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Valenzuela v. Yeutter

filed: March 16, 1993.

JESUS VALENZUELA; LUZ VALENZUELA, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
CLAYTON YEUTTER, SECRETARY OF THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE; LINDA RAE MOORE-CANON, DIRECTOR OF DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMIC SECURITY, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Arizona. D.C. No. CV-90-00134-TUC-RMB. Richard M. Bilby, District Judge, Presiding.

Before: Betty B. Fletcher, Cecil F. Poole and Melvin Brunetti, Circuit Judges. Opinion by Judge Poole.

Author: Poole

POOLE, Circuit Judge:

Appellants Jesus and Luz Valenzuela appeal the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of appellees Clayton Yeutter and Linda Rae Moore-Canon, the Secretary of the United States Department Agriculture and Director of the Department of Economic Security, respectively. Because we find the Secretary of Agriculture's interpretation of "head of household" as the "primary wage earner" reasonable and within his broad discretion, we affirm the district court's decision.

I.

Jesus and Luz Valenzuela, a married couple with two children, were participants in the Food Stamp Program. On their September 23, 1988 application for food stamps, Mr. Valenzuela was designated the "head of the household." Mr. Valenzuela was unemployed and had previously qualified for Social Security disability payments. Mrs. Valenzuela was employed in a restaurant working thirty-six hours per week at minimum wage. Mrs. Valenzuela quit her job on September 2, 1988.

The Valenzuelas were disqualified from receiving food stamps on September 28, 1988. Because Mrs. Valenzuela was determined to be the "primary wage earner," she was designated by the Arizona Department of Economic Security ("DES"), the administrator of that state's Food Stamp program, to be the "head of household" for purposes of the voluntary quit provision of the Food Stamp Act, 7 U.S.C. § 2015(d)(1)(B)(ii), and was found to have quit her job without "good cause." This decision was affirmed in the Valenzuelas' administrative appeals.

The Valenzuelas sought declaratory and injunctive relief in the district court. The district court granted summary judgment against the Valenzuelas, holding that the regulations defining "head of the household" for purposes of the voluntary quit provision were consistent with congressional intent and were a reasonable exercise of the Secretary's statutory authority.

II.

This case involves the interpretation of the Food Stamp Act, a question of law this court reviews de novo. California Rural Legal Assistance v. Legal Services Corp., 917 F.2d 1171, 1174 (9th Cir. 1990), amended, 937 F.2d 465 (1991).

This case also involves the review of the regulations promulgated under the Food Stamp Act. Judicial review of an agency's construction of a statute that it administers is a two-part process. Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 842 (1984). First, a court examines "whether Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue." Id. If Congress's intent is clear, then the court must give effect to that intent. Id. at 842-43. Second, if the court determines Congress has not directly addressed the precise question at issue, then the court must decide whether the agency's interpretation is a permissible construction of the statute. Id. at 843.

III.

A. Background

In 1964, Congress enacted the Food Stamp Act "to promote the general welfare, [and] to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation's population by raising levels of nutrition among low-income households." 7 U.S.C. ยง 2011. In 1977, Congress added the voluntary quit provision to "eliminate the non-needy from the [Food Stamp] program," simplify administration, and reduce fraud and ...


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