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Hendrick v. New Hampshire Department of Health & Human Services

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

August 2, 2016


          Argued: January 13, 2016


          New Hampshire Legal Assistance, of Concord and Portsmouth (Ruth D. Heintz and Kay E. Drought on the brief, and Ms. Heintz orally), for the plaintiffs.

          Joseph A. Foster, attorney general (MaryBeth L. Misluk, attorney, and Lynmarie Cusack, assistant attorney general, on the brief, and Ms. Misluk orally), for the defendant.

          United States Department of Justice, of Washington, D.C. (Jeffrey E. Sandberg, attorney, on the brief), and United States Attorney's Office, of Concord (T. David Plourde, chief, civil division, on the brief), as amicus curiae.

          Disability Rights Center - NH, of Concord (C. Adrienne Mallinson on the brief), for the Disability Rights Center - NH, the New Hampshire Association of Special Education Administrators, and the National Disability Rights Network, as amici curiae.

          DALIANIS, C.J.

         The plaintiffs, Carrie Hendrick and Jamie Birmingham, appeal an order of the Superior Court (Smukler, J.) granting summary judgment to the defendant, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). We reverse and remand.

         I. Legal Framework

         The issue before us is the constitutionality of New Hampshire Administrative Rules, He-W 654.04(c). The rule requires DHHS to include a child's federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) in the calculation of a family's eligibility for benefits under the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF), as administered by the State's Financial Assistance to Needy Families program (FANF). We hold that the rule violates the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution. See U.S. CONST. art. VI, cl. 2. For context, we provide a brief overview of the applicable federal and state statutes and regulations.

         A. Federal Law

         1. SSI

         The SSI program, codified as Title XVI of the Social Security Act, is a needs-based federal assistance program that sets a "guaranteed minimum income level" for individuals "who have attained age 65" or who "are blind or disabled." Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 524 (1990) (quotations omitted); see 42 U.S.C. § 1381 (2012). SSI payments are funded by the federal government and administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). See 42 U.S.C. § 1383 (2012 & Supp. II 2014).

         For a child to be eligible for SSI payments, the child must be blind or disabled and have limited income and resources. See 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a)(1) (2012). A child is "disabled" if he or she has a "physical or mental impairment" that results in "marked and severe functional limitations, " and which can be expected either to result in death or to last continuously for at least one year. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i) (2012). The requirement that the child have limited income and resources is met when the child has less than a certain amount in assets, 20 C.F.R. § 416.1205(a), (c) (2015), and "countable income" below the federal financial benefit rate, 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.1110-416.1182 (2015).

         For SSI beneficiaries who are unable to manage their own payments "due to a mental or physical condition or due to their youth, " the beneficiary's payments are directed to a third-party "representative payee." 20 C.F.R. § 416.601(b) (2015); see 42 U.S.C. § 1383(a)(2)(A)(ii)(I) (2012). The statute directs the representative payee to use SSI funds "for the use and benefit" of the child. 42 U.S.C. § 1383(a)(2)(A)(ii)(I). A representative payee who "converts such payment, or any part thereof, to a use other than for the use and benefit of" the child commits "misuse of benefits." 42 U.S.C. § 1383(a)(2)(A)(iv) (2012). A representative payee who commits "misuse of benefits" is subject to a range of civil and criminal penalties. See, e.g., 42 U.S.C. § 1383a(a)(4) (2012) (fine and/or imprisonment of up to 5 years); id. § 1383(a)(2)(H)(i) (2012) (restitution); id. § 1383a(b) (2012) (same).

         The statute authorizes the SSA to implement regulations in administering the SSI program, 42 U.S.C. § 405(a) (2012), including prescribing "the meaning of the term 'use and benefit' for purposes" of preventing misuse of benefits, id. § 1383(a)(2)(A)(iv) (2012). The SSA has promulgated "[d]etailed regulations govern[ing] a representative payee's use of [SSI] benefits." Washington State Dept. of Social and Health Servs. v. Guardianship Estate of Keffeler, 537 U.S. 371, 376 (2003). A representative payee who receives SSI funds on behalf of a disabled child must "[u]se the benefits received on [the child's] behalf only for [the child's] use and benefit in a manner and for the purposes [the representative payee] determines . . . to be in [the child's] best interests." 20 C.F.R. § 416.635(a) (2015). SSI funds that "are used for the [child's] current maintenance" are considered to "have been used for the use and benefit of the [child]." 20 C.F.R. § 416.640(a) (2015). "Current maintenance includes costs incurred in obtaining food, shelter, clothing, medical care and personal comfort items." Id. In addition, the representative payee must "[e]nsure that [the child is] receiving treatment to the extent considered medically necessary and available for the condition that was the basis for providing benefits if [the child is] under age 18." 20 C.F.R. ยง 416.635(g) (2015) (citation omitted). Any funds not spent on the child's current maintenance must be ...

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