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Mothers' and Children's Rights Organization v. Sterrett

decided: August 21, 1972.

MOTHERS' AND CHILDREN'S RIGHTS ORGANIZATION ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
WILLIAM R. STERRETT ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Swygert, Chief Judge, Castle, Senior Circuit Judge, and Kiley, Circuit Judge.

Author: Kiley

KILEY, Circuit Judge.

The district court in this civil rights*fn1 class action granted the Mothers' and Children's Rights Organization, et al. (plaintiffs) permanent injunctive relief against Indiana's Administrator of Public Welfare and members of the Welfare Board restraining them from terminating or reducing Public Assistance Benefits unless the recipients are afforded a prior hearing. Defendants have appealed.*fn2 We affirm.

Plaintiffs are an unincorporated association of welfare recipients and some association members who were found to represent the class of plaintiffs which includes all recipients of Public Assistance Benefits in Indiana.*fn3 The civil right asserted is the protection of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment which was about to be denied by defendants' termination of benefits without hearing.

The named plaintiffs received notice in April, 1970, from Indiana's Allen County Department of Public Welfare indicating that their public assistance benefits would be terminated May 1, 1970, according to State Department of Public Welfare rules and regulations rendering stepchildren ineligible for benefits if residing with their stepfathers.*fn4

The substance of the permanent injunction now before us is a restraint upon defendants from terminating or reducing "public assistance benefits" in all cases of the class plaintiffs represent without, among other things, providing due process requirements of prior written notices and a hearing -- except where that action by defendants is the result of a change in the law applicable to all plaintiff recipients. The basis of the permanent injunction was the court's determination that the "challenged practices" of defendants were not in accordance with the Supreme Court decision in Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 90 S. Ct. 1011, 25 L. Ed. 2d 287 (1970).

I

Defendants contend that Goldberg does not require any evidentiary hearing prior to termination or reduction of benefits when, as here, there are no factual issues and when there are only issues of law.

Defendants did not present their contention in the district court and plaintiffs argue that the point is therefore waived. This court will not ordinarily decide questions which were not raised in the district court. However, defendants' counsel told this court in oral argument that the issue was raised orally in the district court and the statement was not denied. We are not disposed, therefore, to waive the only issue raised on this appeal.

II

The issue in Goldberg was similar to the issue presented by defendants' contention before us.

"The constitutional issue to be decided, therefore, is the narrow one whether the Due Process Clause requires that the recipient be afforded an evidentiary hearing before the termination of benefits." Goldberg, 397 U.S. at 260, 90 S. Ct. at 1016.

Defendants argue that the injunction requires them to provide an evidentiary hearing in cases where there are no questions of fact,*fn5 and that no authority has been found requiring an evidentiary hearing where no facts are disputed. They claim that Goldberg does not mandate an evidentiary hearing in the usual sense of that term, but presents, so far as pertinent here, only choices of what forms of argument, written or oral argument or a combination of both are required. They insist that the instant injunction is too broad in its requirements since factual questions are often not involved.

The Court in Goldberg found justification for limiting the hearing to "minimum procedural safeguards, adapted to the particular characteristics of welfare recipients, and to the limited nature of the controversies to be resolved."*fn6 The Goldberg Court further decided that the recipient is to have timely and adequate notice with reasons for the proposed action and an ...


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