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STEWART v. WOHLGEMUTH

August 21, 1972

Correne STEWART, Individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated,
v.
Helene WOHLGEMUTH, Individually and as Secretary of the Department of Public Welfare, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KNOX

The member of the court (primary judge) to whom the case was at once assigned, recognizing that a substantial question had been raised as to the validity of these regulations under the constitution and laws of the United States which question did not appear to have been clearly adjudicated, and that the regulations were of statewide application, granted a Temporary Restraining Order after notice to the Department and requested the empanelling of a three-judge court, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2281 and 2284. Such a court was thereupon duly constituted by the Chief Judge of the Circuit. The court has met, considered the oral arguments and briefs of the parties, the agreed upon facts and the testimony taken at the hearing on the Temporary Restraining Order and now proceeds to a decision of the case on the merits. It was stipulated that all procedures for a preliminary as well as a permanent injunction be combined in one hearing.

The primary judge, however, refused to order the case to be maintained as a class action, but deferred the decision of this question to the three-judge court. After due consideration, the court determines that the action shall not be maintained as a class action, that the myriad of differing circumstances existing in each individual case of a college student deriving support from public welfare grants, would unnecessarily complicate this action and a class action under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure would not be a superior method for fair and efficient adjudication of these controversies. See Tindall v. Hardin, 337 F. Supp. 563 (W.D.Pa.1972 -- appeal presently pending.) In view of the fact that the court is holding the regulation in question unconstitutional as a deprivation of due process of law in this, a clear cut case and we are confident that the defendants will respect the final order of this court, we see no need to become involved in the complexities of a class action. If the defendants continue to enforce this regulation against other students, we would expect plaintiff's counsel to bring another suit which may then be disposed of by a single judge since the question of constitutionality will have been clearly adjudicated. See Bailey v. Patterson, 369 U.S. 31, 82 S. Ct. 549, 7 L. Ed. 2d 512 (1962); Turner v. Colonial Finance Corp., 467 F.2d 202 (5th Cir. 1972). The court therefore directs that the case not be maintained as a class action.

 Turning now to the merits, we find that plaintiff is a resident of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania and as heretofore stated a full-time student at the University of Pittsburgh. In August 1970, she applied for and began receiving a general assistance grant of $68.00 every two weeks and at that time registered for employment at the Bureau of Employment Security and has continued to be registered with this Bureau since then. She has been unable to find full-time employment but is employed at the University under a work study program and also is working as a waitress at a restaurant earning $15.00 per week plus whatever tips she may receive. She is dependent for her income for her daily living expenses, including food, clothing and shelter, upon her income from employment plus her public assistance benefits. Without the latter, her income is insufficient for her maintenance. Her educational expenses including tuition are paid through the University under the above mentioned program. She is an emancipated minor who does not qualify as an ADC child.

 The text of the regulations 3180 through 3186 insofar as relevant here is set forth in Appendix II. No findings were published indicating the basis for the promulgation of this new regulation.

 It will be observed that these regulations were adopted by the Department pursuant to the provisions of the Pennsylvania Public Welfare Code, Sections 401 et seq., 62 Purdon's Pa.Stat. 401 et seq.

 Plaintiff levels a double-barrelled attack upon the recently promulgated regulation embodied in Section 3185 which has been held to deprive her of the right to public assistance. It is her position first that the regulation in question sets up a conclusive presumption by administrative fiat that full-time college students do not meet the employment requirements of the regulations and is in violation of due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment; secondly, that denial of public assistance solely on the basis of enrollment as a full-time college student is invidious discrimination resulting in denial of equal protection of the laws and that such discrimination against full-time college students while allowing students enrolled full time in vocational schools to receive public assistance, is likewise invidiously discriminatory and a denial of equal protections of the laws.

 We hold unanimously that plaintiff's first point is well taken and that this regulation does set up such a conclusive presumption which is constitutionally impermissible and cannot stand.

 We should first observe that this is not a case where we have a program Federally funded in whole or in part and it is claimed that the state regulations are in violation of Federal law or regulations. Thus, cases dealing with the question of violation of the Social Security Act with respect to aid to families with dependent children such as Jefferson v. Hackney, 406 U.S. 535, 92 S. Ct. 1724, 32 L. Ed. 2d 285 (1972) and Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471, 90 S. Ct. 1153, 25 L. Ed. 2d 491 (1970) (also dealing with the AFDC program) are not controlling insofar as they are based upon violation of the federal statute. For the same reasons, Townsend v. Swank (Ill.), 404 U.S. 282, 92 S. Ct. 502, 30 L. Ed. 2d 448 (1971) and Carleson v. Remillard (Calif.) 406 U.S. 598, 92 S. Ct. 1932, 32 L. Ed. 2d 352 (1972) dealing with state statutes inconsistent with the Social Security Act and hence invalid under the supremacy clause are likewise inapposite. They do, however, cast light upon our problem here with respect to the alleged denial of equal protection of the laws.

 The court is unanimously of the opinion that the regulation in question by its plain language and as administered by the Department of Public Welfare sets up a conclusive presumption without rational basis and cannot stand.

 
" Discussion
 
Being a full-time college student, appellant does not meet the employment requirements set forth in Regulation 3183. The revision of DPA Regulation 3185 states that full-time college students are not eligible for assistance because they do not meet the employability requirement of DPA regulation 3183 which states that all employable persons must actively seek, accept and retain full employment. Consequently, full-time college students do not meet the requirements and are not eligible for assistance as provided in Regulation 3182."
 
" Conclusions of Law
 
Appellant not having met the requirements of regulation 3182, is ineligible to receive general assistance."

 This was recognized by Mr. Kalberer, Executive Director of Allegheny County at pages 14 and 30 of depositions taken November 1972.

 The presumption set up in Section 3185 is a broad conclusive presumption without rational basis of the type which has many times been held invalid by the United States Supreme Court. See Schlesinger v. Wisconsin, 270 U.S. 230, 46 S. Ct. 260, 70 L. Ed. 557 (1926); Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 92 S. Ct. 1208, 31 L. Ed. 2d 551 (1972). (Conclusive presumption that unwed fathers were unfit to raise their children). A conclusive statutory presumption may be inaccurate and if it adversely affects the rights of individuals will be held invalid for violation of due process. Carrington v. Rash, 380 U.S. 89, 85 S. Ct. 775, 13 L. Ed. 2d 675 (1965). The fact that the application of such presumptions may promote speed and efficiency in decisions or conserve physical resources is no basis for holding them valid. Stanley v. Illinois, supra; Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 90 S. Ct. 1011, 25 L. Ed. 2d 287 (1970). In Goldberg, the court recognized the right of an eligible recipient not to be subjected to termination of aid without giving him a chance "if he so desires, to be fully informed of the case against him so that he may contest its basis and produce evidence in rebuttal," 397 U.S. at 265, 266, 90 S. Ct. at 1019.

 In the instant case, a needy college student who may be registered for employment and ready to take jobs that are offered is subject to termination of aid because of the conclusive presumption in this regulation and for no other reason.

 The conclusion we reach that the regulation is invalid because of the conclusive presumption it sets up, renders it unnecessary to render a decision on the claim of denial of equal protection of the laws either as a result of the application of this regulation to college students who are singled out as a class to be deprived of general public assistance or with respect to college students vis-a-vis full-time vocational students. It is the opinion of the court, however, that there is no merit in plaintiff's contentions in this regard. In Dandridge v. Williams, supra, the court in reversing a three-judge district court holding to the contrary said:

 
"In the area of economics and social welfare, a State does not violate the Equal Protection Clause merely because the classifications made by its laws are imperfect. If the classification has some 'reasonable basis,' it does not offend the Constitution simply because the classification 'is not made with mathematical nicety or because in practice it results in some inequality.' Lindsley v. Natural Carbonic Gas Co., 220 U.S. 61. [78], 31 S. Ct. 337 [340], 55 L. Ed. 369. 'The problems of government are practical ones and may justify, if they do not require, rough accommodations -- illogical, it may be, and unscientific.' Metropolis Theatre Co. v. City of Chicago, 228 U.S. 61. [69-70], 33 S. Ct. 441 [443], 57 L. Ed. 730. 'A statutory discrimination will not be set aside if any state of facts reasonably may be conceived to justify it.' McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420, 426, 81 S. Ct. 1101 [1105], 6 L. Ed. 2d 393."

 Again, in Jefferson v. Hackney, supra, the court said:

 
"This Court emphasized only recently, in Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471 [485] 90 S. Ct. 1153 [1161], 25 L. Ed. 2d 491 (1970), that in 'the area of economics and social welfare, a State does not violate the Equal Protection Clause merely because the classifications made by its laws are imperfect.' A legislature may address a problem 'one step at time' or even 'select one phase of one field and apply a remedy there, neglecting the others.' Williamson v. Lee Optical Co., 348 U.S. 483 [489], 75 S. Ct. 461 [465], 99 L. Ed. 563 (1955). So long as its judgments are rational, and not invidious, the legislature's efforts to tackle the problems of the poor and the needy are not subject to a constitutional straitjacket. The very complexity of the problems suggests that there will be more than one constitutionally permissible method of solving them."

 In Jefferies v. Sugarman, 345 F. Supp. 172 (three-judge court S.D.N.Y.1972) (Probable jurisdiction noted by U.S. Supreme Court) holding that New York regulations extending welfare benefits to mothers enrolled in vocational programs while denying such benefits to those enrolled in academic programs did not make an irrational distinction.

 One other argument in behalf of the defendants should be noted. It is claimed that since plaintiff elected to ask for a fair hearing before the Department of Public Welfare that thereby she had elected to follow the state procedures and had no right to resort to the federal courts for relief until she had exhausted her state procedures. The Commonwealth has not pointed out to us anything in the Public Assistance Act which would permit any further review in the department. Plaintiff's sole recourse appears to be an attempt to secure a review by the Commonwealth Court. *fn2"

 This action was brought pursuant to the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to enforce rights and privileges secured by the Constitution of the United States and this court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3) and (4). It has been many times held that actions for relief under the Civil Rights Act are not subject to exhaustion of state remedies. Wilwording v. Swenson, 404 U.S. 249, 92 S. Ct. 407, 30 L. Ed. 2d 418 (1971). The remedy provided by these Acts "is supplementary to the state remedy, and the latter need not be first sought and refused before the federal one is invoked". Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 81 S. Ct. 473, 5 L. Ed. 2d 492 (1961).

 In the light of the foregoing, an appropriate permanent injunction and declaratory judgment declaring the regulation in question to be invalid as applied to this plaintiff for lack of due process of law will be entered. Plaintiff's counsel is directed to submit a form of proposed order to the court within 10 days from the date of this opinion.

 In view of the fact that the findings of fact and conclusions of law sufficiently appear in this opinion, this will be determined as compliance with Rule 52(a).


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