Williams v. Martin, Civil Action File No. 1:01-CV-3342-TWT.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
Writing for the CourtThrash
Citation283 F.Supp.2d 1286
PartiesBrendan WILLIAMS, by His Mother and Next friend, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Jim MARTIN, in his official capacity as Commissioner, Georgia Department of Human Resources, Defendant.
Docket NumberCivil Action File No. 1:01-CV-3342-TWT.
Decision Date22 September 2003
283 F.Supp.2d 1286
Brendan WILLIAMS, by His Mother and Next friend, et al., Plaintiffs,
Jim MARTIN, in his official capacity as Commissioner, Georgia Department of Human Resources, Defendant.
Civil Action File No. 1:01-CV-3342-TWT.
United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division.
September 22, 2003.

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Phyllis J. Holmen, Lisa Jane Krisher, Georgia Legal Services Program, Atlanta, GA, for plaintiff.

William C. Joy, Dennis Robert Dunn, Thurbert E. Baker, Shalen S. Nelson, Office of State Attorney General, Atlanta, GA, for defendant.


THRASH, District Judge.

This is an action challenging the constitutionality of one provision of Georgia's public assistance program. It is before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 29] and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 32]. In summary, the Court holds that the assignment of child support payments for "capped" children pursuant to Georgia's Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program is not an unconstitutional taking. For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment and GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.


The Defendant Jim Martin is the Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Resources and administrator of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families ("TANF") program. He is sued in his official capacity as administrator of the program. TANF is Georgia's current welfare

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program for families. The Plaintiffs are minor children of former recipients of benefits under the program.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities Reconciliation Act of 1996, 42 U.S.C. § 601, repealed the Aid to Families With Dependent Children program, the federal program for providing welfare assistance to needy families, and replaced it with the TANF block grant program. In order to receive this federal block grant, a state must submit a plan demonstrating compliance with federal law to the United States Department of Health and Human Services for approval. 42 U.S.C. § 602(a). The state must also certify that it operates a child support enforcement program consistent with the requirements of Title IV-D of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. § 602(a)(2). As a condition of eligibility for TANF benefits, an applicant must assign to the state any right to collect child support payments for all persons for whom TANF is sought. 42 U.S.C. § 608(a)(3).

Georgia is a participant in the TANF block grant program. With some limited exceptions, families receiving TANF assistance in Georgia are subject to a "family cap" under which TANF benefits do not increase as a result of a birth of additional children during the time that the family is receiving TANF assistance. O.C.G.A § 49-4-186. The state requires TANF recipients to assign to the state the right to establish and collect child support for any child who is subject to the family cap even though inclusion of the "capped" child does not increase the family's TANF benefits. Plaintiffs contend that this policy and practice violate federal law and the due process and equal protection clauses of the Constitution.

The Plaintiff Brendan Williams was born on May 9, 1998. At the time, his mother, Michelle Pait, was receiving Georgia TANF benefits for herself and Brendan's half-brother Byron. Michelle Pait does not receive child support for Byron. Ms. Pait reported Brendan's birth to the Department of Family and Children Services ("DFCS") and signed papers to assign to the state her rights to child support for Brendan. Brendan was excluded from the TANF benefits under Georgia's "family cap." In January 1999, Brendan's father began to pay child support in the amount of $161 per month. Because Brendan is a "capped" child, Ms. Pait continued to receive TANF benefits at the level of a family of two, even after Brendan was born. (Pait Dep. at 19-21.)

The Plaintiff Zon'tarrio' Q. Boston was born on January 10, 2000. At the time, his mother, Audrey Boston, was receiving TANF benefits for her daughter Yerdua and herself. Yerdua's father was paying child support. When Ms. Boston reported Zon'tarrio's birth to DFCS, her social worker had her assign Zon'tarrio's right to child support to DFCS. Zon'tarrio's father began paying child support through the State Office of Child Support Enforcement in August 2000. Plaintiff Zon'tarrio' Q. Boston is also a "capped" child, and a portion of the child support paid by his father has been kept by the state, pursuant to the policy set forth above. (Boston Dep. at 98.) The state continued to receive child support payments made by the fathers of Brendan Williams and Zon'tarrio' Q. Boston after the families stopped receiving TANF benefits. (Defendant's Responses to Plaintiffs' First Requests for Admission, ¶¶ 25-26.) For Plaintiff Zon'tarrio' Q. Boston, the assignments remain in effect and offset public assistance which he alleges he is no longer receiving. For Plaintiff Brendan Williams, the challenged policy keeps him and the Pait family from electing to reapply for TANF benefits.

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The Plaintiffs claim that the Georgia TANF program violates federal law, 42 U.S.C. § 608(a)(3), by requiring assignment of child support payments for "capped" children. The Plaintiffs also claim that this mandatory assignment of child support constitutes a taking in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. In their Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs sought both retroactive monetary relief and prospective injunctive relief. Defendant moved this Court to dismiss these claims on the grounds that the suit is barred by the Eleventh Amendment. The Court dismissed Plaintiffs' claims seeking retroactive relief, but denied the motion as to prospective relief pursuant to Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714 (1908). The Plaintiffs and Defendant separately move for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' statutory and constitutional claims. The Defendant additionally argues that Plaintiffs lack standing and that the suit is not yet ripe for adjudication.


Summary judgment is appropriate only when the pleadings, depositions, and affidavits submitted by the parties show that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The court should view the evidence and any inferences that may be drawn in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-159, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970). The party seeking summary judgment must first identify grounds that show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The burden then shifts to the nonmovant, who must go beyond the pleadings and present affirmative evidence to show that a genuine issue of material fact does exist. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 257, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).


A. Standing

The Defendant challenges Plaintiffs' standing to bring this action. The Supreme Court has set forth an analytical framework for resolving issues of standing that includes both "constitutional" and "prudential" requirements. Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498-99, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975); Harris v. Evans, 20 F.3d 1118, 1121 (11th Cir.1994); Saladin v. City of Milledgeville, 812 F.2d 687, 690 (11th Cir.1987). The Defendant's argument addresses only the constitutional requirements. The constitutional requirements derive from Article III's limitation of federal jurisdiction to those situations in which a justiciable "case or controversy" exists between the litigants. Warth, 422 U.S. at 498, 95 S.Ct. 2197. The Constitution imposes three threshold requirements that a plaintiff must satisfy in order to seek relief in federal court. A plaintiff must show: (1) that he has suffered an actual or concrete injury; (2) that is causally connected to the defendant's conduct; and (3) that is likely to be remedied by a favorable decision of the court. Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 471-72, 102 S.Ct. 752, 70 L.Ed.2d 700 (1982). These requirements ensure that the federal courts are not vehicles to resolve general grievances or to issue advisory opinions, but are utilized by persons with concrete factual situations which require resolution. Id. at 472, 102 S.Ct. 752.

Without a showing of injury in fact, even if Defendant's actions were illegal,

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Plaintiffs' claims are not justiciable. An "injury in fact" is an invasion of a legally protected interest which is both "concrete and particularized," and "actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical." Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992); Bischoff v. Osceola County, Fla., 222 F.3d 874, 883 (11th Cir. 2000). "Absent a redressable injury, a judicial determination of a plaintiff's claim would amount to an advisory opinion prohibited by Article III's case and controversy requirement." Church v. City of Huntsville, 30 F.3d 1332, 1335 (11th Cir. 1994) (citing Valley Forge, 454 U.S. at 471-72, 102 S.Ct. 752).

The Defendant specifically contends that Plaintiffs do not suffer a redressable injury in fact, and, therefore, are prohibited from pursuing any claim for prospective relief. Specifically, the Defendant asserts that Plaintiffs are seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the state based on alleged past violations of federal and constitutional law. Because Michelle Pait and Audrey Boston and their respective families are presently neither recipients of TANF nor applicants for TANF, Defendant argues Plaintiffs' claims fail to allege a real and immediate threat of future injury which may be redressed by prospective relief.

The State of Georgia continues to...

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