United States District Court, D. New Jersey
MARTINEZ GROCERY II, et al. Plaintiffs,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al. Defendants.
E. Turner, Esq. Attorney for Plaintiffs
Carpenito, United States Attorney By: John Tudor Stinson,
Jr., Assistant U.S. Attorney Attorneys for Defendants
L. HILLMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court by way of a motion for summary
judgment filed by Defendants United States of America and the
Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture,
Sonny Perdue, (hereinafter, collectively,
“Defendants”) seeking judgment in their favor as
to all counts of the Complaint [Docket Item 1] filed by
Plaintiffs Martinez Grocery II and Juana Martinez
(hereinafter, collectively, “Plaintiffs”).
(See Defs.’ Mot. [Docket Item 13].) The Court
will grant Defendants’ motion.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
case revolves around the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance
Program (“SNAP”), which is administered by the
Food and Nutrition Service of the United States Department of
Agriculture (“FNS”). 7 U.S.C. §§
2011–2036. SNAP provides assistance to eligible
households by supplementing their available funds to spend on
food items. 7 U.S.C. § 2013(a). Participants use their
SNAP benefits to purchase food items at authorized stores,
and the United States then redeems those benefits by paying
the store the full face value of the benefits. 7 U.S.C.
§§ 2013(a), 2016(b), 2018, 2019. Participation in
the program by such stores is managed by FNS and governed by
the relevant statutory and regulatory regime in order to
achieve SNAP’s objectives, while also preventing or
minimizing fraud and abuse. 7 U.S.C. § 2011.
Martinez Grocery II
Grocery II is a small convenience store that opened in 1998
in Camden, New Jersey. Shortly after opening, Plaintiffs
applied to participate in SNAP and were accepted into the
program. As of June 2017, there were 45 SNAP-participating
retailers within one mile of Martinez Grocery II of varying
size and description.
13, 2017, FNS conducted a site visit to Martinez Grocery II,
which noted that the store did not provide customers with
shopping carts or baskets, only had a single cash register,
and that items for sale exhibited a typical pricing
structure, wherein most prices ended with “x9”
cents. At the time, the most expensive items
eligible for SNAP were $19.99, $11.99, and $5.99.
2017, FNS began investigating Plaintiffs after their
“Alert System” indicated that Plaintiffs’
recent pattern of SNAP transactions indicated possible
trafficking in SNAP benefits,  in violation of SNAP regulations.
As part of the ensuing investigation, FNS staff collected
Plaintiffs’ SNAP transaction records for the
time-period running from December 2016 through May 2017 and
analyzed it in conjunction with data from other nearby SNAP
retailers, with the transaction histories of certain nearby
SNAP households, and with established patterns of SNAP
result of the investigation, FNS sent Plaintiffs a letter on
July 27, 2017, charging Plaintiffs with SNAP benefits
trafficking based on three types of suspicious activities
uncovered by FNS’s investigation:
1. An unusually large number of transactions ending in $.00
2. Multiple transactions from an individual SNAP account in a
short period of time
3. Numerous excessively large transactions, relative to the
nature of Martinez Grocery II as a small convenience store
July letter indicated that the default sanction for SNAP
trafficking is permanent disqualification from SNAP
participation, but that a retailer could request that FNS
consider a civil monetary penalty instead.
requested and were granted numerous extensions of time to
respond to the July 2017 letter. On August 15, 2017,
Plaintiffs responded to FNS through counsel, asserting that
they had not violated any SNAP regulations. Specifically,
Plaintiffs alleged that they sell many items that end in $.00
or $.50, that all same-household transactions were hours
apart, and that Plaintiffs cannot control a SNAP
recipient’s desire to purchase large amounts of items
in a single visit to Martinez Grocery II. Plaintiffs did not
request that FNS consider a civil monetary penalty in lieu of
permanently disqualifying Plaintiffs from participating in
SNAP. Attached to Plaintiffs’ letter were a number of
additional invoices, allegedly related to Martinez Grocery
analyzed Plaintiffs’ response and determined that
[Plaintiffs’] response to [FNS’s] letter of
charges failed to justify or adequately explain the very
suspicious transaction activity noted in [FNS’s] charge
letter or demonstrated by the specific household shopping
activity detailed in [FNS’s] case analysis. . . . A
review of client shopping data for the review period shows
that clients shopping at Martinez Grocery II are also
shopping at other area grocery stores, as well as full-line
supermarkets and superstores that offer customers a much
larger quantity and variety of eligible food items. It is our
conclusion that the firm's transactions more likely than
not represent trafficking.
(A.R. [Docket Item 12], 341.) Specifically with respect to
the invoices provided by Plaintiffs, FNS determined that
[Plaintiffs’] reply contains invoices from Sun
Wholesale Inc. dated December 1, 2016 through August 8, 2017
and a summary report of all the purchases from Sam’s
Club dated December 9, 2016 through July 31, 2017.
[FNS’s] analysis revealed that [Plaintiffs] provided
invoices belonging to two different stores ...