Langan v. Weeks

Decision Date07 March 1995
Docket NumberNo. 12846,12846
Citation655 A.2d 771,37 Conn.App. 105
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals
PartiesJudith LANGAN v. John WEEKS.

Judith Solomon, with whom, on the brief, were Kimberly Newman and Lucy Porter, for the appellant (plaintiff).

Rochelle Homelson, Asst. Atty. Gen., with whom, on the brief, were Richard Blumenthal, Atty. Gen., and Donald M. Longley, Asst. Atty. Gen., for the appellee (state).


DUPONT, Chief Judge.

The sole issue of this appeal is whether the plaintiff, 1 in exchange for receiving public assistance from the state of Connecticut, assigned to the state her right to current and future support payments from the father of her child, as well as to amounts already owed to her by him, but not yet paid at the time of her application, for periods of time when she was not receiving benefits. We conclude that the trial court was correct in determining that the assignment was valid.

The defendant, John Weeks, was adjudicated the father of the plaintiff's child in 1986 and ordered to make support payments to the plaintiff in the amount of $50 per week. The plaintiff and the child received aid to families with dependent children (AFDC) during several periods following that adjudication.

In April of 1991, the child support enforcement bureau 2 filed a contempt action against the defendant for failure to pay child support. At the contempt hearing before a family support magistrate, 3 the support enforcement bureau argued that the amount of the defendant's arrearage to which the state was entitled was the total of all unreimbursed public assistance payments made to the plaintiff by the state since 1986, regardless of whether the arrearage owed to the plaintiff by the defendant was payable for a period of time when the state was not making public assistance payments to the plaintiff. In other words, the state claimed that the plaintiff had assigned to the state all of her support rights from the defendant, past and current, pursuant to General Statutes (Rev. to 1993) § 17-82b (now § 17b-77). 4 The plaintiff argued to the contrary. In order to resolve this issue, at the request of the state and the plaintiff, a special hearing was held by the magistrate.

The state presented evidence to the magistrate, through both testimony and exhibits, of the federal and state statutory and regulatory requirements mandating the assignment of support rights by a recipient as a condition for eligibility for AFDC benefits. The magistrate also admitted into evidence copies of documents completed at the time of the plaintiff's applications for AFDC assistance. These showed that the plaintiff had received AFDC benefits for various periods between 1986 and 1991 and that a total of $17,245.71 in public assistance benefits had been paid on behalf of the plaintiff and her child, which was a sum greater than the amount of the arrearage due the plaintiff by the defendant.

The state's evidence also showed that each time the plaintiff applied for AFDC benefits, she signed an application form that contained the language: "I assign to the State all the support rights which I have against any person in behalf of any family member for whom I am applying or receiving assistance." (Emphasis added.) The plaintiff also signed, each time she applied for assistance, a "Notice to AFDC Recipients Regarding Cooperation in Obtaining Support," which contains the language, "you must turn over all child support payments you receive ... if you fail to comply with this requirement, you will become ineligible and be removed from the assistance unit...." (Emphasis added.) Finally, the state submitted a document, signed by the plaintiff, entitled "Department Responsibilities for Explaining the Following," listing areas that "intake workers" must discuss with AFDC applicants. Child support assignment is not listed as one of these mandatory areas, but there is language on the form pertaining to support assignment that states: "I understand ... I have assigned all my support rights to the State. This means that if I receive child support directly, I will turn it over to the state." (Emphasis added.) Thus, there were three separate documents that made the plaintiff aware of an assignment of child support rights to the state.

The plaintiff last applied for AFDC in September, 1991, when she lost her job. A child support arrearage of $3043.62 was owed to her at the time, representing amounts the defendant had not paid since the plaintiff had stopped receiving AFDC in 1990. In January, 1992, three months after she had applied for assistance, the plaintiff began receiving unemployment compensation and again stopped receiving AFDC.

The plaintiff testified at the hearing before the magistrate that each time she applied for AFDC benefits, she had read the assignment language, but did not question it because she thought it applied only to current support amounts. She further testified that she had had the same caseworker on at least three different occasions when she applied for assistance and that she had never been informed that the assignment of child support would extend to money previously owed to her as well as to her right to ongoing support. 5 She also testified that on a prior occasion in 1990, the department had allowed her to keep a lump sum child support payment representing an arrearage that had accrued while she was not receiving assistance, even though she was on assistance at the time she received the payment and had reported it to the department. 6 The state presented evidence, however, that in 1989 the plaintiff reported a lump sum payment of past due support as required by one of the forms she signed and that the department of income maintenance required her to repay that money to the state.

The plaintiff testified that had she understood that she was giving up her right to the $3043.62 arrearage in support payments, accrued while she was not receiving state support, she would not have applied for state assistance, but would have instead sought help from her fiance and family.

The magistrate asked the plaintiff's witness, Patrick Hearn, supervisor of the Torrington department of income maintenance, how he would respond to someone who specifically inquired whether an arrearage owed to her would be affected if she applied for assistance. He answered that he had never been asked such a question, and that he would have to consult with support enforcement services before he would be able to answer such a question.

The magistrate found two arrearage amounts, one for sums owed by the defendant to the plaintiff for periods when the plaintiff was not receiving state aid, and the other for sums owed by the defendant to the plaintiff for periods when she was receiving state aid. The magistrate held that the plaintiff was entitled to an arrearage of $3488.62, 7 which included the $3043.62 arrearage that had accumulated prior to the plaintiff's September, 1991 AFDC application, during a period when the plaintiff was not receiving assistance, and that the state was entitled to $4738.94, the amount owed by the defendant to the plaintiff from September, 1991, to May 27, 1992, when she was receiving aid.

The state appealed from the magistrate's findings to the Superior Court, where oral arguments, but no further evidence or testimony, were heard. The trial court found that the assignment had not been conspicuously placed on the application and that the plaintiff's caseworker had given no explanation about the assignment of the arrearage. The court also found that the plaintiff did receive notice on the application itself, although it was not extensive, and that the plaintiff was given the opportunity to ask questions but chose not to do so. 8 The court concluded that (1) the assignment of support rights under General Statutes (Rev. to 1993) § 17-82b (now § 17b-77) arises by operation of law, and (2) the notice and explanation provisions of § 17-82b are directory, rather than mandatory. The court reversed the magistrate's decision and rendered judgment for the state for $8227.56. 9

On appeal, the plaintiff claims that (1) the assignment of child support arrears was invalid because notice of the assignment was not conspicuously placed on the AFDC application or explained as required by General Statutes (Rev. to 1993) § 17-82b (now § 17b-77), and her constitutional rights to due process were violated, (2) the notice provision in § 17-82b is mandatory rather than directory, (3) the state was estopped from claiming an assignment of the arrearage, (4) the state was not precluded from enacting legislation implementing Title IV-D of the Social Security Act to provide broader protection to the state's citizens than required by federal law, and (5) the trial court incorrectly calculated the amount of the arrearage that was owed to the state. 10

The first two issues for which review is sought are based on a claim that the plaintiff had a statutory right, provided by § 17-82b, to be informed of the condition for receiving benefits, rather than a claim that the state could not, consistent with federal law, require an assignment of all support amounts due her at the time she applied for benefits. The third issue is based on the plaintiff's claim that even if the state would otherwise have a valid assignment, it was estopped from asserting it, and the fourth on a claim that the Connecticut legislature could grant an applicant an absolute right to conspicuous notice and to an explanation of the assignment, even if such notice and explanation is not required by federal law.

The trial court's conclusions, that the plaintiff's assignment of all her rights to support, including the defendant's child support arrearages, occurred by operation of law, and that the notice provisions of § 17-82b are directory rather than mandatory, are legal conclusions and are, therefore,...

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11 cases
  • State v. Matos, 15433
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • May 6, 1997 obtained. All Brand Importers, Inc. v. Dept. of Liquor Control, [213 Conn. 184, 205, 567 A.2d 1156 (1989) ]." Langan v. Weeks, 37 Conn.App. 105, 118, 655 A.2d 771 (1995). In the absence of a claim of deprivation of a fundamental right, we have scrutinized such questions under a rational ......
  • State v. Cummings
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • October 28, 1997
    ...the state and federal due process provisions are coextensive and afford equivalent levels of protection. Langan v. Weeks, 37 Conn.App. 105, 118 n. 14, 655 A.2d 771 (1995). We, therefore, decline to analyze the claim separately.4 Our Supreme Court established that "a defendant can prevail on......
  • Kudlacz v. Lindberg Heat Treating Co., 17337
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • June 9, 1998
    ...affected have a right to notice and an opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner." Langan v. Weeks, 37 Conn.App. 105, 118, 655 A.2d 771 (1995). We have adhered to these due process principles in cases where parties who did not receive timely notice have sought ......
  • Henriquez v. Allegre
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • February 19, 2002
    ...affected have a right to notice and an opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner." Langan v. Weeks, 37 Conn. App. 105, 118, 655 A.2d 771 (1995). We have adhered to these due process principles in our decisions regarding the commencement of the statutory four mo......
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1 books & journal articles
  • 1995 Appellate Review
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 70, 1995
    • Invalid date
    ...Our law firm represented the plaintiffs. 30. 39 Conn. App. 289,664 A.2d 803, cert. denied, 235 Conn. 925,666 A.2d 1186 (1995). 31. 37 Conn. App. 105, 118, n.14, 655 A.2d 771 (1995). 32. Loisel v. Rowe, 233 Conn. 370, 388, 660 A.2d 323 (1995)(Katz, J. dissenting) (test for mootness); Moore v......

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