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CHARLESTON v. WOHLGEMUTH

September 10, 1971

Janet L. CHARLESTON et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Helene WOHLGEMUTH et al., Defendants. Mary COLEMAN et al., Plaintiffs, v. Helene WOHLGEMUTH et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BECKER

EDWARD R. BECKER, District Judge:

I. Preliminary Statement

 The regulations of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare ("DPW") require applicants for Aid to Families with Dependent Children ("AFDC") who own certain types of real or personal property to agree, as a condition of receiving assistance, to reimburse the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for assistance received, and to give the Commonwealth a lien on the property as security. These cases attack the validity of those regulations. Charleston v. Wohlgemuth (70-3479) involves the regulation which requires assistance recipients who own real estate to sign DPW form PA-9 which, by the vehicle of a confession of judgment, gives the Commonwealth a lien against the real estate as security for the reimbursement promise. Coleman v. Wohlgemuth (71-262) concerns the regulation which requires assistance recipients who possess tort and Workmen's Compensation claims, who have the right to receive support payments, social security, unemployment, sick or retirement benefits, or who hold other similar types of personal property, to sign DPW form PA-176K, which contains an assignment of these rights, claims, or property and a confession of judgment as security for the promise to repay. *fn1"

 The two cases were brought by plaintiffs, all of whom are eligible for the AFDC program, on behalf of themselves (and their eight family units) and all other AFDC eligible families in Pennsylvania who are subject to the regulations. The actions seek to set the regulations aside on the grounds that they are violative of the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, and are in conflict with the Social Security Act.

 The matters first came before Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., who, in each case, requested the convening of a statutory three-judge court because the actions sought to invalidate regulations of statewide applicability on substantial constitutional grounds. *fn2" The two cases were consolidated and a three-judge court was convened. *fn3" In the interim, Judge Higginbotham permitted them to proceed as class actions. He also granted a temporary restraining order prohibiting DPW from withholding assistance from plaintiffs or the class they represent in the Charleston case because of failure to execute PA-9 forms. Counsel then agreed that the temporary restraining order be extended until final decision in the case. The Commonwealth, moreover, agreed not to withhold assistance from Mrs. Coleman or the class she represents because of failure to execute PA-176 forms pending final decision, without the necessity of a temporary restraining order.

 We have heard the matter on the merits. For the reasons stated in this opinion, *fn4" we find the constitutional and statutory arguments of the plaintiffs to be without merit. *fn5" Before setting forth these reasons, we must review the factual record, which consists of a stipulation of facts, the testimony of two witnesses, and a declaration of DPW policy by its counsel which, in a sense, constitutes the most significant fact of record. Aside from the testimony of Mrs. Shirley Dennis (see infra), all of the facts are uncontested.

 II. The Facts

 While there are numerous plaintiffs, it is not necessary to detail the relationship of each of them to the case, for the situations of Mrs. Charleston and Mrs. Coleman, described below, are typical. Suffice it to say that all of the other plaintiffs have either executed PA-9's or PA-176's, or have refused to, and in the latter case, their right to receive assistance pending the outcome of this litigation has been secured by the temporary restraining order. *fn6" Standing to sue is adequately established.

 Mrs. Charleston earns $118 semi-monthly in part time employment and receives $151 semi-monthly AFDC assistance for her six minor children. She has purchased a home under the Federal Housing Authority's § 235 plan, pursuant to which the federal government subsidizes part of the mortgage interest. *fn7" Because of her home ownership, she was requested to sign the PA-9 form.

 Mrs. Coleman is the mother of seven minor children. Her income consists of a $10 bi-weekly support order payment and $218.30 semi-monthly AFDC benefits. When she was injured in a motor vehicle accident, she was requested to sign the PA-176 form assigning her personal injury claim.

 Both Mrs. Charleston and Mrs. Coleman refused to sign the DPW forms and these suits followed.

 The stated purpose of the regulations under attack is to facilitate protection and collection of the Commonwealth's claim to reimbursement of assistance granted during the time property is owned, or a time when a claim or right to property arises. The statutory origin of the Commonwealth's claim is the Pennsylvania Support Law, Pa. Stat., tit. 62, § 1974 (1968). *fn8" The regulations, however, articulate the "two closely related reasons for reimbursement":

 
"The one rests on the basic principle that public assistance supplements resources and that whenever assistance is granted in lieu of the utilization of certain resources, the assistance should be repaid whenever these resources become available. The second reason relates to the financing of the program since reimbursement results in a recovery of money that is then available for redistribution as assistance, thereby reducing to this extent the need for additional tax revenues." Pa. DPW Manual § 3820.

 The PA-9 and PA-176 forms are basically similar, and they repeat much of the language of the regulations. One executing a PA-9 acknowledges that his real and personal property is liable for the repayment of assistance granted to himself, spouse and unemancipated minor children. The form recites that the liability does not apply to assistance received before acquisition of the property and that the purpose of the agreement is to give DPW a lien on any real property owned while assistance was received. The form includes an authorization to the prothonotary, or any attorney of any court of record in Pennsylvania or elsewhere to appear and enter judgment against the signer for $2,000. The form provides, however, that the judgment shall not be subject to execution during the lifetime of the signer, his spouse or dependent children.

 The PA-176 form also contains the confession of judgment in the sum of $2,000 and the agreement to repay assistance. It is directed to the following types of personal property owned by welfare recipients:

 
Alimony Payments
 
Delayed Wages
 
Estates of Deceased Recipients
 
Goods, Chattels, Autos and Antiques
 
Income Tax Refunds
 
Life Insurance
 
OASI & Railroad Retirement ...

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