Bennett v. Arkansas

LOCATION: United States Catholic Conference

DOCKET NO.: 86-6124
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: Arkansas Supreme Court

CITATION: 485 US 395 (1988)
ARGUED: Mar 02, 1988
DECIDED: Mar 29, 1988

J. Steven Clark - on behalf of the Respondent
Richard J. Lazarus - as amicus curiae, supporting Petitioner
Thomas M. Carpenter - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Bennett v. Arkansas

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 02, 1988 in Bennett v. Arkansas

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in Number 86-6124, George S. Bennett v. Arkansas.

Mr. Carpenter, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Thomas M. Carpenter:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The issue before the Court today is whether a federal statute that precludes attachment of social security benefits bars a state's attempt to attach those benefits in order to reimburse itself for providing care and maintaining a prisoner in custody.

Mr. Bennett, Petitioner, believes that pursuant to the Supremacy Clause in Article VI, Clause II 0of the Constitution, the federal statute prevails.

To that end, Mr. Bennett urges this Court to reverse the decision of the Arkansas Supreme Court to the contrary.

The factual matter is that Mr. Bennett is a sixty-nine-year old social security pensioner.

He received retirement benefits because he worked sufficient quarters to be eligible for those benefits.

He was serving a term of twenty-one years in the Arkansas Department of Correction on a conviction in murder in the second degree.

While he was in the Department of Correction, he began drawing these benefits at approximately the rate of $282 per month.

In 1981, the State of Arkansas passed a state reimbursement statute which is Act 715.

The Act became effective in June of 1981.

In January of 1983, the state filed suit against Mr. Bennett and two other Petitioners asking that they be forced to reimburse the state for their cost of care.

In April of 1983, the Congress passed a statute that cut off benefits to prisoners entirely.

In November of '83, there was a consolidated answer by the parties.

Briefs were filed in 1984.

In December of 1984, prior to the case finally being decided but after the Court had entered an order seizing these funds, Mr. Bennett was released from incarceration.

A judgment came down in 1985 and then the judgement ordered that the monies continued to be held pending outcome of any litigation.

Specifically raised in the trial court was the question of whether under the Supremacy Clause, the federal exemption statute for social security benefits preempted the state reimbursement statute.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Carpenter, now, is there any money at issue here that would be governed by the passage of the 1983 amendments?

Thomas M. Carpenter:

Yes, Your Honor.

There is approximately some place between $10 and $1800 pre-1983 and there is approximately an equal amount after the 1983 statutes.

However, Mr. Bennett's monies were treated as an over-payment by the Social Security Department.

Those monies have been returned to the Social Security through withholding of his future payments which began again upon his release in December of 1984.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

So, if you prevail, he will get reimbursed eventually, is that what would happen?

Thomas M. Carpenter:

Yes, Your Honor.

He will.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And is Petitioner Shelton a party now?

Thomas M. Carpenter:

No, Your Honor.

Petitioner Shelton would never complete an affidavit of indigence during the course of litigation.