United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Wong, pro se, for Plaintiff
A. Sonnenberg, Assistant Attorney General, Minnesota Attorney
General's Office, counsel for Defendants Minnesota
Department of Human Services and Emily Johnson Piper,
Commissioner of Minnesota Department of Human Services.
A. Beitz, Senior Assistant County Attorney, and Daniel D.
Kaczor, Assistant County Attorney, Hennepin County
Attorney's Office, 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 United States District Judge
matter initially came 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). The Court granted the State
Defendants' and the County Defendants' Motions. (Doc.
No. 33.) The Order and Judgment was subsequently appealed to
the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed in part
and vacated in part and remanded the case back to this Court
for further proceedings consistent with the Eighth
Circuit's opinion. (Doc. Nos. 38, 39.)
Court requested that the parties submit letters detailing
what issues remained to be considered following the Eighth
Circuit's opinion. The parties agreed with the outline of
the issues submitted by the State Defendants. (Doc. No. 44.)
This opinion will address those issues.
a state agency that provides services for people with
disabilities, including a financial support program called
Minnesota Supplemental Aid (“MSA”). (Doc. No. 1
(“Compl.”) ¶ 9.) HCHS is a county agency
that administers MSA. (Id. ¶ 11.) Johnson Piper
is the Commissioner of DHS. (Id. ¶ 10.)
Holzemer is the Director of HCHS. (Id. ¶ 12.)
Wong alleges that he is currently, and has been for two years
prior to filing his Complaint, 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.)
Wong 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, Mr.
Wong became ineligible to receive GA payments. (Id.
¶ 34.) Mr. Wong 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.) Mr. Wong further
alleges that, in August 2011, he was again verbally denied
MSA benefits after submitting a written application.
(Id. ¶ 35.) Mr. Wong asserts that he sent
“multiple written appeals” to HCHS supervisors
and that, on August 31, 2012, HCHS reconsidered its position
and approved Mr. Wong for the special diets benefit, but did
not approve the shelter needy benefits. (Id.
Wong alleges that he continued to appeal “the action
and inactions of HCHS” and the denial of benefits.
(Id. ¶¶ 37-43.) In April 2013, Mr. Wong
alleges that the 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.)
Wong asserts that he appealed this decision in writing.
(Id. ¶¶ 41, 43.) Mr. Wong alleges that
HCHS was unresponsive. (Id.)
15, 2013, Mr. Wong 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.) Mr. Wong 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 Case Assistance
(“PCA”) assessment could be waived.
(Id.) 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.)
appeal, Mr. Wong 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.) Mr. Wong 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.)
August 22, 2013, Human Services Judge Marion F. Rucker (the
“HSJ”) held an evidentiary hearing pursuant to
Minnesota Statute section 256.045, subdivision 3,
addressing the following issue on appeal:
“Whether the County agency correctly denied [Mr.
Wong's] request for the [MSA] housing allowance on the
grounds, he does not meet the eligibility criteria.”
(Id. at 2.) At the hearing, Mr. Wong entered several
exhibits. (Doc. No. 19 (“Aba-Onu Aff.”) ¶ 3,
Decision of State Agency on Appeal (“HSJ
Decision”), the HSJ found that a PCA assessment was
required and that Mr. Wong was not eligible for shelter needy
benefits without one, despite being otherwise qualified.
(Decision of State Agency on Appeal at 2-5.) Specifically,
the HSJ made the following findings of fact and conclusions
5. It is the agency's position the appellant does not
meet the eligibility criteria for a MSA shelter needy
allowance because he did not relocate to the community from
an institution or treatment center; is not eligible for
Personal Care Assistant (PCA) services (he has not had a PCA
assessment) and does not receive waiver services. However, he
meets all other requirements. He is on a waiting list for
subsidized housing, he is under age 65 and his shelter needy
expenses exceed 40 percent of his income.
. . .
10. The appellant's eligibility for MSA is not at
dispute. What is at dispute is whether he meets the
eligibility criteria for a MSA shelter needy allowance. It is
the representative's position an exception should be made
for the requirement of having a PCA assessment because the
appellant's diagnoses of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome proves
his eligibility for PCA services. He further argued the
appellant should be allowed reasonable accommodations under
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The judge
concludes reasonable accommodations can be made, if needed,
when conducting a PCA assessment. However, Title II of the
Americans with Disabilities Act does not negate the
requirements set forth in law for a MSA shelter needy
allowance or PCA assessments.
11. The judge concludes the appellant does not meet the
eligibility criteria for a shelter needy allowance based on
the law set forth under conclusions of law three. To qualify
for the MSA needy shelter allowance, the appellant must
receive PCA services. Pursuant to the law, an assessment for
PCA services must be completed and the appellant must be
determined eligible for services. There is no exception to
this requirement. Therefore, the judge concludes the
appellant does not qualify for the MSA shelter needy
allowance. Accordingly, it is recommended the agency's
decision not to approve the appellant for a MSA shelter needy
allowance be upheld.
(Id. at 2, 4-5.) On October 30, 2013, the
Commissioner adopted the HSJ's recommended findings of
fact, conclusions of law, and order (the “HSJ