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Miller v. Dept. of Public Aid





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. JOSEPH M. WOSIK, Judge, presiding. MR. JUSTICE DOWNING DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff Edward Miller (plaintiff) is a recipient of General Assistance (GA) under article VI of the Illinois Public Aid Code (the Code) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 23, par. 1-1 et seq.). He is a member of the class of GA recipients who desire assistance in making payment for optical services and most types of dental care. Payment for these services is refused by the defendant Illinois Department of Public Aid (IDPA), which administers the Code's programs. This class action suit for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief was brought on behalf of all members of plaintiff's class, *fn1 challenging IDPA's policy. This appeal arises from an order of the trial court which granted summary judgment to plaintiff declaring IDPA's policy to be illegal, and from entry of an injunction order which precluded IDPA from further denial of payment for dental and optical care.

The issues raised by IDPA on review are: (1) whether the trial court erred in interpreting the relevant portion of the Code so as to require payment for the services desired, and (2) whether the trial court erred in finding that the policy of IDPA violated the equal protection provisions of the Federal and State constitutions.

Due to the outcome of the proceedings below, the facts are derived entirely from the pleadings, discovery, and supporting briefs filed by the parties and are not disputed.

The Public Aid Code provides various types of assistance to needy persons who qualify for such aid. The underlying purpose of the programs found in the Code is to "assist in the alleviation and prevention of poverty" in Illinois. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 23, par. 1-1; Cornue v. Weaver (1975), 29 Ill. App.3d 546, 549, 331 N.E.2d 148, rev'd sub nom. Cornue v. Department of Public Aid (1976), 64 Ill.2d 78, 354 N.E.2d 359.) IDPA is charged by a Code provision with the general administration of these programs. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 23, par. 12-1.) IDPA also has the authority to make all rules and regulations and to take such action as may be necessary or desirable for carrying out the provisions of the Code. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 23, par. 12-13.

Plaintiff's predecessor in interest sought assistance from IDPA in making payment for optical and non-emergency dental services which he needed. Presently, rules and regulations adopted by IDPA to govern the GA program exclude, by implication, financial assistance for optical care and non-emergency dental care to eligible GA recipients. (Rules & Regulations, Ill. Dept. of Public Aid, Rule 4.011(a)(2).) *fn2 Thus, the request for assistance was denied.

Faced with this refusal of assistance by IDPA, plaintiff's predecessor filed this action. IDPA moved to dismiss the suit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The trial court granted this motion and the original plaintiff appealed. This court reversed and remanded the case for further action in Miller v. Department of Public Aid (1979), 69 Ill. App.3d 477, 387 N.E.2d 810.

On remand, discovery was completed. Prior to March 1, 1974, IDPA provided payment for non-emergency dental services as well as some optical services to GA recipients. According to IDPA, both of these programs were discontinued as of that date due "mainly to increased costs in the G.A. program in general and the necessity to allocate available resources."

Each party filed a motion for summary judgment, together with lengthy supporting briefs. The trial court entered an order granting plaintiff's motion, finding that "IDPA violated their duties under the Public Aid Code and the constitution and abused their discretion." The transcript of the oral finding made by the court shows that it had "adopt[ed] the brief of [plaintiff] that is corroborative of this court's ruling in this case." Plaintiff then moved for injunctive relief at the suggestion of the trial court. This motion was granted. IDPA was permanently enjoined from refusing to pay for all "necessary dental services and necessary optical services and supplies." The services encompassed therein were defined by the trial court's adoption of IDPA regulations previously applicable only to eligible recipients of assistance under the Medicaid program. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 23, pars. 5-1 through 5-14.) From this result, IDPA appealed.


IDPA contends that the trial court erred in its interpretation of the provisions of article VI of the Code, thereby unduly restricting the discretion which IDPA believes has been granted to it by statute.


It is evident that resolution of this issue requires our examination of the particular language used by the legislature in the provisions of the Code. There is no controlling precedent on this matter. A cardinal rule of statutory construction in such instances is that this court must ascertain and give effect to the true intent and meaning of the legislature, as found in the history, existing circumstances, and contemporary conditions of the legislation. (People ex rel. Hanrahan v. White (1972), 52 Ill.2d 70, 73, 285 N.E.2d 129, cert. denied sub nom. Splinter v. Hanrahan (1972), 409 U.S. 1059, 34 L.Ed.2d 511, 93 S.Ct. 562.) Of particular importance, then, is a careful scrutiny of the evolution of the relevant statute.

The initial comprehensive codification of Illinois public assistance law which included the GA program can be found in the 1949 Public Assistance Code. (1949 Ill. Laws 404 et seq.) In that statute, "General Assistance" was defined as "money payments to or in behalf of needy persons as provided in Article IV of this Code, * * *." GA grants to needy persons "may, in addition to direct money payments, include care, support, service, medical or surgical care, nursing, or board and care in a private institution * * * and such other aid as the conditions may make necessary for each case." (Emphasis added.) (1949 Ill. Laws 406, § 1-8.) Another section of the statute set forth the eligibility standards. "Persons who for unavoidable causes are unable to maintain a decent standard of living * * * are entitled to general assistance." (1949 Ill. Laws 417, § 4-1.) The amount of the grant "shall be sufficient * * * to provide such person with a reasonable subsistence compatible with health and well-being." (1949 Ill. Laws 419, § 4-4.) Finally, the statute granted the Illinois Public Aid Commission the power and duty to, among other things, "make all the rules and regulations and take such action as may be necessary or desirable for carrying out the provisions of this Code * * *." 1949 Ill. Laws 408, § 2-2(d).

In 1951, amendments were made to some of the relevant sections of the 1949 Code. The definition of "General Assistance" remained unchanged, as did the eligibility standards. (See Ill. Rev. Stat. 1951, ch. 23, pars. 436-8, 439-1, respectively.) The provision governing the amount of the GA grant underwent a significant modification. Added to the above-quoted language of the 1949 Code regarding the size of the grant was the directive that the grant in addition "may include amounts paid to the recipient, * * * in order to make available necessary treatment, care and supplies required because of illness or disability. Whenever services are required * * * because of illness or disability of recipients, the supervisor of general assistance may provide for the services of persons ...

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