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Briggs v. Bremby

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

July 6, 2015

JAMES BRIGGS, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHER PERSONS SIMILARLY SITUATED, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
RODERICK BREMBY, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS COMMISSIONER OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, Defendant-Appellant

Argued March 3, 2015

Plaintiff brought suit on behalf of a class of food stamp applicants, arguing that the Food Stamp Act requires the Connecticut Department of Social Services to provide food stamp benefits to all eligible households within 30 or 7 days of application (depending on the household's level of economic need). The District Court granted Plaintiff classwide relief through a preliminary injunction, and Defendant now appeals, arguing that there is no private right of action to enforce the time limits of the Food Stamp Act under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendant further argues that federal regulations permit the Connecticut Department of Social Services to take more time to process food stamp applications, thereby excusing it from the seeming requirements of the statute. We conclude that (1) food stamp applicants can sue under § 1983 to enforce the statutory time limits for provision of food stamps, and (2) federal regulations do not excuse Defendant from providing food stamps within the statutory time limits. We therefore AFFIRM the judgment of the District Court.

MARC COHAN, National Center for Law and Economic Justice, New York, N.Y. (Mary R. Mannix and Greg Bass, National Center for Economic Justice, and Giovanna Shay, Lucy Potter, and Cecil Thomas, Greater Hartford Legal Aid, on the brief), for Plaintiffs-Appellees.

HUGH BARBER, Assistant Attorney General (Rosemary M. McGovern, Assistant Attorney General, on the brief), for George Jepsen, Attorney General of Connecticut, for Defendant-Appellant.

Before: CALABRESI, HALL, and CARNEY, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

CALABRESI, Circuit Judge.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff James Briggs brings this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Social Services (" DSS" ) to enforce the Food Stamp Act's time limits for awarding food stamp benefits. 7 U.S.C. § 2020(e)(3) and (9) provide that participating states shall give such benefits within 30 days of application to eligible households, and within 7 days of application to especially needy households that qualify for expedited benefits. Plaintiff sued in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut to enforce these time limits, and moved to certify a class of similarly situated plaintiffs.

The District Court (Bryant, J. ) certified a class consisting of all past, current, and future Connecticut food stamp applicants whose applications are not processed in a timely manner. The District Court also found that there was credible evidence that " there is ongoing, persistent systemic failure to comply with the strict unambiguous mandates imposed by the [Food Stamp Act]," and entered a preliminary injunction requiring the DSS to process food stamp applications within the statutory deadlines. Briggs v. Bremby, 2012 WL 6026167 at *18-19 (D. Conn. Dec. 4, 2012). Defendant now appeals, arguing a) that the Food Stamp Act does not give Plaintiff a right to the timely receipt of food stamps and, therefore, that Plaintiff cannot seek to enforce these time limits under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and b) that, in any event, federal regulations excuse the DSS from abiding by the seeming statutory deadlines for providing food stamp benefits.

II. DISCUSSION

Where allegations of error in a preliminary injunction involve questions of law, review is de novo. Am. Express Fin. Advisors Inc. v. Thorley, 147 F.3d 229, 231 (2d Cir. 1998).

A. Plaintiff can maintain a private lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to enforce the statutory time limits in 7 U.S.C. § 2020(e)(3) and (9)

7 U.S.C. § 2020(e)(3) states:

The State plan of operation . . . . shall provide . . . . (3) that the State agency shall thereafter promptly determine the eligibility of each applicant household by way of verification of income . . . . household size (in any case such size is questionable), and such other eligibility factors as the Secretary determines to be necessary . . . . so as to complete certification of and provide an allotment retroactive to the period ...

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