What is the M.K.B. case about?

The M.K.B. case challenges practices by New York City and State welfare officials that systematically and erroneously deny applications for Food Stamps, Medicaid, and public assistance (“public benefits”) by eligible immigrants; deny requests by immigrants to be added to a public benefits case; and discontinue and/or reduce public benefits received by immigrants, because of a systemic misapplication of rules concerning immigrant eligibility for public benefits.

Most affected immigrants are domestic violence survivors who have applied for public benefits based on a Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petition, a pending I-130 petition, or a pending U visa application. Others include immigrants who have had their green cards for less than five years, and persons who are Permanently Residing in the United States Under Color of Law (PRUCOL).

After the court issued a decision in the M.K.B. case granting a preliminary injunction in favor of the plaintiffs and certifying a plaintiff class, the parties reached a settlement of the case.

What did the court’s decision say?

On August 29, 2006, the court found “a very high likelihood that the City will be found liable on all of plaintiffs' claims.” M.K.B. v. Eggleston, 445 F. Supp. 2d 400, 435 (S.D.N.Y. 2006).

  • Federal and state statutes are enforceable. The court held that various federal statutes confer rights that are enforceable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and that plaintiffs have implied rights of action under state law.
  • Liability of the City of New York. The court found that plaintiffs “have made a very substantial showing that the mistaken determinations were the direct results of the flawed design of the City's computer system (‘POS’), the pervasive errors in the City's training materials and policy directives, and the widespread worker ignorance resulting from the inadequate training of the City employees." Additionally, the court found that “plaintiffs have also clearly established for these purposes an overwhelming likelihood of success on their contention that the City, in its failure to adequately train its employees, was ‘deliberately indifferent’ to the violation of plaintiffs' federal rights.” 
  • Liability of the State of New York. The court held that “although the State had some direct role in the problems here at issue, it is sufficient for present purposes for the Court to conclude, as it does, that the plaintiffs have clearly established a likelihood that the State Defendants will be held vicariously liable for the City Defendant's violations of plaintiffs’ federal rights.”
  • Detailed injunctive relief. The court ordered additional, detailed injunctive relief against all defendants. The court directed the state defendants to make corrections to and issue clear instructions regarding the WMS computer system; to correct its policy directive regarding SSNs; and to revise its Medicaid training materials. The court ordered the city defendant to revise its policy directives regarding SSNs and PRUCOL eligibility; to refer cases involving class members to specialists known as “immigrant liaisons”; and to conduct extensive training.
  • Class certification. The court certified a plaintiff class consisting of all Battered Qualified Aliens, lawful permanent residents who have been in that status for less than five years, and PRUCOLs who are, have been, or will be eligible for state or federally funded public assistance, Medicaid, or food stamps, and who either (a) have been or will be denied public benefits in whole or in part; (b) had or will have benefits discontinued or reduced, (c) have been or will be discouraged or prevented from applying; (d) have been or will be encouraged to withdraw an application by a New York City job center because of a misapplication of immigrant eligibility rules.

What does the settlement provide?

A settlement in the M.K.B. case has been approved by the district court and is in effect. Important features of the settlement include:

  • General injunctive relief. The proposed settlement enjoins the city defendant to refrain from denying, discontinuing, or reducing public benefits based on immigration status to eligible class members, and from turning away, deterring, discouraging, or refusing to permit class members from applying for public benefits. The city may not deny or discontinue state-funded cash public assistance and state-funded Medicaid so long as the class member makes a timely and complete application to SSA for a SSN. All notices to class members must include a separate indication of which household members are accepted for public benefits, which are denied benefits, and for which public benefits they have been accepted or denied.
  • Training. The city is required to train 150 immigrant liaisons and to develop curricula and training on immigrant status recognition and documentation relevant to immigration status, and the eligibility of class members for public benefits, including SSN requirements. The full elements of the curriculum must be incorporated into “new hire” training for all staff who handle the part of eligibility determinations that is based on immigration status. Periodic reinforcement training is required.
  • Class-wide retroactive relief. The proposed settlement provides for extensive class-wide retroactive relief. Two groups of class members will receive “automatic” case reviews to determine their entitlement to retroactive benefits without having to request retroactive relief in response to a class-wide notice. For those groups, the city will automatically review their case files and determine whether and to what extent each class member is entitled to retroactive cash public assistance, Food Stamps, and/or Medicaid and, upon making the determination, will automatically issue retroactive benefits, retroactive to December 13, 2002 for cash assistance and Medicaid and December 13, 2004 for Food Stamps. All other class members will be sent notices inviting them to respond and request retroactive relief.
  • Quality assurance. Every six months, the city defendant is required to review the case files of a systematic sample of 150 class members. For each case, the city is required to report whether the class members were eligible for cash public assistance, Food Stamps, and/or Medicaid; whether they were accepted or denied for those benefits; whether the provision of benefits was delayed beyond the statutory time frame for making a decision by computer errors; whether the procedures and rules regarding the use of SSNs were properly applied; and whether adequate notice was provided. Any errors discovered must be corrected within 15 days. If the same type of error based on immigration status occurred in three or more cases, then the city must conduct reinforcement training in the affected offices or must correct any policy or procedure responsible for the errors.
  • The state defendants must independently review a subset of the cases reviewed by the city and must determine whether any member of the household should have been categorized as a recipient of TANF, Food Stamps, federally participating Medicaid, or, for certain categories of battered immigrants, state-funded Medicaid. If the state agencies determine that errors were made, they must issue a directive to the city requiring corrective action. If the same type of error occurred in three or more cases, then the state must direct the city to conduct reinforcement training and, if necessary, to correct any policy or procedure responsible for the errors.
  • Informal relief system. The proposed settlement makes permanent an informal relief system required as part of the February 16, 2006 preliminary injunction. Advocates in the community may refer requests for relief under the settlement to plaintiffs’ counsel.

Whom can I contact if I have questions about the settlement?

Class members who believe they may be entitled to benefits under the settlement, or who have questions about it, may contact the New York Legal Assistance Group at 212-613-5002 or by e-mail at mkb@nylag.org. Class members may also contact The Legal Aid Society at 1-888-218-6974 or by e-mail at mkb@legal-aid.org.