Damico v. California

Decision Date18 December 1967
Docket NumberM,No. 629,629
PartiesBetty DAMICO et al. v. CALIFORNIA et al. isc
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

George F. Duke, for appellants.

Thomas C. Lynch, Atty. Gen. of California, and Richard L. Mayers and Elizabeth Palmer, Deputy Attys. Gen., for appellees.


The motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis is granted.

Appellants, welfare claimants under California Welfare and Institutions Code §§ 11250, 11254, and regulation C—161.20 thereunder, sought damages, a declaratory judgment of unconstitutionality and temporary and permanent injunctive relief in this suit under the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 28 U.S.C. § 1343. Their complaint alleges that the statute and regulation are discriminatory and that the appellees, in administering them and in applying them to appellants, deprived appellants of equal rights secured by the United States Constitution. The three-judge District Court dismissed the complaint solely because 'it appear(ed) to the Court that all of the plaintiffs (had) failed to exhaust adequate administrative remedies.' This was error. In McNeese v. Board of Education, 373 U.S. 668, 83 S.Ct. 1433, 10 L.Ed.2d 622, noting that one of the purposes underlying the Civil Rights Act was 'to provide a remedy in the federal courts supplementary to any remedy any State might have,' id., at 672, 83 S.Ct. at 1435 we held that 'relief under the Civil Rights Act may not be defeated because relief was not first sought under state law which provided (an administrative) remedy,' id., at 671, 83 S.Ct., at 1435. See Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 180—183, 81 S.Ct. 473, 480—482, 5 L.Ed.2d 492. We intimate no view upon the merits of appellants' allegations nor upon the other grounds not passed upon by the District Court.

The judgment of the District Court for the Northern District of California is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

Judgment reversed and case remanded with directions.

Mr. Justice HARLAN, dissenting.

California's Aid to Families with Dependent Children program provides welfare assistance to mothers and children rendered destitute through desertion by or separation from the fathers of the children. The law requires that, unless a suit for divorce has been filed, the desertion or separation be of at least three months' duration before AFDC aid will be granted.

Appellants were informed by a social worker that, no suit for divorce having been filed, they could not receive AFDC aid before the end of the three-month period; they then brought this suit for a declaration that the three-month requirement violated the Federal Constitution. The District Court, without reaching the question whether it should 'abstain' pending appropriate state proceedings for relief, and without reaching the merits, dismissed on the ground that the plaintiffs had failed to exhaust 'adequate administrative remedies.'

This Court, without plenary consideration and without stating its reasons, now reverses the District Court's dismissal, citing McNeese v. Board of Education, 373 U.S. 668, 83 S.Ct. 1433, 10 L.Ed.2d 622. In McNeese, the Court held that Negro students, seeking relief from alleged school racial segregation, did not have to pursue and exhaust certain administrative remedies available under state law before bringing their federal action. Although I did not at the time and do not now fully understand the Court's opinion in McNeese,* the net result of the case as I see it was that the right to assert, in a federal court, that state officials had acted in a manner depriving the plaintiff of clear constitutional rights could not be delayed by the interposition of intentionally or unintentionally inadequate state remedies for the alleged discrimination.

If that is a correct description of the exhaustion problem in McNeese, it bears little relation to the exhaustion question here. State AFDC relief was created pursuant to the provisions of the federal Social Security Act, 49 Stat. 627, 42 U.S.C. § 601 et seq. The Federal Government pays the major share of the cost of state aid, see 42 U.S.C. § 603, and in return closely supervises both how it shall be administered and what remedies shall be available to those who have complaints about its operation. Each State receiving federal assistance (which includes California) must formulate and submit to the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, for his approval, a plan of operation of its AFDC program. 42 U.S.C. § 602. In particular, the plan must provide that 'aid to families with dependent children * * * shall be furnished with reasonable promptness to all eligible individuals,' 42 U.S.C. § 602(a)(9), and must 'provide for granting * * * a fair hearing before the State agency (whose creation is required by a separate provision, 42 U.S.C. § 602(a)(3)) to any individual whose...

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