Wheeler v. Montgomery (1970)

Procedural due process requires a pre-termination evidentiary hearing before welfare payments may be discontinued or suspended.

Citation: 397 U.S. 280 (1970)
Date decided: Mar 23, 1970
Longer case name: Wheeler et al. v. Montgomery, Director, Department of Social Welfare of California, et al.
Law type: Civil
Jurisdiction level:Federal
State of origin: California
Topic(s):Due process and Public assistance
Lists:Important cases
Attorneys:Peter E. Sitkin (San Francisco Neighborhood Legal Assistance Foundation) argued the cause for appellants. With him on the briefs were Steven J. Antler and Charles Stephen Ralston.
Others involved:Solicitor General Griswold, Assistant Attorney General Ruckelshaus, and Robert V. Zener filed a brief for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance. Thomas L. Fike filed a brief for the Legal Aid Society of Alameda County as amicus curiae.
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Case Importance

Gene Doyle, Western New York Law Center, “Fair Hearings Must Comply with Constitutionally Protected Due Process”, updated 2017, http://www.wnylc.com/kb_wnylc/entry/5/: “In the landmark case of Goldberg v Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 264 (1970), brought by New York City public assistance recipients, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “when welfare is discontinued, only a pre-termination evidentiary hearing provides the recipient with procedural due process.” In the context of a Fair Hearing, the high court declared that due process “principles require that a recipient have timely and adequate notice detailing the reasons for a proposed termination, and an effective opportunity to defend by confronting any adverse witnesses and by presenting his own arguments and evidence orally.” In Goldberg and a companion case, Wheeler v Montgomery, 397 U.S. 280 (1970), the Supreme Court limited its due process holding to instances where “welfare” [i.e., public assistance] benefits were being discontinued [Goldberg] or suspended [Wheeler]. Just two months later, in Daniel v Goliday, 398 U.S. 73 (1970), the Supreme Court deferred to extend its due process holding to instances where welfare benefits were reduced. Fortunately, the federal agency responsible for overseeing the various federally-funded public and medical assistance programs promulgated regulations, which extended the Goldberg/Wheeler due process protections to reductions determinations. See 45 CFR § 205.10. These regulations imposed additional notice and hearing requirements on states that participated in the various federally-funded public and medical assistance programs. Similar “adequate” notice standards were imposed on eligibility determinations. In 1979, similar regulations were separately promulgated for the federally funded medical assistance (Medicaid) program. The Food Stamp Program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), imposes similar notice and hearing requirements. The U.S. Supreme Court has concluded that its due process holding in Goldberg also applies to the Food Stamp Program, now SNAP.”

Case Details

(The syllabus is not part of the opinion, but is a summary prepared by the court reporter as a convenience.)



In a class action brought by recipients of old age benefits who are subject to California welfare termination provisions, a three-judge District Court upheld the California pre-termination review procedure in welfare cases, though it does not afford the recipient an evidentiary hearing at which he may personally appear to offer oral evidence and confront adverse witnesses.

Held: Procedural due process requires a pre-termination evidentiary hearing before welfare payments may be discontinued or suspended. Goldberg v. Kelly, ante, p. 254. Pp. 281-282.

296 F. Supp. 138, reversed.

From the opinion

Last modified: 2022-12-27 12:59
Case internal grade: A | Case internal status: OK |
Case internal status notes: