On July 24, 2013, a group of Michigan residents who were denied Food Assistance Program (FAP) benefits filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against the Michigan Department of Human Services (MDHS). The plaintiffs, represented by the Center for Civil Justice and the ACLU of Michigan, sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and federal SNAP law, alleging they were improperly denied food assistance.
The plaintiffs received notifications that they were ineligible for Food Assistance due to a "criminal justice disqualification." The notification provided no specific information about the reasons for or the nature of the disqualification and only instructed them to contact a law enforcement agency to resolve the issue. The plaintiffs alleged the letters lacked proper notice and thus denied rights under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The plaintiffs also claimed both the substance and application of MDHS’s decision to deny benefits to all people with an outstanding felony warrant violated the “fleeing felon” standard set by the federal government.
Michigan’s “fugitive felon” policy and practice disqualified people through a match program without confirming person was actually sought by law enforcement. Federal SNAP law prohibited this, instead disqualifying only fleeing felons, and only if the government made a finding that law enforcement officials are actively seeking the individual, and that the individual knew his or her apprehension was sought and was intentionally fleeing from justice.
The plaintiffs requested a preliminary injunction to provide immediate relief for those who relied on FAP benefits and would suffer irreparable harm while they waited for the resolution of the case without the food assistance.
The plaintiffs also requested that the court certify the plaintiffs’ class and order a permanent injunction for the defendant to reinstate assistance and resume processing FAP applications for the class, provide past benefits due, and notify all class members of any relief granted.
On September 25, 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Bernard A. Friedman denied the plaintiffs’ request for preliminary injunction. On May 13, 2014, the case was re-assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Judith Levy.
On October 28, 2013, the plaintiffs filed for class certification and on November 28, 2013 filed for summary judgment. On September 30, 2014 the defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment.
On January 9, 2015, Judge Levy ruled on all three motions. Judge Levy granted the class certification and ruled for the plaintiffs in summary judgement for all but one plaintiff, who was dismissed. 79 F. Supp. 3d 712.
On January 23, 2015 the defendants moved for reconsideration and a stay pending the outcome of the reconsideration. On March 24, 2015, Judge Levy issued an order denying the defendant’s motion for reconsideration, stating their motion was more “petulance than substance” and that none of the defendant's four claims had a proper ground for reconsideration. 2015 WL 1322728.
On March 31, 2015, the defendants appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and requested a motion to stay pending the appeal.
On May 18, 2015 the plaintiffs motioned an order to show cause, suggesting the defendants should be held in contempt for failing to implement the changes ordered by the court. And on June 5, 2015, Judge Levy denied the defendant’s motion to stay pending the appeal.
On July 1, 2015 the plaintiffs requested expedited post-judgment discovery in order to determine if the defendant had taken all reasonable steps to comply with the Court’s January 9, March 30 and 31 orders. On September 1, 2015, Judge Levy granted the plaintiffs’ motion for post judgement discovery and motion for an order to show cause. Judge Levy noted that the plaintiffs had established, by clear and convincing evidence, that the defendant had not stopped the conduct declared unlawful and enjoined by the Court.
On September 23, 2015 the parties reached a settlement agreement. The defendant agreed to work with the plaintiff on implementing the court-ordered changes to their administration of FAP, and the plaintiffs agreed to stipulate the dismissal of their motion to show cause once the changes were implemented. On March 30, 2016, Judge Levy dismissed the plaintiffs’ motion to show cause upon the parties' agreement that the terms of the Settlement Agreement had been met.
On August 25, 2016, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s opinion and remanded the case for continued enforcement of the permanent injunction. Noel Ripberger - 09/24/2014
Kelly Ehrenreich - 11/10/2016