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BURR v. SMITH

February 10, 1971

Lester W. BURR et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Sidney E. SMITH, individually and in his capacity as Director of the Department of Public Assistance of the State of Washington, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LINDBERG

This is an action for injunctive and declaratory relief and damages brought to correct alleged violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Jurisdiction of this Court is invoked under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. § 1343. A three judge court has been requested under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2281 and 2284.

The case presents no factual issues. The parties have submitted the case to this Court on an agreed statement of facts contained in the pretrial order. The order also recites most of the relevant statutory and regulatory materials. We have tried to set forth only the most pertinent of that factual and legal information during the course of this opinion.

 At the time this action was instituted, individual plaintiffs Lester Burr and Wynn Smith were persons eligible to receive unemployment compensation under the State of Washington's Employment Security Act. RCW 50.01.005 et seq. Except for this eligibility, plaintiffs would have been entitled to receive joint federal-state Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) benefits designed to assist the families of persons temporarily unemployed (AFDC-E). 42 U.S.C. § 607. Under the AFDC-E statutes and regulations, however, plaintiffs' eligibility to receive unemployment compensation automatically excluded them from participating in the AFDC-E program. This exclusion resulted in economic hardship for plaintiffs' families. The AFDC-E benefits which each family would have been entitled to receive but for the father's eligibility for unemployment compensation would have been considerably greater than either father's unemployment benefits. Plaintiff Burr's family would have been entitled to $56.94 a month more under AFDC-E than Burr was able to receive under unemployment compensation. Plaintiff Smith's family would have realized a difference of $103.10 per month. *fn1"

 Plaintiffs' basic position in this suit is that their automatic exclusion from receiving AFDC-E or equivalent benefits denies them equal protection under the law. They point out that unemployed persons who receive income from other sources such as social security, workman's compensation, veterans benefits, contributions by friends, etc., are not automatically excluded from the AFDC-E program. In those situations, AFDC-E assistance is available to supplement the other income source and bring the family's income to a level equivalent to a full AFDC-E grant. This supplement is not available to plaintiffs' families. Plaintiffs eligibility to receive unemployment compensation automatically and totally excludes them from participation in the AFDC-E program.

 Plaintiffs also point out that the unemployment compensation disqualification only works to the disadvantage of families headed by temporarily unemployed fathers, not to families headed by temporarily unemployed mothers. Families headed by mothers eligible for unemployment benefits receive their AFDC benefits under other AFDC programs, usually AFDC-R. 42 U.S.C. §§ 601-606. As a result, they are not affected by the unemployment disqualification rules which affect AFDC-E recipients. These families are eligible to have their unemployment benefits supplemented by an AFDC grant, much the same as recipients of workman's compensation, veteran's benefits, etc.

 Plaintiffs have brought this suit on behalf of themselves, their families and all others similarly situated, contending that the state law and administrative regulation that declare them ineligible to receive AFDC-E benefits are illegal. *fn2" They seek a judgment declaring the statute and regulation unconstitutional, and they seek a permanent injunction preventing defendant Sidney Smith, the Director of the State Department of Public Assistance, from enforcing them. *fn3"

 RCW 74.12.010 is the state statute questioned here. It provides, where relevant, that the Director of the Department of Public Assistance:

 
shall have discretion to provide that aid to families with dependent children assistance shall be available to any child in need who has been deprived of parental support or care by reason of the unemployment of a parent or stepparent liable under this chapter for the support of such child, to the extent that matching funds are available from the federal government.

 WAC 388-24-135(7) is the Department of Public Assistance regulation under attack. That regulation provides:

 
To be eligible for AFDC-E an applicant shall be a child:
 
* * *
 
(7) Whose father is not receiving unemployment compensation. An otherwise eligible child shall be ineligible for AFDC-E with respect to any week for which his father receives unemployment compensation.

 Plaintiffs contend that RCW 74.12.010 and WAC 388-24-135(7) result in unreasonable classifications of like situated families on the bases of (1) the family's source of income, and (2) the sex of the parent receiving unemployment compensation. Such classifications, it is urged, are unrelated to the purposes of the public assistance programs and violate ...


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