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Estep v. Department of Public Aid

OPINION FILED SEPTEMBER 30, 1982.

DONALD ESTEP ET AL., APPELLEES,

v.

THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC AID ET AL., APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Hon. George A. Higgins, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE GOLDENHERSH DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied November 24, 1982.

This action was filed in the circuit court of Cook County by plaintiffs, Donald Estep, Betty Hodges and Annie Stewart, who describe themselves as persons receiving adult General Assistance benefits from the Illinois Department of Public Aid. In their complaint against defendants, the Department of Public Aid and its Director, Jeffrey C. Miller, plaintiffs allege that they sue "individually and on behalf of a class of similarly situated persons." They sought a declaratory judgment that proposed reductions of adult General Assistance benefits violated the Illinois Public Aid Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 23, par. 12-4.11), the Illinois Administrative Procedure Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 127, par. 1005) and the equal protection clauses of the Illinois and United States constitutions. They also sought the issuance of preliminary and permanent injunctions restraining defendants from implementation of the proposed reductions. Plaintiffs allege that prior to January 1, 1982, the named plaintiffs received, as benefits, substantially larger sums, and that under the reduction proposed by defendants the benefits which they will receive will be reduced from $162 per month to $139 per month. They allege further that if the formula for computation of benefits which defendants proposed were accurately applied, the monthly benefit which each would receive is $162 per month.

On February 17, 1982, defendants filed with the office of the Secretary of State a notice of emergency rulemaking and Emergency Rule 3.5191. The rule established effective March 1, 1982, a single adult person benefit of $139 per month.

On February 19, 1982, plaintiffs filed a motion for temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction, and the motion was set for hearing on February 24, 1982. Following the hearing the circuit court found that the reduction from $162 to $139 per month of the adult General Assistance benefit embodied in the notice of emergency rulemaking and Rule 3.5191 would cause plaintiff class members irreparable injury. It found that the plaintiff class members had demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits and that they possessed rights which merited protection under the law. It found further that the threatened injury to plaintiffs from the proposed reduction of benefits outweighed any harm that the preliminary injunction might inflict on the defendants, that granting a preliminary injunction will serve the public interest, and that plaintiffs had met the prerequisites for class certification set forth in section 57.2 of the Civil Practice Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 110, par. 57.2). It enjoined defendants from reducing adult General Assistance benefits below $162 per month pursuant to its Rule 3.5191. The defendants filed notice of interlocutory appeal. (73 Ill.2d R. 307(a).) On March 12, 1982, the appellate court denied defendants' motion for a stay of the circuit court's order.

On May 19, 1982, defendants filed in the circuit court a document styled "Report to the Court" in which they stated that pursuant to the prior order they had maintained single adult General Assistance benefits of $162 per month and that "as a result, all funds in the appropriation for General Assistance benefits were exhausted on or about May 10, 1982"; that the General Assembly on May 14, 1982, adopted House Bill 2211 which authorized the transfer of $19,700,000 to the General Assistance appropriation (apparently from the appropriation for medical assistance — group care); that "The debates on House Bill 2211 clearly reflect the General Assembly's awareness and intent that the amount appropriated would provide benefits at the $144 level rather than at the $162 level." Accompanying the report was a motion that the court clarify its order of February 24, 1982, so as to provide that single adult General Assistance benefits for May and June be paid at the rate of $144 per month. It stated further that all necessary steps had been taken to dismiss the appeal pending in the appellate court "so that there will be no question concerning the jurisdiction of this court."

The motion described the procedures which must be followed in order to implement the payments at the rate of $144 per month. Some recipients had received only $139, and a supplemental payment would be required in those cases. The motion concluded with the statement that unless otherwise instructed by the court the Department would implement the payments to the recipients at the rate of $144 per month for May and June.

On May 21, 1982, the circuit court entered an order which required payment at the rate of $162 per month for May and $126 per month for June. Defendants appealed, and upon allowance of defendants' motion made pursuant to Rule 302(b), the appeal was taken directly to this court. We stayed the effect of the circuit court order, set an accelerated briefing schedule, and heard oral argument on June 10, 1982.

The record shows that pursuant to section 5.01 of the Illinois Administrative Procedure Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 127, par. 1005.01) the defendants filed Rule 3.5161 (establishment of assistance standards; income maintenance, G.A.); Rule 3.5171 (amount of assistance standards; income maintenance); Rule 3.5181 (establishment of payment standards; income maintenance); and Rule 3.5191 (payment standards; income maintenance). These were published in the Illinois Register on October 9, 1981, and were filed and became effective on January 14, 1982. Rule 3.5171 established as the amount of assistance standard the sum of $220 per month; Rule 3.5181 provided that the payment standards would be set on the basis of consolidated flat grant amounts and that the amounts to be paid persons able to engage in employment would be lower than the payments to persons unable to engage in employment. Rule 3.5191 established a payment standard of $141 per month for employable persons and $162 per month for persons unable to engage in employment. Peremptory Rule 3.5191, effective February 11, 1982, stated that in litigation pending in the Federal court the Department had been enjoined from paying employable recipients lower grants than unemployable recipients and that effective February 11, 1982, the payments to all eligible recipients would be $162. Section 5.02 of the Illinois Administrative Procedure Act provides:

"Sec. 5.02. Emergency rulemaking. `Emergency' means the existence of any situation which any agency finds reasonably constitutes a threat to the public interest, safety or welfare. Where any agency finds that an emergency exists which requires adoption of a rule upon fewer days than is required by Section 5.01, and states in writing its reasons for that finding, the agency may adopt an emergency rule without prior notice or hearing, upon filing a notice of emergency rulemaking with the Secretary of State pursuant to Section 6.01 of this Act. Such notice shall include the text of the emergency rule and shall be published in the Illinois Register. Subject to applicable constitutional or statutory provisions, an emergency rule becomes effective immediately upon filing pursuant to Section 6, or at a stated date less than 10 days thereafter. The agency's finding and a statement of the specific reasons therefor shall be filed with the rule. The agency shall take reasonable and appropriate measures to make emergency rules known to the persons who may be affected by them.

An emergency rule may be effective for a period of not longer than 150 days, but the agency's authority to adopt an identical rule under Section 5.01 of this Act is not precluded. No emergency rule may be adopted more than once in any 24 month period. Two or more emergency rules having substantially the same purpose and effect shall be deemed to be a single rule for purposes of this Section." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 127, par. 1005.02.)

On February 17, 1982, defendants filed an emergency rule providing that commencing March 1, 1982, and continuing through the balance of the fiscal year ending June 30, 1982, "the amount of the General Assistance grants for a single adult person employable or unemployable is established at $139."

In the posture in which this matter comes before us, the only issue presented is whether the circuit court abused its discretion in its ruling on defendants' motion to clarify the order of February 24, 1982. (Lonergan v. Crucible Steel Co. of America (1967), 37 Ill.2d 599, 612.) Emergency Rule 3.5191 purported to remain in effect only through the balance of the fiscal year ending June 30, 1982. The preliminary injunction and the order entered on May 21, 1982, affected only payments to be made for the months of May and June 1982. The questions whether defendants were possessed of the authority to reduce the payments and whether such reduction was in violation of any constitutional or statutory provision remain for decision.

"This court will not review cases merely to establish a precedent or guide future litigation" (Madison Park Bank v. Zagel (1982), 91 Ill.2d 231, 235), and this case presents no question which ...


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