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PHILADELPHIA WELFARE RIGHTS ORG. v. O'BANNON

October 27, 1981

PHILADELPHIA WELFARE RIGHTS ORGANIZATION, by Louise Brookins, Executive Director and Trustee Ad Litem and Philadelphia Citizens in Action, by Roxanne Jones, Chairperson and Trustee Ad Litem, on behalf of their members and the class they seek to represent
v.
Helen O'BANNON, Secretary Department of Public Welfare, John Cuddy, Acting Deputy Secretary for Income Maintenance, Donald Dougherty, Deputy in Charge of Philadelphia County, Don Jose Stovall, Executive Director, Philadelphia County Board of Assistance



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LORD, III

OPINION *fn1"

I. Factual Background

 Earlier this year, Congress amended the Food Stamp Act, 7 U.S.C. ยงยง 2011-2027, in two respects by enacting the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981, Pub.L.No.97-35, 95 Stat. 357 (1981). First, the standard deduction for a household's earned income work expenses was reduced from twenty percent to eighteen percent. Second, the Omnibus Act converted the eligibility test for food stamps from a 100% of the poverty line net income test to a 130% of the poverty line gross income test.

 Pennsylvania intends to implement these changes effective November 1, 1981. A general notice will be sent to all 450,000 food stamp recipients in the Commonwealth reading as follows:

 
Due to changes in Food Stamp Program regulations, your Food Coupon Authorization may show a change in "Coupons That You Will Get."
 
If you disagree with discontinuance of your benefits or the change in the amount of your coupons, you have the right to request a Fair Hearing. Contact your County Assistance Office worker for help in requesting a fair hearing. *fn2"

 The record shows that these changes will affect 50,000 Pennsylvania households currently receiving food stamps based on data in the Commonwealth's computer data base. As a result, approximately 4,000 households now receiving food stamps will be cut off entirely, suffering an average loss of $ 24.60 per month. The range of benefit loss, however, is from $ 2 or $ 3 to $ 156 per month, depending on family size. Forty thousand additional households face reductions of an average of two to three dollars of benefits each month. *fn3"

 Plaintiffs brought this action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief prohibiting the Commonwealth from implementing these reductions or terminations in food stamp benefits without providing timely and adequate notice to the affected households. At plaintiffs' request, I ordered the parties to appear before this court for a hearing on plaintiffs' request for a temporary restraining order and/or a preliminary injunction. I have elected to treat plaintiffs' application as a motion for a preliminary injunction and, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65(a)(2), I order consolidation of the hearing on this motion with the trial of the action on the merits and treat the motion as one for a permanent injunction. *fn4"

 For the reasons fully discussed in the remainder of this opinion, I find for plaintiffs, and enjoin defendants, their officers, agents, employees, and servants from reducing and/or terminating plaintiffs' food stamp benefits without constitutionally adequate notice.

 II. Applicable Law

 A. Standards for Granting a Permanent Injunction

 A district court deciding whether a permanent injunction should be issued must undertake a three stage inquiry. First, the court must decide whether plaintiffs have actually succeeded on the merits of their claim. Second, the court must decide whether the "balance of equities" favors the granting of injunctive relief. Finally, the court needs to decide what form the injunctive remedy should take. See, e.g., Sierra Club v. Alexander, 484 F. Supp. 455, 471 (N.D.N.Y.), aff'd, 633 F.2d 206 (2d Cir. 1980); Minnesota Public Interest Research Group v. Butz, 358 F. Supp. 584 (D.Minn.1973), aff'd, 498 F.2d 1314 (8th Cir. 1974). Particularly when "balancing the equities," the trial judge should exercise his discretion in determining the propriety of injunctive relief. Among the factors traditionally considered in this balance are: the adequacy of another remedy; the benefit to the plaintiff if injunctive relief is granted and hardship if such relief is denied; the hardship on the defendant if injunctive relief is granted; the hardship on third parties; the convenience and effectiveness of administration; and the public and social consequences of either granting or denying injunctive relief. See J. Moore, 7 Moore's Federal Practice, P 65.18(3), at 65-136 to 65-140.1 (1980).

 B. Substantive Evaluation

 Initially, I note that, under the legal standards of this procedural due process case, the first two inquiries in my decision whether to issue a permanent injunction involve precisely the same judgments. Thus, the determination whether a plaintiff asserting fourteenth amendment procedural due process claims has prevailed on the merits requires a balancing of the equities under the substantive rules laid down for these claims by the Supreme Court. See Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 96 S. Ct. 893, 47 L. Ed. 2d 18 (1976); Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 90 S. Ct. 1011, 25 L. Ed. 2d 287 (1970). My conclusion that plaintiffs have ...


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