HONG PHAM v. COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SERVICES, SC 18582
Judicial District of Hartford
Constitutional Law; Equal Protection; Whether Public Act Violates Plaintiffs' Equal Protection Rights by Effectively Excluding Them from Qualifying for State Funded Medical Assistance Based on Alienage. The federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) made federal medicaid unavailable to a legal alien until the individual has resided in this country for five years but allowed states to decide whether, and to what extent, to offer state benefits to legal aliens. The plaintiffs are a group of impoverished legal aliens who meet the "categorical eligibility requirements" for federal medicaid, that is, they are aged, blind, disabled or a parent of dependent children, but they do not qualify for federal medicaid because they have not resided in this country for five years. The plaintiffs received state funded medical assistance from the State Medical Assistance for Noncitizens program (SMANC), which was designed to provide assistance to legal aliens, like the plaintiffs, who meet the categorical eligibility requirements for federal medicaid but do not qualify for federal medicaid due to the residency requirement. The plaintiffs' benefits were terminated, however, when, due to budgetary concerns, the state legislature enacted Public Acts, Spec. Sess., September, 2009, No. 09-05. Section 64 of the public act amended General Statutes § 17b-257b by terminating benefits under SMANC for most recipients. Additionally, section 55 of the public act effectively rendered the plaintiffs ineligible for benefits from the State Administered General Assistance medical program (SAGA). The plaintiffs had been eligible for SAGA medical benefits because, in accordance with General Statutes § 17b-192, they had insufficient income and assets to meet their basic needs but were "ineligible for [federal] medicaid." Section 55, however, amended the statute to provide that assistance is available only to persons, unlike the plaintiffs, who do not meet the categorical eligibility requirements for federal medicaid. The plaintiffs claim that the public act violates their equal protection rights because it effectively excludes them from qualifying for state funded medical assistance based solely on their alienage. The trial court found that the legislation is subject to strict scrutiny because its classifications are based on alienage, in that it distinguishes between citizens and aliens. The defendant argued that rational basis review is applicable because Congress, which has plenary authority over immigration, authorized the state action through PRWORA. The court disagreed because PRWORA does not provide the states with uniform rules on how they should deal with legal aliens who lost their eligibility for federal medicaid. The court also disagreed with the defendant's argument that Congress, through other sources of power, such as its plenary authority over foreign relations and international commerce, may authorize the states to classify based on alienage. The court then found that the public act violates the plaintiffs' equal protection rights because the state's interest in saving money is not a compelling state interest that would justify its enactment. The defendant appeals to the Supreme Court from the trial court's decision.