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Youakim v. Miller

decided: September 27, 1977.

MARCEL YOUAKIM AND LINDA YOUAKIM, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS FOSTER PARENTS, TIMOTHY ROBERTSON, A MINOR, BY HIS SISTER AND NEXT FRIEND LINDA YOUAKIM, MARY LOU ROBERTSON, A MINOR, BY HER SISTER AND NEXT FRIEND LINDA YOUAKIM, LARRY ROBERTSON, A MINOR, BY HIS SISTER AND NEXT FRIEND LINDA YOUAKIM, AND SHERRY ROBERTSON, A MINOR, BY HER SISTER AND NEXT FRIEND LINDA YOUAKIM, AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
JEROME MILLER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS DIRECTOR OF THE DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES AND THE DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 73 C 635 - Alfred Y. Kirkland, Judge.

Cummings and Pell, Circuit Judges, and Campbell, Senior District Judge.*fn*

Author: Pell

PELL, Circuit Judge.

Appellants Jerome Miller and the Department of Children and Family Services (hereinafter referred to collectively as the DCFS) seek reversal of orders of the district court entered on July 27, 1976, and August 24, 1976, determining that related persons caring for children who have been declared wards of the state are eligible for AFDC-FC assistance under § 408 of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 608.*fn1 The essential and dispositive question concerns the meaning, for federal welfare purposes, of the term "foster family home."

The basic facts regarding the DCFS denial of foster care payments to the Youakims have been recounted in the three-judge district court opinion in Youakim v. Miller, 374 F. Supp. 1204 (N.D.Ill. 1974), vacated, 425 U.S. 231, 96 S. Ct. 1399, 47 L. Ed. 2d 701 (1976) (per curiam). Initially, the named plaintiffs filed a civil rights class action against the DCFS charging that the Illinois statutory foster care scheme denied them equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. After this claim was rejected by the three-judge court, see 374 F. Supp. at 1207-10, the plaintiffs pressed in argument before the Supreme Court the claim that the Illinois state law was in conflict with the Social Security Act. The Supreme Court determined that it was appropriate that the plaintiffs be permitted to press the issue of conflict between state and federal law in the district court, vacated the judgment, and remanded for proceedings consistent with its opinion. 425 U.S. at 236-37.

On remand, the district court reviewed both the history of the case and the contentions of the parties. The opinion of the district court is, with certain exceptions,*fn2 adopted as the opinion of this court and, the order not having been published, a copy thereof is attached to this opinion as an Appendix. Our independent comments are directed to arguments of the parties which are not set forth or analyzed in the court's memorandum opinion of July 27, 1976 or which arise by virtue of the formulation of the judgment order of August 24, 1976.

I

The district court agreed, as do we, with the Youakims' argument that the plain meaning of the federal statute is that all state wards placed in approved foster homes are eligible for full AFDC-FC payments under 42 U.S.C. § 608. The district court further concluded the HEW's Program Instruction APA-PI-75-9, issued on October 25, 1974, was consistent with the plain words and meaning of Section 408 of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 608. We agree. Finally, the district court concluded after study of the legislative history that Congress did not intend to exclude related foster homes from AFDC-FC benefits authorized in Section 408 of the Act but rather intended such benefits to be paid to eligible children in all approved foster homes. We agree that eligible children in approved foster homes are entitled to benefits, but we rest our conclusion on the meaning of the statute itself rather than upon a determination of an implied legislative intent.

The DCFS has consistently maintained that Congress did not intend to benefit children who are related to their caretakers as foster children living with foster parents under the AFDC foster care provisions contained in 42 U.S.C. § 608. The essential basis of the DCFS refusal to pay the foster care benefit rate to the Youakims has been its view, succinctly stated before this court, that "a foster family home has to mean a nonrelated home." One of the strongest arguments in support of the DCFS position is found in a dictionary definition of the adjective "foster." In WEBSTER'S THIRD NEW INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY the general definition is "affording, receiving, or sharing nourishment, upbringing, or parental care though not related by blood or legal ties."*fn3 The DCFS position is weakened, however, by the examples following the general definition:

a: rearing the child of another

b: brought up by someone other than one's natural parent

c: reared in the same family but not of the same parentage.

Clearly the plaintiffs here are rearing the child of another (a supra) and the children involved are being brought up by someone other than their natural parents (b supra). In any event, as the DCFS concedes "Congress did not mean to incorporate Webster by reference."

Although the DCFS steadfastly adheres to its contention that the term "related foster parent" is a misnomer for federal welfare purposes, it has admitted that the language of the Social Security Act does not itself exclude relatives from the status of foster parentage.*fn4 The DCFS has constructed an elaborate, indeed ingenious argument, regarding an implied legislative intent to exclude relatives from the denotation of the word "foster." However, the DCFS has not directed equal attention to the possibility that our standard of judgment should be the meaning of the statute itself. See 2A SUTHERLAND STATUTORY CONSTRUCTION § 45.07, at 20 (1973 ed.)

Our judicial function is limited to applying statutes on the basis of what Congress has written, not what Congress might have written. See Territory of Guam v. Olsen, 431 U.S. 195, 205, 97 S. Ct. 1774, 52 L. Ed. 2d 250, 45 U.S.L.W. 4469, 4472 (1977) (Marshall, J., dissenting). Examination of the various subsections of the Social Security Act discloses that Congress never really attempted to formulate comprehensive definitions of all the terms it employed in the statute. Thus, 42 U.S.C. § 606(b)(2)(D) refers to "aid in the form of foster home care" but does not itself explicate the meaning of the phrase. Similarly, 42 U.S.C. § 608(b) refers to "foster care in behalf of a child" but again does not itself explicate the meaning of that phrase.

However, Congress did use the expression "foster family home of any individual," 42 U.S.C. § 608(b)(1). The Youakims read the last three words of the statutory expression as supporting their view, while the DCFS argues that the entire expression must be read in order to discern its real meaning. Forthrightly, the DCFS states that "the question then becomes, what does it mean when Congress has said 'foster family home'?" We agree that this is the appropriate question, but we think that Congress has itself provided the answer by defining that term.

Although Congress has not defined "foster home care," see 42 U.S.C. § 606(b)(2)(D), or "foster care," see 42 U.S.C. § 608(b), it has in fact set forth a statutory definition of the expression "foster family home":

For purposes of this section, the term "foster family home" means a foster family home for children which is licensed by the State in which it is situated or has been approved, by the agency of such State responsible for licensing homes of this type, as meeting the standards established for such licensing . . . .

The DCFS submits that this definition is "certainly circular." We need not determine whether or not this geometric criticism is valid, for the statutory phrasing does not appear to be framed with unremitting attention to the demands of lexical science. Our disposition of the appeal should not rest upon the lexicographical expertise of the draftsmen but upon the application of the statute to the facts of the case.

Thus, if the Youakims' home has been approved by the DCFS as meeting the standards established for the licensing of foster care homes, it falls within the statutory definition. The DCFS implicitly concedes that fact in its argument attacking the district court's supposedly erroneous findings.*fn5 The DCFS argues that the Youakims' home obviously could not have been approved as a foster care home. The logic of this argument is difficult to discern in view of the formulation of the Relative Home Placement Agreement.

The first sentence of that agreement states that:

The Division of Child Welfare, Department of Children and Family Services, has approved the home of Mr. and Mrs. Marcel Youakim, address 1720 Mannheim Road, Des Plaines, Ill. for the care of a foster child: Name Timothy Robertson Born 5/1/65.

The last sentence of the agreement states that:

This placement agreement, made in good faith and mutual confidence, is equally binding on the Department and the ABOVE NAMED RELATIVES.

The plain language of the agreement thus states that the Youakims' home has been approved for the care of a foster child. Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a), findings of fact and conclusions of law are unnecessary on decisions of motions under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Because the placement agreement directly refers to the care of a foster child, we agree with the district court's determination that the Youakims' home has been approved as a foster care home. Whether it is a "foster family home" requires construction of the federal statute.

However, the DCFS argues that there is no showing anywhere in the record that the Youakims have actually met the standards required for the licensing of foster homes, so as to have incurred the identical obligations of all other foster parents in Illinois. In view of the DCFS assertion that this case should be decided on the basis of the clear and literal language which ...


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