Besaw v. Affleck, Civ. A. No. 4684.

Decision Date11 November 1971
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 4684.
Citation333 F. Supp. 775
PartiesBeverly Ann BESAW et al. v. John J. AFFLECK et al.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Rhode Island

John M. Roney and Cary J. Coen, of R. I. Legal Services, Inc., Providence, R. I., for plaintiffs.

W. Slater Allen, Jr., Asst. Atty. Gen., State of Rhode Island, Providence, R. I., for defendants.

Before McENTEE, Circuit Judge, PETTINE, Chief Judge, and DAY, District Judge.


PETTINE, Chief Judge.

This is a civil rights action authorized by 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U. S.C. § 2201 wherein plaintiffs seek to have this Court declare invalid and enjoin the enforcement of Chapter 290, 1971 Rhode Island Public Laws, which denies Public Assistance benefits to persons who have not resided in the State of Rhode Island for at least one (1) year. Jurisdiction of the Court is based on 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3); 28 U.S.C. § 1343 (4) and 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

Plaintiffs, individually and as representatives of a class, argue this restriction on welfare benefits abridges their constitutionally protected right to travel and is invalid under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Travel of the Case

The complaint was filed on August 2, 1971 and a temporary restraining order was entered that day enjoining the enforcement of the statute. Leave to proceed in forma pauperis was granted. This three-judge court was convened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2281 and 2284 and the temporary restraining order continued in effect by operation of 28 U.S.C. § 2284(3). Plaintiffs have moved for summary judgment.

Findings of Fact

This is a relatively simple task. The facts are undisputed and are as recited in the complaint, in the affidavits filed in support of the temporary restraining order and in a deposition of one of the defendants, John J. Affleck, Director of the Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services, who is charged with the administrative responsibility of this law under attack.

The 1971 Rhode Island Public Laws, Chapter 290 makes one year's residency in Rhode Island a prerequisite to eligibility for public assistance from the Rhode Island Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services.

The contested Act's statement of legislative findings and policy1 details a legion of problems allegedly so prodigious as to "* * * Threatens the Economic and Social Viability of the State."2


It finds that this threat is aggravated by the increase in welfare costs and its recipients, creating a "severe budgetary crisis" seriously threatening the State's ability to meet its medical, crime, educational and housing problems; that "* * The additional taxes necessary to meet the projected financial requirements of welfare would only accelerate the flight of job-producing and revenue-producing business, thereby further undermining the capacity of government in this state to meet its responsibilities," and in order to avoid these increases in taxes, the State has imposed severe restrictions on all governmental services, including public assistance.

The representative plaintiffs of the class3 are Beverly Ann Besaw, a twenty-four year old mother of two who was pregnant at the time the complaint was filed, and Imogene Moore, a twenty-seven year old mother of three, also then pregnant.

The complained of constitutional violation is factually founded in the refusal of plaintiffs' applications for public assistance on behalf of themselves and their children under the program, jointly funded by the State and Federal Government, providing Aid to Families with Dependent Children, on the sole ground that they were ineligible for lack of residency in Rhode Island for one (1) year as required by Chapter 290.

Motion for Summary Judgment

Recognizing that caution is mandated in considering motions for summary judgment,4 this Court concludes that the standards for issuance of summary judgment are here satisfied. All the facts necessary to resolve the legal issue are before the Court and there is no genuine issue of material fact. Accepting the legislative findings set forth in the Act's preamble as true, it is manifest that the Act's existence is predicated on economic factors. Such factors cannot show a compelling State interest which would justify infringement on the fundamental right to travel as enunciated in Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U.S. 618, 89 S.Ct. 1322, 22 L.Ed.2d 600. Rivera v. Dunn, 329 F.Supp. 554 (D.Conn. 1971).

This legislation attempts to create two classes of needy residents, which are "indistinguishable from each other except that one is composed of residents who have resided a year or more, and the second of residents who have resided less than a year, in the jurisdiction." Shapiro, supra, 394 U.S., at 627, 89 S.Ct., at 1327. The objective of the legislation is to deter poor people from entering the jurisdiction by denying them welfare benefits for the first year of their residency. This inhibition on the fundamental right of travel of indigents is constitutionally impermissible unless "shown to be necessary to promote a compelling governmental interest." Shapiro, supra, at 634, 89 S.Ct., at 1331. See, The Supreme Court: 1968 Term, 83 Harv.L. Rev. 118 (1969).

Emergencies in housing, medical facilities, unskilled employment, and educational facilities, stemming from a "budgetary crisis" that may demand increased taxes cannot be the justification for discouraging indigents from entering Rhode Island. Rivera, supra. It is clear this is constitutionally impermissible. The United States Supreme Court in Shapiro, supra, at pages 631-632, 89 S.Ct., at page 1330:

"Thus, the purpose of deterring the in-migration of indigents * * * is constitutionally impermissible.
* * * * * *
More fundamentally, a State may no more try to fence out those indigents who seek higher welfare benefits than it may try to fence out indigents generally. Implicit in any such distinction is the notion that indigents who enter a State with the hope of securing higher welfare benefits are somehow less deserving than indigents who do not take this consideration into account. But we do not perceive why a mother who is seeking to make a new life for herself and her children should be regarded as less deserving because she considers, among other factors, the level of a State's public assistance. Surely such a mother is no less deserving than a mother who moves into a particular State in order to take advantage of its better educational facilities."

The Supreme Court spoke directly to the use of economic factors as justification at page 633, 89 S.Ct. at page 1330:

"* * * A State has a valid interest in preserving the fiscal integrity of its programs. It may legitimately attempt to limit its expenditures, whether for public assistance, public education, or any other program. But a State may not accomplish such a purpose by invidious distinctions between classes of its citizens. * * * The saving of welfare costs cannot justify an otherwise invidious classification." (emphasis added)

In an analogous case, the Supreme Court recently reaffirmed that economic justifications do not provide a compelling State interest under the Equal Protection Clause. In Graham v. Richardson, 403 U.S. 365, 91 S.Ct. 1848, 29 L.Ed.2d 534 (1971), a case involving an "inherently suspect classification," the Supreme Court invalidated two State statutes that denied welfare benefits to resident aliens or those lacking a specified number of years of residency in the United States as violative of the Equal Protection Clause. In Graham, the Court pointed out that in order to protect special interests of the State or its citizens, it had on occasion upheld State statutes treating citizens and non-citizens differently. It must be noted, however, this public interest doctrine "* * * was heavily grounded on the notion that `Whatever is a privilege rather than a right, may be made dependent upon citizenship.'"

"But this Court now has rejected the concept that constitutional rights turn upon whether a governmental benefit is characterized as a `right' or as a `privilege.'" (citations omitted)
* * * * * *
"Since an alien as well as a citizen is a `person' for equal protection purposes, a concern for fiscal integrity is no more compelling a justification for the questioned classification in these cases than it was in Shapiro."

Graham, supra, at 374, 375, 91 S.Ct., at 1853.

The United States Supreme Court has rejected, in the absence of a compelling State interest,5 the conservation of the public fisc as reason justifying a residency requirement impinging "on the fundamental right of interstate movement." Shapiro, supra, 394 U.S., at 638, 89 S.Ct., at 1333.

It might be noted that defendant Affleck's uncontradicted deposition raises doubts whether this legislation could pass the traditional and less restrictive "rational relationship" test for equal protection. See McDonald v. Board of Elections, 394 U.S. 802, 89 S.Ct. 1404, 22 L.Ed.2d 739 (1968). Affleck's statement that this legislation was unnecessary and would involve significant additional administrative costs in implementing it6 lends support to plaintiffs' argument that little or no economic benefit would accrue to the State.

The burden this legislation imposes on the poor, as opposed to the non-poor, for only the poor are concerned with access to public assistance, is of concern. Passage of this legislation, in the clear light of established caselaw condemning the constitutionality of such residency requirements7 and evidence of its inutility as an economizing device, suggests the reality of the need for court protection of politically impotent minorities from majoritarian oppression. Cf. United States v. Carolene Products, 304 U.S. 144, 152, n. 4, 58 S.Ct. 778, 82 L.Ed. 1234 (1938); Michelman, Foreword: On Protecting the Poor Through the Fourteenth Amendment, 83 Harv.L.Rev. 7, 47 (1969).

The motion for summary judgment is granted. This Court hereby...

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    ...him. Both plaintiff and defendants have moved for summary judgment, there being no genuine issues of fact in dispute. See Besaw v. Affleck, 333 F.Supp. 775 (D.R.I.1971). Plaintiff, Kenneth R. Mancuso, is a full time police officer and classified civil service employee of the City and Cranst......
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    ...establishment of three-judge courts when declaratory relief is granted without injunctive implementation. 4 See Besaw v. Affleck, 333 F.Supp. 775, 780, note 7 (D.R.I.1971), for a series of citations to other recent decisions dealing with durational residency requirements in general. 5 95 U.......
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