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Johnson v. Cohen

September 28, 1987

JOHNSON, NATASHA, ON BEHALF OF HERSELF AND HER MINOR CHILDREN AND ALL OTHER SIMILARLY SITUATED PERSONS, APPELLANT IN 86-1149
v.
COHEN, WALTER, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SECRETARY OF THE PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WELFARE STOVALL, DON JOSE, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE PHILADELPHIA COUNTY BOARD OF ASSISTANCE, APPELLANTS IN 86-1107, HECKLER, MARGARET M., INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SECRETARY OF THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, MARGARET M. HECKLER, SECRETARY OF THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, APPELLANT IN 86-1101



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, D.C. Civil Action No. 84-6277.

Gibbons, Chief Judge, and Higginbotham, Circuit Judge, and Cowen, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Higginbotham

Opinion OF THE COURT

A. LEON HIGGINBOTHAM, JR., Circuit Judge.

The initial issue presented for review on this appeal concerned the constitutionality of Title IV-A of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 601-615 (1982 & Supp. 1987) ("AFDC"), as amended by § 2640(a) of the Deficit Reduction Act of 1984, P.L. 98-369, 98 Stat. 494, 1145 ("DEFRA"). More specifically, the question raised was whether the district court correctly held that §§ 602(a)(38) and 602(a)(26) of the AFDC, which had been applied by appellants to require the assignment of child support payments received by each dependent child to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare ("DPW") as a condition precedent to the receipt of AFDC benefits by the family, required a prior hearing in each case to determine whether the support payments were being used for the exclusive benefit of the child, and thus not properly considered "family" income.

Subsequent to the filing of this appeal, the substantive issue that it raises was dispositively resolved by the United States Supreme Court in Bowen v. Gilliard, 483 U.S. 587, 107 S. Ct. 3008, 97 L. Ed. 2d 485 (1987), discussed below at III. What remains for our consideration before we may properly conclude this appeal, however, is the challenge to our jurisdiction raised by the appellees/cross-appellants. They assert that exclusive jurisdiction over appellants' claim rested with the Supreme Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1252 (1982), and therefore that this appeal should be dismissed.*fn1 After consideration of this contention, we conclude that our jurisdiction over this appeal is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (1982), and therefore we will adjudicate this appeal on its merits. In accordance with Bowen v. Gilliard, we will reverse the district court's decision to the extent that it precludes enforcement of the statute, and vacate the injunction that the district court ordered. Also, in light of Bowen v. Gilliard, we will reject the contentions raised on the cross-appeal and affirm that part of the district court's decision that upheld the constitutionality of the statute.

I.

The AFDC benefits program was designed by Congress to be implemented under a collaborative state and federal effort. Federal funds are made available to states that satisfactorily devise plans that fulfill the requirements of Title IV-A. See 42 U.S.C. § 602(b). AFDC benefits are implemented by each state in accordance with the state's regulations, and regulations promulgated by the Secretary of Health and Human Services ("the Secretary").

In 1984 Congress amended the AFDC, consistent with overall budget reductions, by its enactment of DEFRA, and thereby effected broad changes to the administration of social welfare benefits. One section of that act, of particular importance to this appeal, provided that

as a condition of eligibility for aid, each applicant or recipient will be required --

(A) to assign to the State any rights to support from any other person such applicant (i) in his own behalf or in behalf of any family member for whom the applicant is applying for or receiving aid, and (ii) which have accrued at the time such assignment is executed . . .

42 U.S.C. § 602(a)(26). The statute further provided that

in making the determination [of eligibility] under [this statute] with respect to a dependent child . . . the State Agency shall . . . include --

(A) any parent of such child, and

(B) any brother or sister of such child, . . . if such brother or sister is living in the same ...


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