Goldberg v. Kelly
397 U.S. 254 (1970)

  • In NYC, children were receiving Federal aid under a welfare program (Aid to Families with Dependent Children). Without giving prior notice, some people had their aid terminated.
    • There was no requirement of notice or a pre-termination hearing. The checks just stopped coming.
    • Btw, this program was administered by the States, but the money came from the Federal government.
  • Some of the people who had their aid cut off sued, claiming that their right to due process under the 14th Amendment had been violated.
    • State and city officials changed their procedures after the lawsuit was filed. They offered to provide seven days notice, and to have a post-termination hearing if there were doubts.
  • The Trial Court found for the plaintiffs. The City of New York appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that a post-termination hearing was not sufficient.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed. The City of New York appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court affirmed.
    • The US Supreme Court asked three questions about due process; whether, when, and what kind.
    • The Court found that welfare benefits are a property interest, and since the complainants had been deprived of a property interest, they deserved due process. (that’s the whether)
      • Due process is required wherever someone is derived of life, liberty or property.
      • This was a big change in jurisprudence. Up until this case, things like welfare payments were considered a gift and that there was no property interest.
    • The Court found that under the 14th Amendment, due process could only be fulfilled by a pre-termination hearing. (that’s the when)
      • Because people needed the money to live, having a hearing after terminating benefits was not sufficient.
    • The Court found that while the pre-termination hearing did not have to resemble a trial, it needed to meet the following minimum procedural requirements (the what kind):
      • Notice
      • A oral hearing before an impartial decision maker
      • The ability to get a lawyer
      • A compilation of a record (witnesses, evidence)
      • Use of that record as an exclusive basis for decision
      • A formal set of findings and conclusions (although not quite as extensive as what would happen in a trial)
  • In a dissent it was argued that every dollar spent on a trial is one less dollar available to give to the recipients, so it is in society’s interest to limit the number of trials.
  • This case represents a high-water mater in what the minimum procedural requirements are. No case before or since has required as much.
    • For comparison, in Goss v. Lopez (419 U.S. 565) the Court found that a kid facing suspension from school would have due process satisfied simply by having notice and the opportunity to orally comment prior to the suspension. That case represents the minimum due process procedural requirements the Court has ever mandated.
  • One thing conspicuously missing from the Court’s list of things due process requires is the ability to have free legal counsel appointed to you. Rumor is that the Court left this out because they were unsure how much it would cost.
  • Btw, the Court in this case found that there was a requirement for cross-examination. That’s based on Constitutional due process, and goes beyond the Statutory due process rights laid out in the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).
    • In general, the APA goes well beyond constitutional requirements for due process, and it is very rare to find a due process issue in Administrative Law that is constitutionally based.