Smith v. Puett

Decision Date11 August 1980
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 79-3345.
Citation506 F. Supp. 134
PartiesShilia Ray SMITH and Nathan Yarboro Miller and Ramona Ann Miller, By Next Friend Shilia Ray Smith, for Themselves and All Others Similarly Situated, Petitioners, v. Sammie Lynn PUETT, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Human Services, and Patricia Roberts Harris, Secretary of the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Respondents.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Tennessee


William J. Rold, and John Cleveland and James R. LaFevor, Knoxville, Tenn., U. T. Legal Clinic Community Office, for Shilia Ray Smith and Nathan Yarboro Miller and Ramona Ann Miller, by next friend Shilia Ray Smith, for themselves and all others similarly situated.

Aubrey L. Blankenship, Gen. Counsel, Dept. of Human Services, William B. Hubbard, Chief Deputy Atty. Gen., State of Tennessee, Nashville, Tenn., for Sammie Lynn Puett, Commissioner of the Tennessee Dept. of Human Services.

Robert J. Washko, Asst. U. S. Atty., Nashville, Tenn., Gwenn Jones, Dept. of Health and Human Services, Washington, D. C., for Patricia Roberts Harris, Secretary of the U. S. Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare.


JOHN T. NIXON, District Judge.

This is yet another case in the continuing line of cases1 that deal with conflicting interpretations of the statutory scheme providing for Aid to Families with Dependent Children hereinafter "AFDC" 42 U.S.C.A. § 601 et seq. (1974, Supp.1980). The AFDC Program, established by the Social Security Act of 1935 and now codified as amended in 42 U.S.C.A. § 601 et seq., was designed by Congress to provide financial assistance to needy children lacking parental support. HOUSE COMM. ON WAYS AND MEANS, H.R.Rep.No.615, 74th Cong. 1st Sess. 10 (1935). Based on a scheme of "cooperative federalism", AFDC provides federal matching funds to those states electing to participate only as long as the State assistance plans comply with certain mandatory requirements contained in the Act and comply with regulations promulgated pursuant to the Act by the Department of Health Education and Welfare hereinafter "HEW" 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 602, 603 and 604. The State of Tennessee is a participant in the AFDC program pursuant to 3A TENN.CODE ANN. §§ 14-8-101 et seq., (1980) which vests the responsibility of administering the program in the Department of Human Services hereinafter "DHS". 3A TENN. CODE ANN. § 14-8-102(1). DHS administers the AFDC program pursuant to regulations contained in the Tennessee Public Assistance Manual hereinafter "PAM".

Plaintiffs are presently before this Court on a motion for summary judgment pursuant to 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 (Supp.1980) seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against both federal and state defendants alleging that certain regulations in PAM embodying policies mandated by HEW are inconsistent with subchapter IV of the Social Security Act and are unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and under the Supremacy Clause. Specifically at issue is the validity of PAM §§ 2150 and 2151 which state that neither a putative father of an illegitimate child nor his relatives qualify as relatives eligible to receive AFDC on behalf of an illegitimate child, unless the child has been legitimated. Legitimation is not a precondition of eligibility for illegitimate children residing with their mother or a relative in the maternal line. If these contested regulations add an eligibility requirement not specifically authorized by the Social Security Act for the awarding of AFDC benefits to an otherwise eligible dependent child, then these regulations are inconsistent with the Act and must be found to be invalid. Miller v. Youakim, 440 U.S. 125, 133-134, 99 S.Ct. 957, 963-64, 59 L.Ed.2d 194 (1979); Quern v. Mandley, 436 U.S. 725, 740, 98 S.Ct. 2068, 2077, 56 L.Ed.2d 658 (1978); Van Lare v. Hurley, 421 U.S. 338, 339, 95 S.Ct. 1741, 1743, 44 L.Ed.2d 208 (1975); Burns v. Alcala, 420 U.S. 575, 578, 95 S.Ct. 1180, 1183, 43 L.Ed.2d 469 (1975); Carleson v. Remillard, 406 U.S. 598, 600, 92 S.Ct. 1932, 1934, 32 L.Ed.2d 352 (1972); Townsend v. Swank, 404 U.S. 282, 285, 92 S.Ct. 502, 504, 30 L.Ed.2d 448 (1971); King v. Smith, 392 U.S. 309, 88 S.Ct. 2128, 20 L.Ed.2d 1118 (1968).

Defendant HEW is also before this Court on a motion for summary judgment and asserts that the regulations and policies are consistent with the Social Security Act and are not in violation of plaintiffs' constitutional rights. Defendant DHS confesses judgment on the declaratory relief requested stating that HEW's interpretation of the pertinant AFDC statutes are in error; however, DHS requests summary judgment on all other issues including the constitutional issues.

Jurisdiction over this cause is based on 28 U.S.C.A. § 1442(a)(1) (1973), the "federal officer" removal statute. This statute has long been held to be a jurisdictional grant in itself in contradistinction to 28 U.S.C.A. § 1441(a) (1973), the general removal statute which requires the presence of an additional jurisdictional grant such as a federal question or diversity jurisdiction2. Perez v. Rhiddlehoover, 247 F.Supp. 65, 71 (E.D.La.1975), Horne v. Alderhold, 1 F.Supp. 690, 691 (N.D.Ga.1932).

Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment is granted. PAM §§ 2150 and 2151 which implement 3A TENN.CODE ANN. §§ 14-8-101 et seq., pursuant to policies mandated by HEW are incompatible with § 606(a) of the Social Security Act to the extent that PAM §§ 2150 and 2151 automatically deny AFDC benefits to an otherwise eligible illegitimate child who resides with a paternal relative.


Plaintiffs Nathan Yarboro Miller and Ramona Ann Miller, illegitimate children of Avery Eugene Smith and Lisa Miller, resided with the plaintiff Shilia Ray Smith, sister of Avery Smith, from July, 1978 until March, 1979. It has been stipulated that Avery Smith is the natural father of the children although never adjudicated such and that Shilia Smith is the paternal aunt of these children. While in the home of their paternal aunt, these children received no financial support from either of their absent parents. Nor I might add, from the federal or state governments.

Plaintiff applied for AFDC benefits on or about January 26, 1979. On February 19, 1979, the Knox County office of DHS mailed Shilia Smith a notice of denial. This denial letter explained to Ms. Smith that she must be a "legal relative" of the children in order to be eligible for assistance in the State of Tennessee under DHS regulations. These regulations as stated in PAM §§ 2150 and 2151 specifically exclude a putative or natural father and his relatives from the list of relatives eligible to receive AFDC for themselves and a dependent child until legitimation occurs.

An administrative fair hearing was requested by plaintiffs to review this determination. At the hearing it was established that the plaintiff was in fact denied AFDC because the children for whom the assistance was requested were not living with a relative within the specified degree of relationship as required by PAM §§ 2150 and 2151. It was further revealed at this hearing that the State of Tennessee had previously proposed a plan which would have allowed the putative father's relatives to qualify as a specified relative in order to meet the "living with" requirement and thus be eligible as a caretaker relative to receive an AFDC grant for himself and the child. Under the proposed plan, DHS would have made the determination of whether a "blood" relationship was factually established on the basis of various supporting data, just as when application is made by a maternal relative. HEW's Acting Regional Commissioner informed the Commissioner of DHS by letter dated March 11, 1977, that a welfare worker's factual determination on paternity was not adequate for AFDC purposes and approval of the plan was denied. Had Tennessee made the new plan operational over the objections of HEW, federal matching funds could have been discontinued. 42 U.S.C.A. § 604. Finally, it was found that the affidavits of Ms. Smith and her mother swearing that Avery Eugene Smith was the natural father of the children would have been sufficient evidence to establish a relationship between Ms. Smith and the children if the relationship had been through the maternal line instead of the paternal line. AFDC benefits would have been perfunctorily awarded, these children being otherwise eligible under the statutes.

Subsequent to the hearing, a hearing report was released to the plaintiff which stated that PAM §§ 2150 and 2151 mandated the denial of her application.

Plaintiff took exception with the Fair Hearing Report and on April 11, 1979, submitted a Supplemental Appeal Summary. The action of the hearing officer was affirmed by the Commissioner of DHS.

A timely petition for review was filed in Chancery Court for Davidson County, Tennessee. As HEW was also named as a defendant, the Secretary of HEW acted on the privilege granted to it under 28 U.S. C.A. § 1442(a)(1) and removed the action to this Court.


While plaintiffs have consistently relied on both statutory and constitutional claims, a court presented with both such grounds to support the relief requested should pass on the statutory claim before considering the constitutional question. Crowell v. Benson, 285 U.S. 22, 62, 52 S.Ct. 285, 296, 76 L.Ed. 598 (1932). "If there is one doctrine more deeply rooted than any other in the process of constitutional adjudication, it is that we ought not to pass on the questions of constitutionality... unless such adjudication is unavoidable." Spector Motor Service, Inc., v. McLaughlin, 323 U.S. 101, 105, 65 S.Ct. 152, 154, 89 L.Ed. 101 (1944); United States v. Clark, 445 U.S. 23, 100 S.Ct. 895, 899, 63 L.Ed.2d 171 (1980); Califano v. Yamasaki, 442 U.S. 682, 692, 99 S.Ct. 2545, 2552, 61 L.Ed.2d 176 (1979...

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  • Martin v. Heckler
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • October 15, 1985
    ...plaintiffs' suit, "the plaintiffs are not merely 'private attorneys general', they are the only attorneys general." Smith v. Puett, 506 F.Supp. 134, 146 (M.D.Tenn.1980) (substantially identical AFDC policy change struck down and fees awarded under section 1988 against state Defendants bear ......
  • Schrader v. Idaho Dept. of Health and Welfare
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    ...the state defendant of its obligation to pay a share of the reasonable attorney's fees of the plaintiffs. The court in Smith v. Puett, 506 F.Supp. 134 (M.D.Tenn.1980), dealt with this precise point: The Court exercises its discretion in assessing attorney's fees to the State defendants as c......
  • Willey v. Ives, Civ. No. 85-0295-B.
    • United States
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    • September 30, 1988
    ...should have requested a conformity hearing, see 42 U.S.C. § 1316 (1982 & Supp. 1985), sought declaratory relief, see Smith v. Puett, 506 F.Supp. 134, 146 (M.D.Tenn. 1980), or contacted the Secretary for a formal ruling as to the meaning of the Desmarais Memorandum, see Rose v. Heintz, 806 F......
  • Venus v. Goodman, 80-C-495
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    • January 26, 1983
    ...or employees for violation of constitutional rights. Bush v. Bays, 463 F.Supp. 59, 63 (E.D.Va.1978). See generally Smith v. Puett, 506 F.Supp. 134, 145-146 (M.D.Tenn.1980). Plaintiff, however, directs the Court to the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(b), which Unless exp......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Federal-state Programs and State-or Is it Federal?-action
    • United States
    • University of Nebraska - Lincoln Nebraska Law Review No. 54, 2022
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