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Wong v. Minnesota Department of Human Services

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

September 26, 2014

Eric Wong, Plaintiff,
v.
Minnesota Department of Human Services; Lucinda Jesson, in her capacity as Commissioner of Minnesota Department of Human Services; Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department; and Rex. A. Holzemer, in his capacity as Director of Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department; Defendants.

Paul R. Hansmeier, Esq., Class Justice PLLC, counsel for Plaintiff.

Uzodima Franklin Aba-Onu, Assistant Attorney General, counsel for Defendants Minnesota Department of Human Services and Lucinda Jesson, Commissioner of Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Toni A. Beitz, Senior Assistant County Attorney, and Daniel D. Kaczor, Assistant County Attorney, counsel for Defendants Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department and Rex A. Holzemer, Director of Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DONOVAN W. FRANK, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss brought by the Minnesota Department of Human Services ("DHS") and Lucinda Jesson, Commissioner of Minnesota Department of Human Services ("the Commissioner") (together, "State Defendants") (Doc. No. 16); and a Motion to Dismiss brought by Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department ("HCHS") and Rex A. Holzemer, Director of HCHS ("Holzemer") (together, "County Defendants") (Doc. No. 22) (collectively "Defendants"). For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the motions.

BACKGROUND

DHS is a state agency that provides services for people with disabilities, including a financial support program called Minnesota Supplemental Aid ("MSA").[1] (Doc. No. 1 ("Compl.") ¶ 9.) HCHS is a county agency that administers MSA. ( Id. ¶ 11.) Jesson is the Commissioner of Minnesota DHS. ( Id. ¶ 10.) Holzemer is the Director of HCHS. ( Id. ¶ 12.)

Plaintiff Eric Wong ("Plaintiff") alleges that he is currently, and has been for the past two years, receiving SSI benefits from the federal government on the basis of his disability-Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a genetic disorder caused by a "defect in the synthesis of collagen" that results in elasticity of joints, blood vessels, and organs. ( Id. ¶¶ 2, 8 & Ex. A ("Decision of State Agency on Appeal") at 2.)

Plaintiff began receiving general assistance benefits ("GA") from the State in late 2005, and soon thereafter began the process of seeking SSI. (Compl. ¶ 32.) Upon being found eligible for SSI in March 2011, Plaintiff became ineligible to receive GA payments. ( Id. ¶ 34.) Plaintiff alleges that he sought MSA benefits for medically necessary diets and housing assistance and that, in March 2011, HCHS initially denied MSA assistance based on a verbal screening process. ( Id. ) Plaintiff further alleges that in August 2011, he was again verbally denied MSA benefits after submitting a written application. ( Id. ¶ 35.) Plaintiff asserts that he sent "multiple written appeals" to HCHS supervisors and that, on August 31, 2012, HCHS reconsidered its position and approved Plaintiff for the special diets benefit, but did not approve the shelter needy benefits. ( Id. ¶¶ 35-36.)

Plaintiff alleges that he continued to appeal "the action and inactions of HCHS" and the denial of benefits. ( Id. ¶¶ 37-43.) In April 2013, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants notified him of a reduction in benefits because of a reported increase in his federal benefits; this included completely closing his MSA account. ( Id. ¶ 41.) Plaintiff asserts that he appealed this decision in writing. ( Id. ¶¶ 41, 43.) Plaintiff alleges that HCHS was unresponsive. ( Id. )

On July 15, 2013, Plaintiff filed an administrative appeal with DHS because of the alleged unresponsiveness of HCHS and lack of action on his appeal to reinstate MSA benefits. ( Id. ¶ 44.) Plaintiff also requested back payments of his special diets benefits under MSA and that reasonable accommodations be made in his application for shelter needy benefits so that a required Personal Care Assistance ("PCA") assessment[2] could be waived. ( Id. )[3] Two of these issues-the MSA back payments of special diet benefits and the reinstatement of his MSA case-were resolved before the administrative hearing took place. ( Id. ¶ 45.)

In his appeal, Plaintiff alleged that the required PCA assessment would pose a danger to his physical health if given by someone who was not familiar with his rare genetic disorder. ( Id. ¶ 44.) Plaintiff instead requested that, as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), other "documentation of his limitations in major life activities" be accepted in lieu of a PCA assessment for proof of eligibility for shelter needy benefits. (Decision of State Agency on Appeal at 3.)

On August 22, 2013, Human Services Judge Marion F. Rucker (the "HSJ") held an evidentiary hearing pursuant to Minnesota Statute section 256.045, subdivision 3, [4] addressing the following issue on appeal: "Whether the County agency correctly denied [Plaintiff's] request for the [MSA] housing allowance on the grounds, he does not meet the eligibility criteria." ( Id. at 2.) At the hearing, Plaintiff entered several exhibits. (Doc. No. 19 ("Aba-Onu Aff.") ¶ 3, Ex. B.)

In a Decision of State Agency on Appeal dated October 29, 2013, the HSJ found that a PCA assessment was required and that Plaintiff was not eligible for shelter needy benefits without one, despite being otherwise qualified. (Decision of State Agency on Appeal at 2-5.) ...


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