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Manirakiza v. Mayhew

Superior Court of Maine, Kennebec

June 28, 2016

EUPHREM MANIRAKIZA and FATIMA NKEMBL Petitioners,
v.
MARY MAYHEW, COMMISSIONER MAINE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAND SERVICES, et al., Respondent.

          ORDER ON CLASS CERTIFICATION, MOTION TO DISMISS, AND PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION

          Michaela Murphy Justice

         I. Background

         Petitioners Euphrem Manirakiza and Fatima Nkembi, were denied food supplement benefits based upon their status as legal noncitizens. Mr. Manirakiza is married to Francine Kanyange. Mr. Manirakiza and his wife both have documentation allowing them to seek employment in the U.S. as of August 2015. Mr. Manirakiza is currently employed and Ms. Kanyange is currently unemployed. They have three children, the youngest of whom was born in the United States and has legal U.S. citizenship. The youngest child currently receives food supplement benefits. Mr. Manirakiza applied for food supplement benefits for his household on August 26, 2015. On or before September 21, 2015, Mr. Manirakiza's' application was denied because he was employed and because there was no longer funding available for unemployed noncitizens with work documentation pursuant to 22 M.R.S. § 3104-A(1)(D) and 10-144 C.M.R. ch. 301, § FS-111-2. at 2c.

         On September 21, 2015, Mr. Manirakiza filed for review of the DHHS denial of his application for food supplement benefits. A hearing officer reviewed a stipulated record and briefs as agreed to by the parties. On December 21, 2015, the Hearing officer issued a recommended decision denying Mr. Manirakiza's appeal. Mr. Manirakiza filed a timely written response and objections with the Division of Administrative Hearings. On January 6, 2016, DHHS issued a final agency decision upholding the initial agency determination.

         Ms. Nkembi applied for food supplement benefits for herself and her two children on January 5, 2015. On August 11, 2015, Ms. Nkembi received work authorization from USCIS. That same day, Ms. Nkembi was notified by DHHS that her food supplement benefits had been reduced from $352 to $139. The reduction represented a termination of food supplement benefits for Ms. Nkembi and her oldest child. Ms. Nkembi's youngest child, a U.S. citizen, continued to receive food supplement benefits.

         On September 1, 2015, Ms. Nkembi timely filed an appeal of the DHHS termination of her food supplement benefits. The matter was submitted to the Hearing Officer on a stipulated record and briefs based upon an agreement between Ms. Nkembi and DHHS. On December 21, 2015, the Hearing officer issued a decision denying Ms. Nkembi's appeal. Ms. Nkembi filed a written response and objections with the Division of Administrative Hearings. On January 6, 2016, DHHS issued a final agency decision affirming the determination that Ms. Nkembi is not eligible for state food supplement benefits due to lack of funding for benefits pursuant to DHHS interpretation of Section 3104-A(1)(D).

         Before the Court are Petitioners' Motion for Class Certification, Petitioners' Motion for Preliminary Injunction, Petitioners' Motion to Specify the Future Course of Proceedings Pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 80C(i), and DHHS's Motion to Dismiss.

         Petitioners bring this action seeking judicial determination that DHHS' current enforcement of the statute, denying food supplement benefits to unemployed noncitizens with work documentation because that fund set aside for this group through June 30, 2015 was exhausted, is not compliant with the statute. Alternatively, Petitioners argue that they were wrongfully denied benefits because the limitations set out by rule had expired.

         II. Authority

         The statute in question, 22 M.R.S. § 3104-A(1)(D), states:

"A noncitizen legally admitted to the United States who is neither receiving assistance on July 1, 2011 nor has an application pending for assistance on July 1, 2011 that is later approved is not eligible for food assistance through a state-funded program unless that noncitizen is:
D. Unemployed but has obtained proper work documentation, as defined by the department by rule. Rules adopted by the department under this paragraph are routine technical rules as defined by Title 5, chapter 375, subchapter 2-A.

         22 M.R.S. § 3104-A(1). The applicable regulation is as follows:

Limited-Period Exception: for hardship pending work documentation and for asylum seekers who meet the criteria for hardship pending work documentation, if work documents have been received but the individual is unemployed state-funded benefits may continue (assuming all other eligibility factors such as income, assets, etc. are met), subject to the following conditions:
1. This limited-period exception is limited to $261, 384 until June 30, 2015. If the funding limit is met prior to June 30, 2015, legal non-citizens with work documentation ...

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