U.S. Supreme Court
Wyman v. James, 400 U.S. 309 (1971)
Wyman v. James
Argued October 20, 1970
Decided January 12, 1971
400 U.S. 309
New York's Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, stressing "close contact" with beneficiaries, requires home visits by caseworkers as a condition for assistance
"in order that any treatment or service tending to restore [beneficiaries] to a condition of self-support and to relieve their distress may be rendered and . . . that assistance or care may be given only in such amount and as long as necessary."
Visitation with a beneficiary, who is the primary source of information to welfare authorities as to eligibility for assistance, is not permitted outside working hours, and forcible entry and snooping are prohibited. Appellee, a beneficiary under the AFDC program, after receiving several days' advance notice, refused to permit a caseworker to visit her home, and, following a hearing and advice that assistance would consequently be terminated, brought this suit for injunctive and declaratory relief, contending that a home visitation is a search and, when not consented to or supported by a warrant based on probable cause, would violate her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The District Court upheld appellee's constitutional claim.
Held: The home visitation provided for by New York law in connection with the AFDC program is a reasonable administrative tool, and does not violate any right guaranteed by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 400 U. S. 315-326.
(a) Home visitation, which is not forced or compelled, is not a search in the traditional criminal law context of the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 400 U. S. 317-318.
(b) Even assuming that the home visit has some of the characteristics of a traditional search, New York's program is reasonable, as it serves the paramount needs of the dependent child; enables the State to determine that the intended objects of its assistance benefit from its aid and that state funds are being properly used; helps attain parallel federal relief objectives; stresses privacy by not unnecessarily intruding on the beneficiary's rights in her home; provides essential information not obtainable through secondary sources; is conducted, not by a law enforcement chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
officer, but by a caseworker; is not a criminal investigation; and (unlike the warrant procedure, which necessarily implies criminal conduct) comports with the objectives of welfare administration. Pp. 400 U. S. 318-324.
(c) The consequence of refusal to permit home visitation, which does not involve a search for violations, is not a criminal prosecution but the termination of relief benefits. Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U. S. 523; See v. City of Seattle, 387 U. S. 541, distinguished. Pp. 400 U. S. 324-325.
303 F.Supp. 935, reversed and remanded.
BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BLACK, HARLAN, and STEWART, JJ., and WHITE, J. (except for Part IV) joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 400 U. S. 326. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 400 U. S. 338.