Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

Remedial and Coercive Administrative Proceedings under Younger. the Tenth Circuit's Test in Brown V. Day

Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

Remedial and Coercive Administrative Proceedings under Younger. the Tenth Circuit's Test in Brown V. Day

Article excerpt


The Tenth Circuit's recent decision in Brown v. Day1 highlights a circuit split regarding the applicability of Younger abstention2 to state administrative proceedings. This split is rooted in two Supreme Court cases that have left lower courts with the difficult task of fleshing out their meaning. In Patsy v. Board of Regents,3 the Court held that exhausting administrative remedies was not required before federal intervention could be sought under 42 U.S.C § 1983.4 In Ohio Civil Rights Commission v. Dayton Christian Schools, Inc.,5 however, the Court indicated that the non-exhaustion rule of Patsy applied to remedial, rather than coercive, administrative proceedings.6 Since Dayton Christian Schools, circuit courts have struggled in applying and dissecting the meaning of the Court's remedial/coercive distinction.7

This Note analyzes two key issues at the forefront of the Tenth Circuit's decision in Brown. First, the court offers a test for determining the remedial or coercive nature of an administrative proceeding that focuses solely on the "ongoing proceeding" prong of Younger. This Note explores whether such a test is reasonable and whether it falls in line with federal abstention jurisprudence. Second, this Note addresses the court's narrow and mechanical treatment of the remedial/coercive distinction. Brown deviates from a traditional Younger analysis, which requires an organic evaluation of the principles of equity, federalism, and comity that federal courts must explicitly consider in deciding whether to abstain from a state administrative proceeding.


A. Facts of the Case

Dena Brown, the plaintiff, is a severely mentally disabled adult.8 Her disability has left her with the mental capacity of a three- or four-year-old child.9 Due to her extreme disability, Brown requires constant care and supervision.10 Prior to the commencement of her lawsuit, Brown lived and received care at a private, non-profit residential care facility.11 The cost of such care exceeded her monthly income, which consisted solely of Social Security payments.12 Prior to August 2005, the federal Medicaid program covered the difference in Brown's income versus her cost of care.13

In 2003, Brown's mother passed away, leaving her as the beneficiary of a residuary trust.14 The corpus of the trust included roughly $15,000 in cash, two annuities totaling approximately $23,000, and a 160-acre piece of land valued around $30,000.15 Brown's brother was appointed as the trustee, and Brown, given her disability, had no legal authority to compel distribution of the trust income or corpus at any time.16 As such, prior to 2004, the state of Kansas did not consider the trust an "available resource" in determining Brown's Medicaid eligibility.17

In July 2004, however, the Kansas legislature amended the law dealing with Medicaid eligibility to include within the definition of "available resources" trust assets "to the extent, using the full extent of discretion, the trustee may make any of the income or principal available to the applicant or recipient of medical assistance."18 Per the requirements of the revised statute, the Kansas Division of Health Policy and Finance ("HPF") informed Brown that her Medicaid benefits would be terminated at the end of August 2005.19

B. Procedural History

Brown first sought relief from the termination of her Medicaid benefits by requesting a hearing before the HPF. She opted for the HPF hearing, instead of initially filing suit in federal court, because there was a legitimate question as to whether the amended statute could apply to her retroactively. Furthermore, the HPF allowed her to continue receiving Medicaid benefits during the pendency of her appeal. The hearing officer restored Brown's benefits on the grounds that the amended statute did not apply retroactively. However, a Final Order issued by Robert Day, HPF's director, informed Brown that the previous decision to terminate her benefits was being reinstated. …

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