392 U.S. 309 (1968), 949, King v. Smith

Docket Nº:No. 949
Citation:392 U.S. 309, 88 S.Ct. 2128, 20 L.Ed.2d 1118
Party Name:King v. Smith
Case Date:June 17, 1968
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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392 U.S. 309 (1968)

88 S.Ct. 2128, 20 L.Ed.2d 1118

King

v.

Smith

No. 949

United States Supreme Court

June 17, 1968

Argued April 23, 1968

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA

Syllabus

Under the Aid to Families With Dependent Children Program (AFDC) established by the Social Security Act of 1935 funds are made available for a "dependent child" largely by the Federal Government, on a matching fund basis, with the participating State administering the program in conformity with the Act and regulations of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW). Section 406(a) of the Act defines a "dependent child" as one who has been deprived of "parental" support or care by reason of the death, continued absence, or incapacity of a "parent," and, insofar as relevant in this case, aid can be granted under the provision only if a "parent" of the needy child is continually absent from the home. The Act requires that "aid to families with dependent children shall be furnished with reasonable promptness to all eligible individuals. . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 602(a)(9). Alabama, which, like all other States, participates in the AFDC program, in 1964 promulgated its "substitute father" regulation under which AFDC payments are denied to the children of a mother who "cohabits" in or outside her home with an able-bodied man, a "substitute father" being considered a nonabsent parent within the federal statute. The regulation applies regardless of whether the man is the children's father, is obliged to contribute to their support, or in fact does so. The AFDC aid which appellee Mrs. Smith and her four children, who reside in Alabama, for several years had received was terminated in October, 1966, solely because of the substitute father regulation on the ground that a Mr. Williams came to her home on weekends and had sexual relations with her. Mr. Williams is not the father of any of her children, is not obliged by state law to support them, and does not do so. Appellees thereupon brought this class action in the District Court against appellants, officers, and members of the Alabama Board of Pensions and Security for declaratory and injunctive relief against the substitute father regulation. The State contended that the regulation simply defines who is a nonabsent "parent" under the Act, is a legitimate way of allocating

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its limited resources available for AFDC assistance, discourages illicit sexual relationships and illegitimate births, and treats informal "married" couples like ordinary married couples who are ineligible for AFDC aid so long as their father is in the home. The District Court found the regulation inconsistent with the Act and the Equal Protection Clause.

Held: Alabama's substitute father regulation is invalid because it defines "parent" in a manner that is inconsistent with § 406(a) of the Social Security Act, and, in denying AFDC assistance to appellees on the basis of the invalid regulation, Alabama has breached its federally imposed obligation to furnish aid to families with dependent children with reasonable promptness to all eligible individuals. Pp. 320-334.

(a) Insofar as Alabama's substitute father regulation (which has no relation to the need of the dependent child) is based on the State's asserted interest in discouraging illicit sexual behavior and illegitimacy, it plainly conflicts with federal law and policy. Under HEW's "Flemming Ruling," as modified by amendments to the Social Security Act, Congress has determined that immorality and illegitimacy should be dealt with through rehabilitative measures, rather than measures punishing dependent children, whose protection is AFDC's paramount goal. Pp. 320-327.

(b) Congress meant by the term "parent" in § 406(a) of the Act an individual who owed the child a state-imposed duty of support, and Alabama may not therefore disqualify a child from AFDC aid on the basis of a substitute father who has no such duty. Pp. 327-333.

277 F.Supp. 31, affirmed.

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WARREN, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Alabama, together with every other State, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the District of Columbia, and Guam, participates in the Federal Government's Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) program, which was established by the Social Security Act of 1935.1 49 Stat. 620, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 301-1394. This appeal presents the question whether a regulation of the Alabama Department of Pensions and Security, employed in that Department's administration of the State's federally funded AFDC program, is consistent with Subchapter IV of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 601-609, and with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. At issue is the validity of Alabama's so-called "substitute father" regulation, which denies AFDC payments to the children of a mother who "cohabits" in or outside her home with any single or married able-bodied man. Appellees brought this class action against appellants, officers, and members of the Alabama Board of Pensions and Security, in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983,2 seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. A properly convened three-judge District

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Court3 correctly adjudicated the merits of the controversy without [88 S.Ct. 2131] requiring appellees to exhaust state administrative remedies,4 and found the regulation to be inconsistent with the Social Security Act and the Equal Protection Clause.5 We noted probable jurisdiction, 390

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U.S. 903 (1968), and, for reasons which will appear, we affirm without reaching the constitutional issue.

I

The AFDC program is one of three major categorical public assistance programs established by the Social Security Act of 1935. See U.S. Advisory Commission Report on Intergovernmental Relations, Statutory and Administrative Controls Associated with Federal Grants for Public Assistance 5-7 (1964) (hereafter cited as Advisory Commission Report). The category singled out for welfare assistance by AFDC is the "dependent child," who is defined in § 406 of the Act, 49 Stat. 629, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 606(a) (1964 ed., Supp. II), as an age-qualified6

needy child . . . who has been deprived of parental support or care by reason of the death, continued absence from the home, or physical or mental incapacity of a parent, and who is living with

any one of several listed relatives. Under this provision, and, insofar as relevant here, aid can be granted only if "a parent" of the needy child is continually absent from the home.7 Alabama considers a man who qualifies as a "substitute father" under its regulation to be a nonabsent parent within the federal statute. The State therefore denies aid to an otherwise eligible needy child on the basis that his substitute parent is not absent from the home.

Under the Alabama regulation, an "able-bodied man, married or single, is considered a substitute father of all

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the children of the applicant . . . mother" in three different situations: (1) [88 S.Ct. 2132] if "he lives in the home with the child's natural or adoptive mother for the purpose of cohabitation"; or (2) if "he visits [the home] frequently for the purpose of cohabiting with the child's natural or adoptive mother"; or (3) if "he does not frequent the home, but cohabits with the child's natural or adoptive mother elsewhere."8 Whether the substitute father is actually the father of the children is irrelevant. It is also irrelevant whether he is legally obligated to support the children, and whether he does, in fact, contribute to their support. What is determinative is simply whether he "cohabits" with the mother.9

The testimony below by officials responsible for the administration of Alabama's AFDC program establishes that "cohabitation," as used in the regulation, means essentially that the man and woman have "frequent" or "continuing" sexual relations. With regard to how frequent or continual these relations must be, the testimony is conflicting. One state official testified that the regulation applied only if the parties had sex at least once a week; another thought once every three months would suffice, and still another believed once every six months sufficient. The regulation itself provides that pregnancy or a baby under six months of age is prima facie evidence of a substitute father.

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Between June, 1964, when Alabama's substitute father regulation became effective, and January, 1967, the total number of AFDC recipients in the State declined by about 20,000 persons, and the number of children recipients by about 16,000, or 22%. As applied in this case, the regulation has caused the termination of all AFDC payments to the appellees, Mrs. Sylvester Smith and her four minor children.

Mrs. Smith and her four children, ages 14, 12, 11, and 9, reside in Dallas County, Alabama. For several years prior to October 1, 1966, they had received aid under the AFDC program. By notice dated October 11, 1966, they were removed from the list of persons eligible to receive such aid. This action was taken by the Dallas County welfare authorities pursuant to the substitute father regulation, on the ground that a Mr. Williams came to her home on weekends and had sexual relations with her.

Three of Mrs. Smith's children have not received parental support or care from a father since their natural father's death in 1955. The fourth child's father left home in 1963, and the child has not received the support or care of his father since then. All the children live in the home of their mother, and, except for the substitute father regulation, are eligible for aid. The family is not...

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