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HILL v. O'BANNON

December 24, 1982

Nadine HILL, Barbara Barley, Manuel Guzman, on their own behalf and on behalf of the class they seek to represent, Plaintiffs,
v.
Helen B. O'BANNON, Secretary of Public Welfare, in her individual and official capacity, and Don Jose Stovall, Executive Director of the Philadelphia County Board of Assistance, in his individual and official capacity, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SHAPIRO

 SHAPIRO, District Judge.

 This case arises on a motion for preliminary and permanent injunctive relief filed by plaintiffs Nadine Hill, Barbara Barley and Manuel Guzman. Ms. Hill and Ms. Barley now seek to represent a class of persons deemed to have been awarded General Assistance (GA) after April 8, 1982 but before September 1, 1982, and to enjoin implementation of certain provisions of the amendments to the Public Welfare Code, Act 1982-75 (Act 75) enacted April 8, 1982, until such time as the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) provides them with adequate notice and opportunity for hearing.

 An evidentiary hearing was held on plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction on December 9, 1982.

 I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

 On April 8, 1982, the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania enacted Act 75, amending the Act of June 13, 1967, Pub.L. 31, No. 21, known as the Public Welfare Code, 62 P.S. § 101 et seq. The provision of Act 75 presently in dispute is section 10, amending the introductory paragraph and clause (3) of Section 432 of the Public Welfare Code.

 Before April 8, 1982, General Assistance was a state funded cash grant program for individuals of low income who did not qualify for any other public assistance grant program such as the federal-state Aid to Families with Dependent Children Program. Section 10 of Act 75 divided the persons eligible for General Assistance into two groups and eligibility was limited for one of them. Persons otherwise eligible are categorized transitionally needy or chronically needy. Chronically needy persons must meet the pre-existing eligibility criteria and one of eight additional requirements. *fn2" Persons found chronically needy remain eligible so long as they meet all eligibility requirements for that status. The transitionally needy are those persons otherwise eligible for General Assistance who do not qualify as chronically needy; transitionally needy persons may not receive assistance for more than 90 days in any 12-month period. Act 75 also provides that all persons receiving General Assistance on the date of enactment, April 8, 1982, will be treated as if chronically needy until December 31, 1982 but not thereafter. Section 10 of Act 75 was to become effective 60 days after enactment. In June and July, 1982 the Department of Public Welfare adopted regulations to implement it, Chapter 141 of the Public Assistance Eligibility Manual, 55 Pa.Code, Chapter 141, adopted June 26, 1982. But DPW did not actually begin implementation of Act 75 until September 1, 1982.

 II. THE CLASS

 The plaintiffs seek to represent a class of persons who in fact qualified for General Assistance after April 8, the date Act 75 was enacted, but before September 1, 1982, the date the Act was implemented, or persons who have been deemed by DPW to be so situated. Those recipients receiving General Assistance benefits on or before April 8 are "grandfathered" under the Act; they are deemed chronically needy at least until December 31, 1982 so long as they continue to comply with all employment and other requirements of the Act. Plaintiffs do not seek to include such persons in the class nor do they seek to represent new applicants for assistance after September 1. As to this narrowly defined class of persons awarded benefits between April 8 and September 1, 1982, the Commonwealth defendants have acted or refused to act on grounds generally applicable to the class, which makes appropriate injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief with respect to the class as a whole. Therefore, this action may be maintained as a class action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2) so long as the prerequisites of Rule 23(a) are satisfied.

 The Court finds the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable. The precise number of class members is not known with certainty. The Acting Director for Eastern Income Operations testified that a total of 67,000 of all those receiving assistance were estimated to be in the transitionally needy category in October, 1982, and that 7,000 persons placed on General Assistance in Philadelphia County between April 8 and August 31 have been notified of termination of assistance as transitionally needy. But there seems no question that the number of persons meets the class action standard. There are questions of constitutional law common to the class regarding the adequacy of notice and right to a predetermination hearing and the representative parties, with the aid of their able counsel, experienced in cases of this nature, will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

 The Court further finds that plaintiff Barbara L. Barley is an appropriate class representative *fn3" because her claims are typical of those of the class. Ms. Barley had been receiving General Assistance prior to April 8, 1982 but on June 2, 1982 at her request, she changed status to receive assistance under Aid to Families with Dependent Children instead of General Assistance; on July 7, 1982 she began receiving General Assistance benefits once again. As a result of her change in status after Act 75 was enacted, Ms. Barley lost her eligibility for General Assistance as chronically needed under the "grandmother" clause and therefore has been treated as if newly eligible for General Assistance after enactment of Act 75. Ms. Barley was not told at the time of her change in status that it might affect her benefits under Act 75.

 On September 13, 1982, Ms. Barley was sent a form letter, Exhibit P-1, p. 17 stating that she must be considered transitionally needy and therefore she would receive General Assistance only until January 17, 1983. That same day, Ms. Barley's income maintenance worker, on learning that she had incorrectly calculated the termination date, sent Ms. Barley a second form letter together with what is called a 162A "Advance Notice" stating that benefits would cease on December 12, 1982. The 162A form stated if Ms. Barley appealed this determination and requested a hearing within 10 days, or prior to September 23, 1982, her assistance would be continued pending the hearing decision. Ms. Barley spoke with her caseworker shortly after receipt of these two conflicting notices and was told that the second notice was correct.

 On October 22, 1982, Ms. Barley met with a new caseworker. This meeting was a regular six-month interview, but the case worker did not have Ms. Barley's file at that time. Therefore, at this meeting Ms. Barley was incorrectly informed that she would be grandfathered because she was receiving benefits prior to April 8. Another meeting was held on November 1 at which time this caseworker told Ms. Barley that her termination notice had been correctly issued.

 On November 26, 1982 Ms. Barley was sent a form 162C "Confirming Notice" that her benefits would be terminated on December 16, 1982. This notice stated that she had 30 days to appeal the Department of Public Welfare action and request a hearing but said nothing about her benefits continuing if she did so. Ms. Barley never received a copy of the "Handout for Clients," page 19 of Exhibit P-1, which was posted at some County Assistance offices some time in late September.

 III. THE MERITS

 The standard for granting a preliminary injunction is clear. To be entitled to a preliminary injunction a plaintiff must show a reasonable probability of eventual success on the merits of the litigation, and irreparable injury pending litigation if the relief is not granted. The Court must also take into consideration the possibility of harm to other interested persons from the grant ...


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