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Wong v. Minn. Dep't of Human Servs.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

April 19, 2016

Eric Wong, Plaintiff - Appellant
v.
Minnesota Department of Human Services; Emily Johnson Piper, in her capacity as Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services; Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department; Rex A. Holzemer, in his capacity as Director of the Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department, Defendants - Appellees

         Submitted October 21, 2015

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          Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - Minneapolis.

         For Eric Wong, Plaintiff - Appellant: Paul R. Hansmeier, CLASS JUSTICE PLLC, Minneapolis, MN.

         For Minnesota Department of Human Services, Emily Johnson Piper, in her capacity as Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Defendants - Appellees: Anne Catherine Fuchs, Scott Hiromi Ikeda, Patricia A. Sonnenberg, Assistant Attorney General, ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE, Education Division, Saint Paul, MN.

         For Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department, Rex A. Holzemer, in his capacity as Director of the Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department, Defendants - Appellees: Toni Ann Beitz, Daniel Kaczor, HENNEPIN COUNTY ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Minneapolis, MN.

         Before WOLLMAN, BEAM, and GRUENDER, Circuit Judges. BEAM, Circuit Judge, concurring in part and dissenting in part.

          OPINION

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          GRUENDER, Circuit Judge.

         After the Minnesota Department of Human Services denied Eric Wong " shelter needy" benefits and stated that it would revoke other benefits that Wong had been receiving, Wong filed suit in federal court. Wong sought review of the state agency's decision. In addition, he raised claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (" ADA" ) and the Rehabilitation Act (" RA" ). The district court dismissed Wong's suit. Wong now appeals. We affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand for further consideration.

         I.

         Eric Wong suffers from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a rare genetic condition typified by joint instability and chronic musculoskeletal pain.[1] This condition causes frequent partial dislocation of Wong's shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, and other joints. Wong uses a wheelchair when traveling, and his disease can cause him to faint while performing tasks that require him to stand upright. As a result of these and other symptoms, Wong is highly susceptible to injury and pain from simple life activities.

         Wong began receiving income from the Social Security Administration on the basis of his disability in 2011. Shortly thereafter, he applied for Minnesota Supplemental Aid (" MSA" ). The supplemental aid programs offered by the state include stipends for medically prescribed diets, necessary home repairs, certain services, and housing costs. The Minnesota Department of Human Services supervises administration of these programs by county agencies. Minn. Stat. § § 256D.53, 256D.395, subdiv. 2. The Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department (" HCHS" ), the agency responsible for administering the program in Wong's county, initially denied Wong benefits but later approved some supplemental aid. Wong continued to petition for additional funds, including " shelter needy" benefits, an allowance designed for individuals whose monthly shelter costs exceed 40 percent of gross income. See Minn. Stat. § 256D.44, subdiv. 5(f)(3). HCHS refused his requests. After several months, HCHS informed Wong that it had closed his case because his expected net income from social security exceeded the MSA eligibility limit. Wong filed an administrative appeal, arguing that HCHS used an erroneous estimate of his income from social security to calculate his net income. He also claimed that the state improperly continued to deny him " shelter needy" benefits. The parties resolved all issues except for Wong's eligibility for " shelter needy" benefits prior to his hearing before the human services judge.

         At the hearing, HCHS argued that Wong was ineligible for " shelter needy" benefits because he had not undergone the statutorily prescribed Personal Care Assistance (" PCA" ) assessment, an in-person evaluation conducted by a county public health nurse or a certified assessor for the purpose of determining a person's eligibility for home and community-based services.

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See Minn. Stat.§ 256B.0659, subdivs. 3a, 4. Wong, in turn, contended that he was eligible despite not having the PCA assessment because the assessment would be too dangerous in light of his medical condition. Ultimately, the human services judge determined that HCHS was correct to deny Wong benefits because the assessment was mandatory under Minnesota law. In response to Wong's safety concerns, the judge concluded that Wong could undergo the assessment with reasonable accommodations. The human services judge thus recommended that the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services affirm HCHS's decision to refuse Wong " shelter needy" benefits unless and until he received an assessment. The Commissioner adopted this decision on October 30, 2013.

         Wong served the defendants his notice of appeal on November 27, 2013. On December 9, he filed suit in federal district court, requesting review of the Commissioner's order, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and alleging violations of the ADA and the RA. In his appeal from the Commissioner's decision, Wong contended that he qualified for " shelter needy" benefits under Minnesota law and that HCHS improperly continued to deny aid based on the Commissioner's erroneous conclusion that his failure to undergo the allegedly unsafe assessment rendered him ineligible. Wong also argued that HCHS and DHS violated the ADA and RA by unlawfully excluding him from Minnesota's benefit program as a result of his inability to complete a PCA assessment. Under § 1983, Wong alleged that the defendants denied him the procedural due process right to notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard. Finally, Wong asserted that the agencies denied him equal protection under the law. The district court dismissed the complaint with prejudice, holding that (1) the court lacked jurisdiction to review directly the appeal

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from the Commissioner's order, (2) Wong's appeal from the Commissioner's decision was untimely, (3) Wong was precluded from bringing his claims under the ADA and RA because the human services judge considered the same set of facts in approving the denial of benefits, and (4) Wong failed to state a due process or equal protection claim. Wong now appeals.

         II.

          We review de novo the grant of a motion to dismiss based on lack of jurisdiction. Deuser v. Vecera, 139 F.3d 1190, 1191 (8th Cir. 1998). The same standard applies to dismissals under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) based on a plaintiff's failure to state a claim. Harris v. St. Louis Police Dep't, 164 F.3d 1085, 1086 (8th Cir. 1998). In reviewing an appeal from a grant of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), " we construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Ritchie v. St. Louis Jewish Light, 630 F.3d 713, 715-16 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting Carton v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp., 611 F.3d 451, 454 (8th Cir. 2010). " To survive a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations in a complaint, assumed true, must suffice to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 716 (quoting Northstar Indus., Inc. v. Merrill Lynch & Co., 576 F.3d 827, 832 (8th Cir. 2009). " We assess plausibility considering only the materials that are necessarily embraced by the pleadings and exhibits attached to the complaint, and draw[ing] on [our own] judicial experience and common sense." Whitney v. Guys, Inc., 700 F.3d 1118, 1128 (8th Cir. 2012) (alterations in original) (internal citations omitted).

         A.

         We begin with the court's decision dismissing for lack of jurisdiction Wong's appeal from the Commissioner's order. When a federal district court has original jurisdiction over a civil action, the court may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over all state-law " claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution." 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). Here, the district court determined that the appeal from the Commissioner's decision arose from the " same set of facts" as Wong's ADA and RA claims. Nevertheless, the court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction over the appeal from the Commissioner's order for several reasons. We address each reason in turn, and we conclude that the court erred by finding that it was barred from exercising supplemental jurisdiction over Wong's state-law claim.

         First, we reject the court's conclusion that Wong's appeal from the Commissioner's decision was untimely because Wong did not file notice and proof of service with the court until December 9, 2013, more than thirty days after the Commissioner issued the order. This conclusion ignores the text of the relevant filing statute--a statute that the parties agree governs the timeliness of Wong's appeal, even to a federal district court. Minnesota law states that an aggrieved party may appeal from a Commissioner's order:

by serving a written copy of a notice of appeal upon the commissioner and any adverse party of record within 30 days after the date the commissioner issued the order, the amended order, or order affirming the original order, and by filing the original notice and ...

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