Goldberg v. Kelly

397 U.S. 254 (1970)


  • John Kelly (original plaintiff, here, appellee) was a 29-year old man receiving Home Relief in the amt. of $80.05 on a semi monthly basis, arising from a hit and run accident of which he was a victim in June 1966.
  • Kelly is unable to work.
  • On December 16, 1967, Kelly was ordered to move from the Broadway Central Hotel where he was living, to the equally priced Barbara Hotel.
  • Kelly moved out of the Barbara Hotel fearing for his health and safety, and moved in with a friend.
  • On Jan. 8, 1968, the desk clerk at the Barbara Hotel informed Mr. Kelly that his caseworker had terminated the case and taken back a check mailed to Mr. Kelly for a winter coat.
  • Mr. Kelly attempted to visit his caseworker twice and was denied.
  • The reason given for the termination of his case was that he had violated the caseworker’s instructions to move into the Barbara Hotel and remain there.
  • Kelly has no assets and no means of supporting himself pending another surgery arising from the 1966 accident.

Procedural History:

  • Action brought to District Court for the Southern District of NY by Kelly
  • State adopted procedures for notice & hearing after suit brought
  • Plaintiff (Kelly), then challenged due process of new procedures
  • There was an amendment to the State Dept. of Social Services’ Official Regulation, which allowed the recipient of aid to present a written statement before termination of assistance, and the ability for a post-termination “fair hearing”
  • The District Court found that the amendment did not safeguard due process and found for the plaintiff
  • The Commissioner of Social Services of NYC (Goldberg) appealed to the SC.


Whether due process requires notice and a hearing before the government terminates public assistance.


District court ruling is affirmed.

Due process requires a hearing before the government terminates public assistance. This hearing does not need to be in the form of a judicial trial.

The absence of a pre-termination hearing is constitutionally inadequate.


Amendment 14, section 1, US Constitution: “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law

Public assistance is considered property and therefore is protected by Section 1 of Amendment 14.


*Charles Reich article: government benefits, including welfare payments operate like property and deserve the same legal protections as property.   Public assistance benefits are a right (property) and not a gift, and are therefore safeguarded by due process. This is shown in several cases including Sherbert v. Verner (1963), disqualification for unemployment compensation; Speiser v. Randal (1958), denial of a tax exemption; Slochower v. Board of Higher Education (1956), discharge from public employment.

*The loss of assistance can deprive a recipient of means to survive while waiting for a hearing; this will adversely affect his ability to seek redress in this matter, which is why assistance must be uninterrupted until the person is granted a hearing.

*Pre-termination hearings also promote government interests, such as the dignity of citizens, equal opportunity, and prevention of social injustice and unhappiness.

*The current regulation that allows for written statements prior to termination is insufficient, because a written statement is not as fair or effective as a hearing.

*The interests of the aid recipient and society as a whole outweigh the economic interests of the state. Suffering of loss v. interests of govt.

Court’s Order:

Lower court decision affirmed.


Justice BLACK:

*The SC should not use judicial power for legislative purposes.

*US is becoming a welfare state, the change will create a huge burden for the state.

*The decision of the court leaves the government unprotected from obligation to continue to pay people who are ineligible to receive such payments. When person is finally found ineligible, it will be almost impossible to get that money back.

*The SC is taking a too-broad view of the 14th Amendment.

*The outcome of the ruling will be greater costs and less willingness on the part of the state to initially put claimants on aid.

*This is a new welfare experiment, and shouldn’t be written into the constitution.