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Gonzalez v. Young

argued: June 7, 1977.

GONZALEZ, JULIA, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS GUARDIAN AD LITEM FOR LUIS GONZALEZ, AGE 9, AND MANUEL GONZALEZ, AGE 10, AND FURTHER ON BEHALF OF ALL PERSONS SIMILARLY SITUATED, APPELLANT,
v.
YOUNG, JAMES F., DIRECTOR, HUDSON COUNTY WELFARE BOARD AND G. THOMAS RITTI, DIRECTOR, NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF PUBLIC WELFARE



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY (D.C. Civil No. 76-455).

Aldisert, Rosenn and Hunter, Circuit Judges.

Author: Aldisert

ALDISERT, Circuit Judge.

This appeal requires us to resolve a question which was left open by the Supreme Court in Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 39 L. Ed. 2d 577, 94 S. Ct. 1372 (1974), and which has divided the circuits. We are to decide whether the district court had jurisdiction in a claim for damages totalling less than $10,000 and alleging that a state regulation conflicts with a federal statute and therefore must fall because of the Supremacy Clause.

The question is presented in an appeal by Julia Gonzalez from summary judgment in favor of appellees James F. Young, Director of the Hudson County, New Jersey Welfare Board, and G. Thomas Ritti, Director of the New Jersey Division of Public Welfare. The district court, presented with a challenge to New Jersey welfare regulations which allegedly deprived Gonzalez of benefits ensured by a federal statute, determined that no conflict existed between the challenged state regulations and the applicable provisions of the federal statute and accompanying regulations. Because we determine that the district court did not have jurisdiction over this case in the posture in which it was presented, we vacate the district court's order and remand for dismissal of the complaint for want of jurisdiction.

I.

Appellant resides with her two children in Jersey City, New Jersey. Each month, she receives $235.00 under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program (AFDC), 42 U.S.C. § 601 et seq., as well as $157.00 under the Social Security Administration's disability program for her one retarded son. On February 2, 1976, Gonzalez received and cashed both checks at a neighborhood food market. Upon leaving the store, she was accosted by a robber who stole the cash. The following day she explained her situation to the Hudson County Welfare Board, requesting $163.00 in emergency assistance funds to cover her rent and utility bills.

States which elect voluntarily to participate in the federal government's AFDC program dispense the federal monies ("matching funds") obtained under the program according to federal eligibility criteria. Minimum standards for emergency assistance eligibility are set out in 42 U.S.C. § 606(e)(1) and its accompanying regulation, 45 C.F.R. 233.120. The statute provides that emergency assistance to needy families with children embraces cases "where [an eligible] child is without available resources, the payments, care or services involved are necessary to avoid destitution of such child or to provide living arrangements in a home for such child, and such destitution or need for living arrangements did not arise because such child or relative refused without good cause to accept employment or training for employment . . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 606(e)(1).

45 C.F.R. 233.120(a)(1) provides that in order to receive funding, a participating state must specify in a "state plan" the eligibility conditions to be imposed for receipt of emergency assistance. After electing to participate in the AFDC program, New Jersey promulgated the following provision in regard to emergency assistance payments:

When because of an emergent situation over which they have had no control or opportunity to plan in advance, the eligible unit is in a state of homelessness; and the County Welfare Board determines that the providing of shelter and/or food and/or emergency clothing, and/or minimum essential house furnishings are necessary for health and safety, such needs may be recognized in accordance with the regulations and limitations in the following sections.

N.J.A.C. 10:82-5.12. Pursuant to this state regulation, on March 15, 1976, the Hudson County Welfare Board formally denied Gonzalez' request for emergency assistance, stating that no assistance would be granted because Gonzalez was not in an "imminent or actual state of homelessness."

In her complaint to the district court, Gonzalez alleged that appellee Young violated 42 U.S.C. § 606(e)(1) and 45 C.F.R. 233.120 by refusing to authorize emergency assistance in the amount of $163.00 "even though Julia Gonzalez is clearly entitled to same under Federal Law . . . ." She further alleged that appellee Ritti was responsible for "refusing to promulgate meaningful administrative procedures" for the emergency assistance program, a claim which was mooted by subsequently promulgated state regulations. Although not articulated, the gravamen of the complaint, and what is pressed on appeal, is that the New Jersey standard violates federal law because it is more restrictive than the standards mandated by federal statute.

II.

Gonzalez predicated jurisdiction in the district court upon 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343. Section 1983 provides for a federal cause of action to redress the deprivation, under color of state law, "of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws . . . ." We hold that it is not a jurisdictional statute; it only fashions a remedy. Thus, although Gonzalez may have asserted a claim under section 1983, she had to look to other authority to obtain jurisdiction.

At the onset, 28 U.S.C. § 1331 was properly rejected by the district court because the amount in controversy did not exceed $10,000.00. Gonzalez sought only $163.00 in damages, along with declaratory and injunctive relief. Thus, it appears "to a legal certainty that the claim is really for less than the jurisdictional amount." St. Paul Mercury Indemnity Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. ...


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