Westberry v. Fisher

Decision Date12 January 1970
Docket NumberCiv. No. 10-80.
Citation309 F. Supp. 12
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maine
PartiesRichard A. WESTBERRY et al., Plaintiffs, v. Dean FISHER, M.D., individually and in his capacity as Commissioner of the Maine State Department of Health and Welfare; Pauline Smith, individually and in her capacity as Director of the Division of Family Services of the Maine State Department of Health and Welfare; James Tierney, individually and in his capacity as District Director of the Division of Family Services, Portland Branch; David Jenny and Beverly Holloway, social workers of the Maine State Department of Health and Welfare, their agents, successors, and employees and all those in concert, Defendants.

Donald F. Fontaine, Robert E. Mittel, Thomas P. Downing, Portland, Me., William L. Robinson, New York City, Peter A. Anderson, James P. Dunleavy, Pine Tree Legal Assistance, Inc., Presque Isle, Me., A. MacNichol, South Portland, Me., Ward T. Hanscom, Sanford, Me., for plaintiffs.

Ruth L. Crowley, Janice M. Lynch, Keith N. Edgerly, Asst. Attys. Gen., Augusta, Me., for defendants.


GIGNOUX, District Judge.

This is a class action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1964)1 against the Commissioner and certain administrative personnel of the Maine State Department of Health and Welfare seeking a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief and damages. Federal jurisdiction was properly invoked under 28 U.S.C. § 1343 (3) and (4) (1964).2 A Three-Judge District Court was convened as required by 28 U.S.C. § 2281 (1964). That Court held in an opinion dated March 21, 1969, Westberry v. Fisher, 297 F.Supp. 1109 (D.Me.1969), that Maine's so-called "maximum grant" and "maximum budget" regulations, which provided, in substance, that under no circumstances could a family entitled to benefits under the State's Aid to Families with Dependent Children Program (AFDC) have a "budgeted need" of more than $300 per month, or receive a grant from the State in excess of $250 per month, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Accordingly, on April 14, 1969 judgment was entered declaring the challenged regulations unconstitutional and void, and enjoining defendants from their further enforcement. Thereafter, with the agreement of the parties, the Three-Judge Court was dissolved, and the matter was remanded to the single judge to whom the complaint was originally presented for a determination of plaintiffs' damage claims. See Public Service Commission of Missouri v. Brashear Freight Lines, 312 U.S. 621, 625, 61 S.Ct. 784, 85 L.Ed. 1083 (1941); Davis v. County School Board, 142 F.Supp. 616 (E.D.Va.1956); Mechling Barge Lines v. United States, 368 U.S. 324, 331, 336, 82 S.Ct. 337, 7 L.Ed.2d 317 (1961) (dissenting opinion). The present proceeding is confined to the issues thus presented.

Plaintiffs are members of a class composed of ADFC recipients who have large families and whose grants were limited by one or both of the two regulations. The class is now closed and constitutes, including the original plaintiffs, some 53 claimants who have intervened on behalf of themselves and their minor children.3 They now seek to recover damages in the following three categories:

(1) Retroactive AFDC benefits withheld during the period from the date of the filing of the complaint on April 18, 1968 until the Department began making corrected payments in the spring of 1969.4 The total amount of the benefits so withheld has been stipulated to be $45,903.
(2) Support monies collected by the Department pursuant to Maine Public Assistance Payments Manual, ch. III, § A, at 1-2 (Rev. 7/1/68). These monies were collected from persons legally obligated to support mothers with dependent children and were applied against the maximum budget allowable to any family. The total amount of support monies thus withheld has been stipulated to be $2,752.
(3) Consequential damages for pecuniary and other losses sustained as a result of the application to plaintiffs of the challenged regulations. These include out-of-pocket expenditures for medical attention and health insurance payments necessitated by the denial of State Medicaid coverage, and lost wages claimed to be the result of the maximum budget regulation. The total amount of these damages has been stipulated to be $1,958.28.

For the purposes of this litigation, the parties have stipulated that the $250 maximum grant regulation invalidated in this case was first promulgated in 1950 by David H. Stevens, then Commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Welfare; that defendant Fisher became Commissioner of the Department in 1954; that the $300 maximum budget regulation was first promulgated in 1956 by defendant Fisher; and that prior to their being put into effect, both regulations were submitted to the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare and approved by its duly authorized representatives, although neither regulation was submitted to the Maine Attorney General for approval as to legality.

Plaintiffs' principal contention is that they are entitled under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to recover of the defendants, both in their individual and in their representative capacities, all damages sustained by them resulting from application of the unconstitutional regulations. Alternatively, plaintiffs claim that this Court should order the retroactive payment of the benefits illegally withheld from them on the authority of the so-called "Fair Hearing" regulations which were issued by the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare and adopted by the Maine State Department of Health and Welfare during the pendency of this action.5 For the reasons which follow, the Court has concluded that neither Section 1983 nor the "Fair Hearing" regulations support an award of damages to plaintiffs in this action.


Plaintiffs seek first to hold defendants personally liable for damages under Section 1983. Because the record in this case is devoid of any indication that defendants acted other than in good faith and within the scope of their authority, no personal liability can attach to them.

Section 1983 makes liable "every person" who under color of state law deprives another person of his civil rights. That it imposes liability on state officials for acts done, either within or without the scope of their authority, was definitely established by Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 171-187, 81 S.Ct. 473, 5 L.Ed.2d 492 (1961). Furthermore, Section 1983 is cast in terms so broad as to indicate that governmental immunity can never be a defense in suits brought under that section.6 Nevertheless, despite the broad sweep of the statutory language, it has now been authoritatively determined that it was not the intention of Congress in enacting Section 1983 "to abolish wholesale all commonlaw immunities." Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554, 87 S.Ct. 1213, 1218, 18 L.Ed.2d 288 (1967). Thus, the Supreme Court has held that Section 1983 did not abrogate the immunity of legislators for acts within their legislative role, Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U.S. 367, 71 S.Ct. 783, 95 L.Ed. 1019 (1951), or the immunity of judges for acts in discharge of their judicial functions, Pierson v. Ray, supra 386 U.S. at 553-555, 87 S.Ct. 1213. And the lower federal courts have extended this immunity to a wide variety of judicial and quasi-judicial officers, including clerks of court, justices of the peace, prosecuting attorneys, and sometimes even governors, jailers, and parole board members. See, e. g., Sullivan v. Kelleher, 405 F.2d 486 (1st Cir. 1968); Brown v. Dunne, 409 F.2d 341 (7th Cir. 1969); Fanale v. Sheehy, 385 F.2d 866 (2d Cir. 1967); Rhodes v. Meyer, 334 F.2d 709 (8th Cir.), cert. denied 379 U.S. 915, 85 S.Ct. 263, 13 L.Ed.2d 186 (1964); Kenney v. Fox, 232 F.2d 288 (6th Cir.), cert. denied 352 U.S. 855, 77 S.Ct. 84, 1 L.Ed.2d 66 (1956); Delaney v. Shobe, 235 F.Supp. 662 (D.Or.1964).

The Supreme Court has not definitively spoken on the applicability of the doctrine of governmental immunity in actions brought under Section 1983 against state administrative officials, such as the defendants in this case. Plainly, such officials are not entitled to the absolute immunity which has been accorded to legislators and judges, for "to hold all state officers immune from suit would very largely frustrate the salutary purpose of this provision." Jobson v. Henne, supra 355 F.2d at 133; Hoffman v. Halden, 268 F.2d 280, 300 (9th Cir. 1959). However, in addition to reaffirming the common-law immunity of judges, the Court in Pierson v. Ray specifically held that the defense of good faith and probable cause was available in an action under Section 1983 to police officers who had arrested the petitioners, acting under a statute which was subsequently held to be unconstitutional, but which the officers had probable cause to believe to be valid. 386 U.S. at 555-557, 87 S.Ct. 1213. The Court thus made it clear that state officers, although not entitled to an absolute and unqualified immunity, have at least a limited immunity for acts done by them in good faith within the scope of their official duties.

In Pierson, the Supreme Court appears to have adopted the test enunciated more than ten years previously by Judge Magruder in his landmark opinions in Cobb v. City of Malden, supra, and Francis v. Lyman, 216 F.2d 583 (1st Cir. 1954). Cobb v. City of Malden was a civil rights action by school teachers who claimed to have been wrongfully discharged against the City of Malden, its mayor, and members of its city council. In his concurring opinion in that case, Judge Magruder stated that:

* * * the Act merely expresses a prima facie liability, leaving to the courts to work out, from case to case, the defenses by way of official privilege which might be appropriate to the particular case. 202 F.2d at 706.

He then concluded:

Hence I take it as a roughly accurate

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