Gonzalez v. DelawareAnnotate this Case
In this case, a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”) recipient, Cindy Gonzalez, was found to have defrauded the federal government of $6,159 worth of SNAP benefits by representing that she lived alone and did not receive any income, when in fact she was not living alone and was receiving income. After discovering this wrongdoing, the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services (“DHSS”) brought an administrative proceeding against Gonzalez to disqualify her from continued participation in SNAP and claw back the benefits she received through her misrepresentations. The hearing officer found that DHSS had established intentional program violations and disqualified Gonzalez from continued participation in SNAP for one year, and DHSS’s audit and recovery arm assessed an overpayment of $6,159, which the federal government has started to collect by offsetting the other federal benefits she receives against her SNAP obligations. About five months after the DHSS final decision, the State of Delaware brought a civil action against Gonzalez under Delaware common law and the Delaware False Claims and Reporting Act based on the same circumstances underlying the DHSS administrative proceeding. This time, however, the State sought between approximately $200,000 and $375,000 in restitution, damages, and penalties; attorneys’ fees and costs; and an order enjoining Gonzalez from participating in SNAP until she pays the judgment. Gonzalez in turn filed an answer asserting an affirmative defense that federal law preempted the State’s Delaware law claims, and the State moved for judgment on the pleadings. The Superior Court granted the State’s motion, holding that federal law did not preempt the State’s claims. Gonzalez brought an interlocutory appeal of that determination. After review, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed, finding federal law prohibited the State from bringing consecutive administrative and civil actions against a SNAP recipient based on the same fraud.