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Townsend v. Edelman

decided: June 2, 1975.


Appeal and Cross Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division - No. 68 C 2134 Luther M. Swygert, J. Sam Perry and Abraham L. Marovitz, Judges.

Pell and Sprecher, Circuit Judges, and Jameson, Senior District Judge.*fn*

Author: Sprecher

SPRECHER, Circuit Judge.

This appeal and cross-appeal raise two issues. First, whether a monetary award in the form of benefits withheld from the plaintiff class by defendant state officials is barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Second, whether attorneys' fees can be assessed against the defendants for defending the Illinois statute and policy challenged by this action.


In 1969 plaintiff Georgia Townsend, individually and on behalf of her daughter, intervened in this action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief restraining defendant state welfare officials from enforcing a state statute*fn1 and regulation*fn2 insofar as they denied Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) benefits to otherwise eligible 18-21 year-olds because they attended a college or university rather than a technical or vocational school. Plaintiff Townsend sought damages against defendants in the amount of public assistance payments improperly withheld.

In the initial proceedings below the district judge denied motions to dismiss the complaint and pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2281, 2284, convened a three-judge court. Alexander v. Swank, 314 F. Supp. 1078 (N.D. Ill. 1969). That court determined the action was properly maintainable as a class,*fn3 and that the plaintiffs had standing to challenge the state law. The court, however, denied both plaintiffs' statutory claim based on the supremacy clause,*fn4 and equal protection argument.*fn5

On direct review in the Supreme Court it was held that the Illinois statute and regulation conflicted with Section 406(a)(2)(B), Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 606(a)(2)(B) and for that reason were invalid under the supremacy clause. Townsend v. Swank, 404 U.S. 282, 30 L. Ed. 2d 448, 92 S. Ct. 502 (1971) (Townsend I).*fn6 The Court in its mandate filed with the district court on January 7, 1972, remanded the cause to that court for further proceedings in conformity with its opinion.

Pursuant to that mandate the three-judge court on January 21, 1972, enjoined state officials from enforcing that portion of the Illinois law held by the Supreme Court to be in conflict with federal law, and to furnish within 30 days AFDC benefits to those eligible as a result of the decision. The court also ordered defendant officials to pay the two named plaintiffs AFDC benefits wrongfully withheld in the past.*fn7 The court retained jurisdiction over the case in order to determine the damages to be paid because of AFDC benefits wrongfully withheld for the remainder of the class.

On June 30, 1972, the three-judge court entered an opinion with reference to its decision as to the remainder of the class. The court said:

We award retroactive relief to those individuals who were 18-21 years old during the period July 30, 1965 to the present who attended college or who are now attending college whose AFDC benefits were terminated because of college attendance or who were denied benefits after having made formal application for them while actually attending college or who formally applied for AFDC benefits in order to attend college but were denied AFDC and ultimately attended college despite the denial. The retroactive award is to be made only for those periods between July 30, 1965 and the present for which the following requirements can be established: 1) actual college attendance 2) termination of or formal application for and denial of AFDC payments and 3) general eligibility for AFDC payments in terms of age and need during the periods in question and based upon the factual circumstances and standards of eligibility current during the period of attendance, present employability, age, or financial status not to be considered a relevant factor.

Alexander v. Weaver, 345 F. Supp. 666, 677-78 (N.D. Ill. 1972) (emphasis in original).

The court rejected plaintiffs' argument that retroactive payments be made to all those who would have gone to college, but for the state's unconstitutional denial of benefits. The court also denied plaintiffs' claim for attorneys' fees.

This decision was implemented by an order entered November 28, 1972. An appeal to the Supreme Court was taken from this decision, and the Supreme Court on May 29, 1973, vacated the district court's order and ordered that a fresh judgment be entered so a timely appeal could be taken to the court of appeals. Edelman ...

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