Wyman v. James

PETITIONER: George K. Wyman, Commissioner of the State of New York Department of Social Services
RESPONDENT: Barbara James et al.
LOCATION: Barbara James' apartment

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)

CITATION: 400 US 309 (1971)
ARGUED: Oct 20, 1970
DECIDED: Jan 12, 1971

Facts of the case

Barbara James and her son Maurice resided in the Bronx, located in New York City. After his child’s birth, Barbara James submitted the application to receive financial aid in accordance to New York State's Aid to Families with Dependent Children program (AFDC). James was granted the permit to obtain financial support after a caseworker performed visit to her apartment. After two years ago, James received the notifications about the new scheduled visitation by a caseworker. This new observance was imposed by New York State regulations and could change the decision on the payout of financial aid accordingly to AFDC. She declined the scheduled visit. During the procedural hearing, she supported her position, and in the result, her AFDC financial aid was ceased by New York State decision.

Then James brought the sue under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 before the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. She claimed that the caseworker visit was considered as search, therefore violated her constitutional Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The District Court ordered the decision in her favor. The New York State representative filed the appellation.

The main issue in James case was if New York State infringed Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of James regarding her AFDC advantages in case that she has not allowed to the caseworker to perform the visit.

The Court found that a such visit of state employee could not be considered as a kind of the search in accordance with the Fourth Amendment. The judges explained that such observation was not obligated and imposed and therefore there was no entrance in the personal apartment of the appellant and no search or seizure. The decision in Wyman v James determined such visit as the way to check the living conditions of the child to confirm that the financial aid has been applied correctly to their purposes. The Court ruling underlined that the petitioner refuse to allow the state visit didn`t establish any criminal liabilities for her but caused the approval on the financial aid obtaining.


Did New York violate James' Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights in terminating her AFDC benefits when she refused the caseworker visit?

Media for Wyman v. James

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 20, 1970 in Wyman v. James

Warren E. Burger:

Arguments of this time in No. 69, Wyman against James.

Ms. Soloff you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Brenda Soloff:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

At issue in this case, is the ability of the agency which is charged with administering a local Aid to Families with Dependent Children program to verify information which an applicant or a recipient is concededly obliged to furnish for eligibility purposes and to verify it as meaningfully as possible by a visit to the home by an agency caseworker.

Or put another way, the question is whether the adult AFDC client has an absolute right to refuse access to her home and still receive assistance, no matter what her conceded obligations maybe, and even if a refusal is entirely arbitrary.

Essentially, we submit that since AFDC assistance is premised on the care of children in homes which would otherwise be unable to provide for them, that the request for access to the home is a reasonable one.

In addition, since that request is denied the result is neither entry nor a contempt proceeding nor automatic termination of benefits, but a hearing.

The home visit apparatus does not infringe any Fourth Amendment right.

No warrant procedures required to validate the home visit, nor could any such procedure more fully protect the AFDC client against the arbitrary exercise of the party than the one that we have now.

Potter Stewart:

Does advance notice of the caseworker's visit normally given or is it not?

Brenda Soloff:

It was given in this case, Mr. Justice.

Potter Stewart:

I know it was, but I saw many affidavits in the appendix?

Brenda Soloff:

There is a policy in New York City that it be given.

The affidavits do indicate that it was not given in those cases.

I would think that, that could be an issue which could be resolved at a hearing which is held.

Potter Stewart:

But in any event in this case it's conceded that there was an advance notice?

Brenda Soloff:

In this case, there definitely was advance notice for approximately a week.

The adult appellee in this case Barbara James first applied for assistance in April 1967, pursuant to the state regulation, requiring that a home visit be made to initial applicants for assistance, such a visit was made, the apartment was seen and various aspects of eligibility were discussed.

The worker was not then or afterward persuaded the appellee's eligibility, but recommended that the case be open because of the imminent birth of her child.

Thereafter, there were regular, periodical contacts with appellee, also as required by regulation.

These contacts took the form of additional home visits to attempt to verify eligibility and to attempt to deal with appellee's many demands, the greater number of which were seem to be invalid.

During these visits, no worker went behind close doors or poked or probed into any closed area and at each visit the child was seen.

Ultimately, she notified a caseworker who had sought to make an appointment by letter a week in advance that under no circumstances and at no time would the worker be admitted to the home.

On May 27, 1969 before any termination of benefits, a hearing was held by the department at which appellee and counsel were present and at which counsel represented that although his client would talk anywhere, she would not talk at home because that would violate her right of privacy.

The referee found that refusal to comply with the policy of contact by home visit justified the case -- closing the case, pointing out and I quote from his opinion, “The home visit which Mrs. James refuses to permit is for the purpose of determining if there are any changes in her situation that might effect her eligibility to continue to receive public assistance or that might affect the amount of such assistance and to see if there are any social services which the department of social services can provide to the family.”

He, therefore, affirmed the decision to close the case.

Appellee did not proceed as she could have to a state fair hearing.

Instead a complaint was filed in the District Court for the Southern District of New York, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the termination of benefits for refusal to consent to a home visit without a warrant.

A statutory three-judged court was convened and its majority opinion, the court held that a home visit without a warrant is an invasion of the constitutionally protected right of privacy.

That alternative methods are available to verify eligibility and that should a home visit be deemed required to consider a certain aspect of eligibility and the applicant or recipient refuses to allow the visit, a suitably restricted search warrant may issue to force the client to disclose the terms of his eligibility.