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RUNKLE v. COHEN

October 2, 1986

Jesse Runkle, Individually and on Behalf of a class of similarly situated individuals, Plaintiff
v.
Walter Cohen, Individually and as Secretary of the Dept. of Public Welfare, Comm. of Pa., Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CALDWELL

 William W. Caldwell, U.S. District Judge

 Introduction

 Plaintiff, Jesse Runkle, initiated this action challenging the constitutionality of the procedures employed by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare in its administration of the Tax Intercept Program. Plaintiff complains the procedures used by defendant violate due process on the grounds that they do not provide for adequate notice or a hearing. On this basis, plaintiff seeks compensatory and injunctive relief. In addition, plaintiff moves for class action certification. Defendant Cohen has moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that plaintiff lacks standing to pursue this action. For the reasons set forth below, we agree with defendant and will dismiss the complaint and deny the motion for class action certification.

 Background

 In Pennsylvania, the intercept program is operated by the Department of Public Welfare ("DPW"). Each year the DPW prepares an instructional memorandum to advise the county courts of the procedures to be used for the tax refund intercept program during the upcoming year. Prior to 1985, the DPW employed the following procedures:

 
Absent parents must receive a written advance notice before their names are submitted to the IRS for collection by Federal tax offset. This Pre-Offset Notice affords the absent parents the opportunity to contact the appropriate DRS [domestic relation section] if they have questions, want to report an error, or want to pay past due support to avoid offset of the tax refund.

 As a result of several successful challenges to the Tax Intercept Program on due process grounds, the DPW issued new guidelines in 1985. Under the new procedures, the individual's rights were expanded to include the right to a formal administrative hearing and the right to appeal an adverse decision to the appropriate court of common pleas.

 In 1983 and 1984, plaintiff's tax refunds were intercepted by the Internal Revenue Service after receiving a notice of delinquency. Believing that the interceptions were the result of an error by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, he unsuccessfully sought a refund from the DPW. Plaintiff then brought this action asserting that his due process rights were violated by the interceptions. Plaintiff, however, has not been subjected to the intercept program since it was modified in 1985. It is his contention that despite the modifications, the intercept program continues to violate due process, entitling him and the other members of the class to relief.

 Discussion

 Plaintiff brought this suit seeking injunctive relief and monetary damages. However, in a ยง 1983 action brought against a state *fn1" "a federal court's remedial power, consistent with the Eleventh Amendment, is necessarily limited to prospective injunctive relief, Ex Parte Young, supra, and may not include a retroactive award which requires the payment of funds from the state treasury. . . ." Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S 651, 677, 39 L. Ed. 2d 662, 681, 94 S. Ct. 1347, 1362 (1974); Green v. Mansour, 474 U.S. 64, 88 L. Ed. 2d 371, 106 S. Ct. 423 (1985). Thus, the only issue before us is whether plaintiff is entitled to prospective injunctive relief.

 Defendant contends that plaintiff is not entitled to relief because the procedures under which his tax refunds were intercepted are no longer in effect. Defendant further argues that plaintiff lacks standing to contest the new procedures since they have never been applied to him. Plaintiff, on the other hand, insists upon labelling defendant's motion to dismiss as a motion to dismiss for mootness. Because we believe the issues in this case turn on the question of plaintiff's standing, we decline to reach that issue.

 "In essence, the question of standing is whether the litigant is entitled to have the court decide the merits of the dispute or of particular issues." Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498, 45 L. Ed. 2d 343, 354, 95 S. Ct. 2197, 2205 (1975). From a constitutional perspective, standing encompasses a question of justiciability, that is, whether the plaintiff has alleged a case or controversy under Article III of the ...


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