Johnson v. Johnson, 46752-8

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington
Citation96 Wn.2d 255,634 P.2d 877
PartiesVirginia Lee JOHNSON, a/k/a Virginia Lee Ben-David, Petitioner, v. Andrew C. JOHNSON, a/k/a Rabbi Eliakim Ben-David, Respondent, and Department of Social and Health Services, Secretary of Department of Social and Health Services, Appellants.
Docket NumberNo. 46752-8,46752-8
Decision Date15 October 1981

Kenneth O. Eikenberry, Atty. Gen., Eric B. Watness, Bruce Clement, Asst. Attys. Gen., Seattle, for petitioner.

Johnson, Lane & Gallagher, Joanne Henry, Thomas H. Oldfield, Tacoma, for respondent.

Washington Association of Pros. Attys., Donald F. Herron, Pierce County Prosecutor, Stanley P. Wagner, Jr., Deputy County Prosecutor, Tacoma, amicus curiae.

UTTER, Justice.

RCW 74.20.040 allows the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to collect past due child support for children not receiving public assistance. The Superior Court ruled the act violates Const. art. 7, § 1 (amendment 14) and Const. art. 8, § 5, and granted a summary judgment to a delinquent father. We disagree and accordingly reverse.

Andrew and Virginia Johnson were divorced in April 1975. Virginia retained custody of their youngest child, and Andrew was ordered to pay child support. When he failed to do so, Mrs. Johnson asked DSHS to institute collection procedures.

Pursuant to RCW 74.20.040, DSHS offers support enforcement services to children with court-ordered support decrees. Participation in the program requires an initial $20 fee and a monthly payment of $10, or 10 percent of the support collected, whichever is less. WAC 388-14-315. These fees defray less than one-half the cost of the services. In fiscal year 1977-78, the program cost $983,089 to administer, the support collections amounted to $6,494,383, and the paid fees totaled $483,308. The federal government directly reimbursed the state for 75 percent of the remaining costs, 42 U.S.C. § 655(a)(1), reducing the state's net cost of administration to $124,945. As a result of the program, the state obtained $3,600,000 more in federal funds than it would have otherwise received, an amount equal to 5 percent of the total federal assistance to the state's welfare programs. 42 U.S.C. § 603(h).

At the time of her request, Mrs. Johnson's monthly income exceeded $1,000 and neither she nor her minor child was eligible for any public assistance. DSHS commenced collection efforts by sending Mr. Johnson a notice of the debt and demanding payment of past due support totaling $1,770. He resisted, filed a lawsuit, naming DSHS as a third-party defendant, and requested a summary judgment which was granted on the ground that RCW 74.20.040 is unconstitutional.

Mr. Johnson contends that RCW 74.20.040 violates Const. art. 7, § 1 (amendment 14), and Const. art. 8, § 5, in that the net cost of providing child support collection services is a gift of public monies for a private purpose. To prevail, he must demonstrate that statute's "invalidity beyond a reasonable doubt" and rebut the presumption that all legally necessary facts exist. Bellevue v. State, 92 Wash.2d 717, 720, 600 P.2d 1268 (1979); State v. Primeau, 70 Wash.2d 109, 111, 422 P.2d 302 (1966); Clark v. Dwyer, 56 Wash.2d 425, 353 P.2d 941 (1960). This court will sustain statutes whenever it can conceive any set of facts which support the statute's constitutionality, see State v. J-R Distributors, Inc., 82 Wash.2d 584, 512 P.2d 1049 (1973); Spokane v. Carlson, 73 Wash.2d 76, 80, 436 P.2d 454 (1968), and will accept as a verity any legislative declaration of the statute's public purpose, unless arbitrary or unreasonable. See Frach v. Schoettler, 46 Wash.2d 281, 280 P.2d 1038, cert. denied, 350 U.S. 838, 76 S.Ct. 75, 100 L.Ed. 747 (1955); State ex rel. Gray v. Martin, 29 Wash.2d 799, 189 P.2d 637 (1948).


Washington Const. art. 7, § 1 (amendment 14) provides:

All taxes shall be uniform upon the same class of property within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax and shall be levied and collected for public purposes only.

It requires that government expenditures further public purposes. United States v. North Bonneville, 94 Wash.2d 827, 621 P.2d 127 (1980); State ex rel. Collier v. Yelle, 9 Wash.2d 317, 115 P.2d 373 (1941). An expenditure is for a public purpose when it confers a benefit of reasonably general character to a significant part of the public. Bonneville, 94 Wash.2d at 834, 621 P.2d 127, quoting 15 E. McQuillin, Municipal Corporations 39.19, at 31-32 (3d ed. 1970); Anderson v. O'Brien, 84 Wash.2d 64, 524 P.2d 390 (1974).

The State argues that RCW 74.20.040 furthers several public purposes, and hence is constitutional. As evidence of these purposes, it points to the legislative declarations in RCW 74.20 and its companion chapter, RCW 74.20A. The alleged public purposes are: (1) ensure that provision is made for the children's "support, education, and training, to the end that they may grow up to be worthy and useful citizens," Corson v. Corson, 46 Wash.2d 611, 615, 283 P.2d 673 (1955); (2) keep children and their custodians off welfare and thus reduce the taxpayers' burden, RCWA 74.20.010; S.Rep. No. 96-336, 96th Cong., 2d Sess., reprinted in (1980) U.S.Code Cong. Ad.News 1448; (3) reduce financial dependency and social delinquency, RCW 74.20.010; (4) reduce the "increasing workload of courts, prosecuting attorneys, and the attorney general", RCW 74.20A.010; (5) make the collection of child support more effective and efficient, since existing techniques have proven ineffective and thus have frustrated enforcement of court decrees, RCW 74.20.010; RCW 74.20A.010; and (6) discourage nonsupport generally. See S.Rep. No. 96-336, supra; Stouder, Child Support Enforcement and Establishment of Paternity as Tools of Welfare Reform Social Services Amendments of 1974, pt. B, 42 U.S.C. §§ 51-60 (Supp. V, 1975), 52 Wash.L.Rev. 169 (1976).

Mr. Johnson challenges those stated purposes, arguing that the real purpose for the scheme is to confer a direct benefit to the child's custodian, in that she or he is able to use the state's resources to get the support decree enforced at a fraction of the cost of employing a private attorney. He, however, has produced no evidence which establishes that such was the actual, only, or even primary intent of the legislature; nor does he show that the scheme fails to fulfill any of the stated public purposes. Instead, he only alleges that the public benefits are speculative, intangible and secondary.

The evidence, on the other hand, suggests that the scheme is effective in achieving, at least, some of those public goals. See S.Rep. No. 96-336, supra; Stouder, supra. In fiscal year 1977-78, the net cost of the program was $124,945, and it resulted in support collections of $6,494,383. Also, it is estimated that without the program 10 to 50 percent of the participants would have gone on welfare.

Mr. Johnson, as did the trial court, seems to confuse article 7, section 1 with article 8, section 5. He erroneously believes that section 1 is violated because substantial private benefits are conferred. He fails to realize only some actual public benefit is necessary for section 1 purposes. Bonneville, supra; Anderson v. O'Brien, 84 Wash.2d 64, 524 P.2d 390 (1974). Thus, because Mr. Johnson has failed to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the statute does not further any public purpose, its constitutionality for section 1 purposes must be presumed. See Bellevue, supra; Clark, supra.

Notwithstanding that, Mr. Johnson argues that some, if not all, of the alleged public purposes could be furthered by requiring the participants to pay the full costs of the program. At best, that allegation may be only partially correct, as many participants lack the resources to bear the full costs, and hence their collections would not be made without the reduced fee feature. See generally Senate Report, supra; Stouder, supra. Moreover, it is conceivable that there may be instances where the actual collection costs exceed the amount collected. While that may not be cost effective in the short run, it may become very cost effective if it deters future nonsupport in that case as well as others.

Despite that, even if Johnson's allegation were correct, such does not render the scheme unconstitutional. So long as the program promotes a real public purpose, it is immaterial that it could accomplish the same end more efficiently. See State Highway Comm'n v. Pacific N.W. Bell Tel. Co., 59 Wash.2d 216, 367 P.2d 605 (1961); Ragan v. Seattle, 58 Wash.2d 779, 364 P.2d 916 (1961).


Washington Const. art. 8, § 5 provides:

The credit of the state shall not, in any manner be given or loaned to, or in aid of, any individual, association, company or corporation.

It prohibits the state from giving its money or property to any private entity. 1 Washington Health Care Facilities Authority v. Ray, 93 Wash.2d 108, 605 P.2d 1260 (1980); State Higher Educ. Assistance Authority v. Graham, 84 Wash.2d 813, 529 P.2d 1051 (1974). Impermissible gifts of property have been found where the state voluntarily and without any reciprocal consideration conferred a pecuniary benefit to an entity whose function was primarily private. See, e. g., Louthan v. King County, 94 Wash.2d 422, 617 P.2d 977 (1980); Health Care Facilities, supra; Bellevue, supra; Bonneville, supra; Scott Paper Co. v. Anacortes, 90 Wash.2d 19, 578 P.2d 1292 (1978); Anderson, supra; State v. Ralph Williams' N.W. Chrysler Plymouth, Inc., 82 Wash.2d 265, 510 P.2d 233 (1973); State ex rel. Graham v. Olympia, 80 Wash.2d 672, 497 P.2d 924 (1972); State ex rel. Tattersall v. Yelle, 52 Wash.2d 856, 329 P.2d 841 (1958). Under two rationales, RCW 74.20.040 does not violate article 8, section 5.


Article 8, section 5 does not prevent the state from exercising a "recognized public governmental function." State v. Guaranty Trust Co., 20 Wash.2d 588, 592, 148 P.2d 323 (1944); Morgan v. Department of Social Security, 14 Wash.2d 156,...

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