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Isabell v. Dept. of Public Aid

MARCH 26, 1974.

JOHNNIE MAE ISABELL, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC AID ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. EDWARD F. HEALY, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE STAMOS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

This appeal arises from a decision of the Circuit Court of Cook County affirming an administrative decision of the Illinois Department of Public Aid (IDPA). The IDPA dismissed plaintiff's administrative appeal on the grounds that it lacked jurisdiction over plaintiff's claim for failure to file the appeal within the required time limits.

On appeal, plaintiff contends that under the applicable statute (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1969, ch. 23, par. 11-8) and IDPA regulations, the 60-day limitation period on the right to appeal does not begin to run until the recipient is served with written notice of the adverse decision; and that a denial of a hearing on grounds of the running of the statutory period, violates both the Federal Social Security Act and due process when notice is not given.

In September of 1969, plaintiff applied for aid to families with dependent children (the county branch of the IDPA, hereafter referred to as AFDC), and informed the department that she and two of her children, William and Eddie, receive medical care. Mrs. Isabell and William have stomach ulcers; Eddie has a heart condition, being born with a hole in his heart. Based on these medical needs, plaintiff requested the county department to include in her public aid grant both a telephone allowance and food allowances for a special diet. Plaintiff testified that the intake officer informed her that the special allowances would be included in the budget.

In November of 1969, plaintiff was declared eligible for AFDC and received monthly payments from January 1970 until April 1971. At no time during the period under appeal, January 1970 through September 1970, were the special allowances included in her grant. Plaintiff testified that the county department never informed her that the special allowances were being denied; nor was she informed of the various component parts that made up her assistance grant.

During the period in question, plaintiff's monthly grants did not remain constant, but varied as follows: January and February 1970 — $163.84; March 1970 through June 1970 — $169.06; July 1970 through September 1970 — $173.48; October 1970 to February 1971 — $100.58. In the March through June 1970 period, 5 dollars a month was deducted from plaintiff's grant because of an alleged earlier overpayment. There is no indication in the record that plaintiff was informed of these deductions.

On January 25, 1971, after consulting the Legal Aid Bureau, plaintiff filed a notice of appeal with the IDPA challenging the county department's alleged inaction on her request for the special allowances and the 5 dollar monthly deductions for the period of March 1970 through June 1970. A hearing was held on March 19, 1971, in which neither of the parties raised the jurisdictional issue. The decision of the IDPA, rendered on June 24, 1971, denied the appeal on the ground that it lacked jurisdiction over the subject matter since the appeal was not filed within the required statutory period. Pursuant to the Administrative Review Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 110, par. 264 et seq.), an action for judicial review was brought in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Plaintiff appeals the circuit court's affirmance of the IDPA decision.

The decision of the IDPA rests upon Ill. Rev. Stat. 1969, ch. 23, par. 11-8, which provides inter alia:

"Applicants or recipients of aid may, at any time within 60 days after the decision of the County Department or local governmental unit, as the case may be, appeal a decision denying or terminating aid, or granting aid in an amount which is deemed inadequate, or changing, canceling, revoking or suspending grants as provided in Section 11-16, or determining to make a protective payment under the provisions of Sections 3-5a or 4-9. An appeal shall also lie when an application is not acted upon within 30 days after the filing of the application, or within a different time period as provided by rule of the Illinois Department, if an adjustment is necessary to conform with Federal requirements.

If an appeal is not made, the action of the County Department or local governmental unit shall be final."

Defendants argue that the facts of this case indicate that the special allowances requested by Mrs. Isabell were either denied by the local department or never acted upon. Inasmuch as the hearing officer made no finding that these requests were expressly denied or simply not acted upon, we do not vigorously question defendant's ambivalent characterization. However, the record strongly suggests that plaintiff's requests were never acted upon. Defendants further argue that section 11-8 operates as an absolute bar in either case notwithstanding the absence of notice; or alternatively, that plaintiff was placed on constructive notice by the fluctuating amounts of her monthly grants. We disagree.

AFDC is one of the joint Federal-State public assistance programs authorized by the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. par. 601 et seq.) and administered by the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW). As a condition for receiving federal financial assistance, the appropriate state agency is required to comply with the following relevant provision of the Social Security Act:

42 U.S.C. par. 602(2)(4):

"A State plan for aid and services to needy families with children must * * * provide for granting an opportunity for a fair hearing before the State agency to any individual whose claim for aid to families with dependent children is ...


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