Lavine v. Milne - 424 U.S. 577 (1976)


U.S. Supreme Court

Lavine v. Milne, 424 U.S. 577 (1976)

Lavine v. Milne

No. 74-1137

Argued December 2, 1975

Decided March 3, 1976

424 U.S. 577

Syllabus

A New York welfare statute disqualifies from the receipt of Home Relief benefits for 75 days anyone who voluntarily terminates his employment or reduces his earning capacity for the purpose of qualifying for benefits, and further provides, by way of a "rebuttable presumption," that a person who applies for assistance within 75 days after so voluntarily terminating his employment or reducing his earning capacity shall be "deemed" to have done so "for the purpose of qualifying for such assistance or a larger amount thereof, in the absence of evidence to the contrary supplied by such person." In this action challenging the constitutionality of the latter provision, a three-judge District Court held the provision to be violative of due process.

Held: The "rebuttable presumption" provision does not deny due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 424 U. S. 582-587.

(a) The provision's sole purpose is to indicate that, as with other eligibility requirements, the applicant, rather than the State, must establish that he did not leave employment for the purpose of qualifying for benefits, and the only "rebuttable presumption," if it can be so called, is the normal assumption that an applicant is not entitled to benefits unless and until he proves his eligibility. Pp. 424 U. S. 583-585.

(b) The fact that, under the prescribed procedure, a decision, even one favorable to an applicant, ensuing from a hearing at which the applicant may appeal an adverse decision by the local welfare official need not be handed down until 90 days from the date the hearing was requested, thus extending beyond the 75-day waiting period, does not render such hearing procedure meaningless. The procedure for ascertaining the applicant's purpose in quitting his job is no different from the procedure for determining any of the other substantive requirements for welfare eligibility, and nothing in the Constitution requires that benefits be initiated prior to the determination of an applicant's qualifications

Page 424 U. S. 578

at an adjudicatory hearing. Even if an inordinately large number of applicants are initially denied benefits incorrectly because of a false evaluation of their motives in resigning jobs, the constitutionality of the procedure is not placed in doubt, since the Fourteenth Amendment does not guarantee that all state officials' decisions will be correct, and New York would seem to have no incentive to deny benefits wrongfully. Pp. 424 U. S. 586-587.

(c) Even if the benefits are so small no one would be tempted to leave a job to receive them, and the practical difficulty of proving one's state of mind may frequently lead to incorrect denial of benefits, and even assuming, arguendo, that the burden of the "rebuttable presumption" provision on the industrious indigent far outweighs any conceivable gain to the State from screening out the indolent few, New York nevertheless prefers its chosen course, and it is not for this Court to assay the wisdom of that determination. P. 424 U. S. 587.

384 F.Supp. 206, reversed and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all Members joined except STEVENS, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.



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