975 F.2d 1329 (7th Cir. 1992), 91-3217, Hinrichs v. Whitburn

Docket Nº:91-3217, 91-3301.
Citation:975 F.2d 1329
Party Name:Lynn HINRICHS, Plaintiff-Appellant and Cross-Appellee, v. Gerald WHITBURN, Secretary, Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services, Defendant and Third-Party Plaintiff-Appellee and Cross-Appellant, v. Louis W. SULLIVAN, M.D., Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Marion Steffy, Regional Administrator of the U.S. Depar
Case Date:September 23, 1992
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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975 F.2d 1329 (7th Cir. 1992)

Lynn HINRICHS, Plaintiff-Appellant and Cross-Appellee,


Gerald WHITBURN, Secretary, Wisconsin Department of Health

and Social Services, Defendant and Third-Party

Plaintiff-Appellee and Cross-Appellant,


Louis W. SULLIVAN, M.D., Secretary of the U.S. Department of

Health and Human Services; Marion Steffy, Regional

Administrator of the U.S. Department of Health and Human

Services, Family Support Administration, Chicago, Illinois,

Third-Party Defendants-Appellees.

Nos. 91-3217, 91-3301.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

September 23, 1992

Argued April 29, 1992.

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David Gault (argued), Michele Hughes, Dodgeville, Wis., for plaintiff-appellee.

F. Thomas Creeron (argued), James E. Doyle, Atty. Gen., Wisconsin Dept. of Justice, Madison, Wis., for defendant-appellant.

Barbara F. Altman (argued), Lauren S. Ruby, Dept. of Health and Human Services, Region V, Office of the Gen. Counsel, Chicago, Ill., Richard D. Humphrey, Asst. U.S. Atty., Madison, Wis., for defendants-appellees.

Before CUMMINGS and COFFEY, Circuit Judges, and WOOD, Jr., Senior Circuit Judge.

CUMMINGS, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff Lynn Hinrichs, who receives benefits pursuant to the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program ("AFDC"), teaches four of her six children at her home in Rock Springs, Wisconsin. She meets the requirements of Wis.Stat. § 118.165 and has been approved to home-teach by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Hinrichs is a traditionalist Roman Catholic and believes that it is her religious duty to teach her children. In November 1988, the Sauk County Department of Human Services sent her a notice regarding an enrollment appointment with the Wisconsin Employment Opportunities Program ("WEOP"), a job training and search program. She refused to attend a short orientation session and has steadfastly refused any participation in the WEOP, asserting that she already has a full-time job teaching her children for religious reasons. Her suit in federal court was dismissed at summary judgment on the grounds of ripeness.


Hinrichs, a traditionalist Roman Catholic, does not believe in the changes made in the Catholic Church by Vatican II. As a consequence, she does not attend mass at a Catholic parish because of the manner in which communion is performed. Her family watches the "Apostolate to the Handicapped" on television instead. Hinrichs believes

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that her family receives spiritual communion while watching this traditional mass. Hinrichs and her family have joined, as layperson members, the Marian Movement of Priests, a traditional Roman Catholic group based in Maine. A central tenet of Hinrichs' beliefs is the infallibility of the Pope.

Hinrichs began teaching her six children at home in 1986, after being approved for home-teaching by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction for that year. 1 In 1991, the ages of her children were 17, 15, 12, 10, 9 and 6. She testified in her deposition that she would always have taught them at home if she knew it was permissible. In her deposition, Hinrichs gave several reasons for beginning to home-teach. She wanted to give her children a good religious background oriented to her traditionalist beliefs. She objected to the humanist attitudes in the public schools, which she thought placed man in the role of God. Parochial schools, in her view, were too worldly and did not teach the traditional views in which she believes. She also objected to the hour each day her children had to spend on the bus.

The Sauk County Department of Human Services mailed Hinrichs a "Mandatory WEOP Enrollment Appointment Notice" on November 3, 1988. Hinrichs was required to attend a WEOP "enrollment meeting" on November 15, 1988, at 9:00 a.m., which was expected to last around three and a half hours. The notice stated "you are required to participate in the Wisconsin Employment Opportunities Program (WEOP). WEOP is administered by Job Service and designed to help you find employment." 2 Hinrichs called the contact person a few days later to explain that she already had a job home-teaching, but was told she would have to attend the meeting. On November 14, 1988, Hinrichs' counsel wrote a letter to an official at the Sauk County Department of Human Services, stating that it would be unconstitutional to require Hinrichs to participate in WEOP and that she had "good cause" not to participate under Sec. HSS 208.08(3)(e) of the Wisconsin Administrative Code. On November 15, 1988, Hinrichs drove to the place where the introductory meeting was being held, but only informed the receptionist that she could not participate because of her home-teaching duties, and she did not attend the meeting.

There is some confusion in the record over Hinrichs' subsequent contacts with Wisconsin officials. On December 2, 1988, Hinrichs was mailed a "Mandatory WEOP Enrollment and Fact Finding Appointment Notice," which noted that she did not keep her November 15 appointment. 3 This notice apparently gave her the option to attend another introductory WEOP session, but also required an interview to explain her absence from the previous session. On December 9, 1988, another "Fact Finding Appointment Notice" was mailed to Hinrichs, apparently after she missed the session she was scheduled to attend on that day. The notice stated that "At this meeting you will have a chance to explain your apparent failure to meet WEOP requirements."

In late November or early December (Hinrichs could not recall the exact date), Hinrichs met with Candyce Potts of the Baraboo Job Service Office (which was administering the WEOP program) for a "fact-finding appointment." At that time,

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Hinrichs explained to Potts that she felt she already had a job teaching her children at home, and could not participate in the WEOP program. Potts then informed her that she would be sanctioned for her failure to participate. In response to the December 9 fact-finding appointment notice, Hinrichs' attorney wrote Potts and again explained that Hinrichs was home-teaching for religious reasons and should therefore be exempted from WEOP participation.

On January 9, 1989, Hinrichs received notice of a sanction for her failure to attend the WEOP orientation session. This sanction, which has been stayed because of her state court proceedings and because of this litigation, consisted of a withdrawal of her AFDC benefits for three months. 4 Hinrichs requested a hearing before the Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services. On March 13, 1989, Hinrichs and her counsel attended an administrative hearing, where she stated that her primary reason for not attending the WEOP program meetings was because she figured she already had a job, teaching her children. She did not specifically indicate at the hearing that her religious beliefs prevented her from participating in the WEOP program. Her counsel argued that a decision that denied Hinrichs AFDC benefits because of her failure to participate in the WEOP program would violate her constitutional rights.

After the administrative hearing, Wisconsin's AFDC Handbook was amended on July 1, 1989, to state: "Working does not include a caretaker teaching a child in a [Department of Public Instruction]-registered home educational program. Do not exempt the caretaker from having to participate in AFDC-WP for this reason, even though the home qualifies as a school." Predictably then, on October 15, 1989, the hearing officer found that Hinrichs did not have good cause for missing her WEOP appointments, and further found that she was not exempt from the program. The officer stated that he did not have authority to consider any constitutional claims, and therefore upheld the sanction against Hinrichs. Hinrichs' request for rehearing was denied on November 29, 1989. Hinrichs then filed an appeal in Wisconsin state court where it still pends.

Hinrichs filed this complaint in federal court on February 1, 1990, against defendant Gerald Whitburn, the Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services. The complaint alleged that Wisconsin's decision to sanction her violated her First Amendment right to religious liberty and her Fourteenth Amendment right to substantive due process and equal protection. On November 30, 1990, the district court denied Whitburn's motion to dismiss on abstention grounds due to the pending state court review of the Hinrichs' sanction. Whitburn then filed a third-party complaint against Louis Sullivan, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. 5 Hinrichs moved for summary judgment on May 6, 1991. On August 23, 1991, however, the district court entered summary judgment for Wisconsin and the Department, holding that Hinrichs' Free Exercise claim was not ripe and that her Due Process and Equal Protection claims were without merit. Hinrichs appealed the district court's ruling that her claim was not ripe, and Wisconsin cross-appealed the district court's decision not to apply the Younger abstention doctrine. 6


Wisconsin asks us to reconsider Judge Crabb's decision not to abstain in deference to Hinrichs' ongoing state court proceedings. See Hinrichs v. Goodrich, 753 F.Supp. 261 (W.D.Wis.1990). We decline to reverse that decision. Wisconsin does not present any new case authority to support reversal, and we substantially agree with Judge Crabb's application of the Younger abstention doctrine, which begins

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appropriately with the observation that "abstention by a federal court is the exception, not the rule." Id. at 263 (citing New Orleans Public Service, Inc. v. Council of City of New Orleans, 491 U.S. 350, 109 S.Ct. 2506, 105 L.Ed.2d 298).

The district court properly relied on our decision in Alleghany Corp. v. Haase, 896 F.2d 1046, 1053 (7th Cir.1990), vacated as moot, --- U.S. ----, 111...

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