NCLEJ Wins Delaware Food Stamp Case

In a case of national first impression, the Delaware Supreme Court adopted the reasoning from NCLEJ’s briefing and ruled unanimously in Gonzalez v. State of Delaware that federal law prohibits the State of Delaware from suing SNAP (food stamps) beneficiaries for money damages after it had already pursued an administrative claim for the overpayment of benefits.

This case stemmed from the State of Delaware’s unprecedented action to sue a SNAP beneficiary for over $200,000 after it had already won an administrative claim against her. The Delaware Supreme Court confirmed that in this type of case, the Food Stamp Act requires that the State must choose between pursuing an administrative claim or filing a lawsuit – it cannot do both. The decision also contains important restrictions on the State’s ability to use offensive collateral estoppel against SNAP recipients.

This case has been collaboration between NCLEJ Senior Attorney Travis England and attorneys John S. Whitelaw and Kate Sell at the Delaware Community Legal Aid Society. NCLEJ joined in this matter because it represents an issue of first impression and, if Delaware had prevailed on its argument, other states may swiftly follow suit in seeking such draconian enforcement, which may significantly impair or deter access to needed food assistance.

Read the decision.