Ind. App.: Due Process & ADA Violations in Denial of Benefits

In a case involving Medicaid, Food Stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the intermediate appellate court in Indiana held that it violated procedural due process for a notice to say that the beneficiary failed to provide needed documents, without specifying precisely which document was missing.  In addition, offering a telephone interview and not an in-person interview to an individual with a hearing impairment violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The case was brought by the ACLU of Indiana.  Perdue v. Murphy, 938 N.E.2d 766 (Ind.App. Dec. 3, 2010).

Indiana privatized its eligibility determination process for benefits including TANF, SNAP, Food Stamps, and Medicaid.  Under its new system, hard copies of documents were no longer kept and in-person interviews were not offered.

When an applicant failed to provide a document needed to determine eligibility, Indiana sent a notice that the benefits were denied due to failure to cooperate in establishing eligibility.  The notice did not indicate which document was missing.  The state argued that if it made a mistake, the applicant could appeal.  The beneficiaries responded that an appeal would not be meaningful, because they did not know which document they allegedly did not provide.  The court concluded that beneficiaries’ “may not effectively exercise a right to be heard on appeal absent sufficient information to adequately prepare for and pursue the appeal. Mindful that an individual receiving an … adverse action notice likely has a physical, mental, or economic disadvantage (or combination thereof), it is unreasonable to expect that the recipient can act to protect his or her interests without specific information.”  Considering the burden on the state, the court found that it was no great burden for a caseworker to specify which document was missing.  Beneficiaries, proceeding as a class, therefore prevailed on summary judgment and were entitled to an injunction.

The trial court had held that the state violated due process by issuing a SNAP denial notice based on “failure to cooperate” rather than the regulatory standard of “refusal to cooperate.”  The appellate court summarily affirmed this holding, finding that the injunction was not overbroad.

Class certification had been denied for a disabled individual with a hearing impairment, Sheila Perdue, but she prevailed individually.  She had difficulty hearing during her telephone interview, but her request for an in-person interview was denied.  She travelled to the Help Center for assistance in submitting the required documents, but her request for assistance was denied.  She was cut off from her Medicaid and Food Stamp benefits for failing to comply with documentation requirements.  Perdue alleged that the state had violated the ADA and Rehabilitation Act.  The trial court issued an injunction ordering that the agency could not terminate Perdue “absent provision of accommodation for her disability.”  There was no damages claim, though the court noted the possibility of attorneys’ fees.  The court observed that the agency had been ordered to comply with the law and found no error.

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