precarious physical condition.

"Both women appeared at the teller's window at the Bank. The caseworker called the Board of Assistance to get the exact amount owing and then the check was cashed. The caseworker took $2,564.20 for the Board and the balance was retained by Mrs. Good.

"Subsequently, on September 21, 1972, Mrs. Good returned her assistance check in the amount of $66.50. The total amount with which we are concerned is $2,630.70."

The parties, Mrs. Good and the Department of Welfare, expended most of their effort in brief and argument here discussing the applicability to the facts of this case of Section 207 of the Social Security Act,*fn2 and the effect of the holding of Philpott v. Essex County Welfare Board, 409 U.S. 413 (1973).

Section 207 of the Social Security Act provides: "The right of any person to any future payment under this title chapter shall not be transferable or assignable, at law or in equity, and none of the monies paid or payable or rights existing under this sub-chapter shall be subject to execution, levy, attachment, garnishment, or other legal process, or to the operation of any bankruptcy or insolvency law."

Philpott v. Essex County Welfare Board, supra, held that Section 207 barred the state welfare agency as another creditor from subjecting money received by a welfare recipient as retroactive disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act to levy, attachment

[ 15 Pa. Commw. Page 527]

    or other legal process for reimbursement of public assistance payments. The appellant insists that the actions of the caseworker in this case were, or were tantamount to, legal process and that the Philpott decision, which came down after the actions of the caseworker complained of, should be given retroactive effect. Since we are deciding the case in favor of the appellant on other grounds we need not indulge in an extended discussion of either the applicability or the effect of Philpott v. Essex County Welfare Board, supra, beyond stating that in our judgment the actions of the caseworker in demanding and collecting reimbursement were not, in our view, "legal process" and that the Philpott holding appears to us to follow from Section 207 wholly naturally. On the latter point, the Department of Welfare has apparently considered itself excluded from the limitations of Section 207 and seems to have been surprised by Philpott.*fn3 However, it has been clearly law that the Commonwealth, as claimant for reimbursement of public assistance payments, is merely a common ...


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