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Foster v. Center Township of Laporte County

decided: August 13, 1986.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division. No. 80 C 424 - Allen Sharp, Judge.

Author: Eschbach

Before CUDAHY, ESCHBACH, and COFFEY, Circuit Judges.

ESCHBACH, Circuit Judge.

The plaintiff, Janice Foster, brought claims, on her behalf and on behalf of those similarly situated, challenging the poor-relief eligibility guidelines adopted in 1981 by the defendants, including inter alia, Center Township, its Trustee, Helen Salek, and La Porte County, Indiana. These claims were based upon federal and state statutory provisions, and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court entered judgment against the plaintiff on all claims pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(b). The plaintiff appeals only from the judgment on her state statutory challenge. The primary questions which we will decide in this appeal are whether the plaintiff had standing to challenge the poor-relief guidelines on state statutory grounds, and whether she was a proper class representative for this claim. For the reasons stated below, we hold that, because the plaintiff was eligible for poor-relief assistance under the challenged guidelines, she did not have standing to challenge the 1981 guidelines and that she was not then a proper class representative. We will, therefore, vacate the district court's judgment on this claim and remand with directions to dismiss.


In early December of 1980, Janice Foster exhausted her supply of heating oil. She applied for emergency assistance with Helen Salek, Trustee for Center Township, LaPorte County, Indiana ("Center Township"), who was responsible for "overseeing the poor" within Center Township and for administering Indiana's poor-relief statute.*fn1 Foster had three children at the time she applied for assistance, and was receiving $315.00 a month from the federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children ("AFDC") program, and an monthly food-stamp allotment of $163.00. Under the guidelines then in effect for Center Township, Foster could qualify for emergency aid only if her monthly income was less than $413.00.*fn2 Counting her monthly food-stamp allotment, however, Foster's total monthly income was $478.00. Because it was Center Township's practice to include an applicant's food-stamp allotment as part of his total monthly income, Foster was denied aid.

Foster immediately appealed the denial of assistance to the LaPorte County Board of Commissioners ("Board")*fn3 on the ground that Center Township's practice of including food stamps as a part of an applicant's income for the purpose of determining eligibility was improper. A hearing was held before the Board on December 8, 1980. Foster alleged that Salek told the Board that, if food-stamp allotments were no longer counted as a part of an applicant's income, she (Salek) would lower the income eligibility ceilings by a corresponding amount. The Board, finding that Foster had received interim emergency aid from a religious organization, declined to act upon her appeal. The Board, did, however, request that Foster and Center Township attempt to resolve their dispute privately.

Upon advice of counsel that inclusion of an applicant's food-stamp allotment might violate the Food Stamp Act of 1964 ("Act"), codified as amended at 7 U.S.C. ยงยง 2011-29, Salek drafted new guidelines that were adopted by the Board on December 10, to become effective January 1, 1981.*fn4 These guidelines excluded an applicant's food-stamp allotment as part of her monthly income, but significantly lowered the income eligibility ceilings.*fn5

On December 31, 1980, Foster filed this action, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, against Salek, Center Township, the LaPorte County Board of Commissioners, and the individual county commissioners. Foster alleged that the defendants' practice of including food stamps as a part of an applicant's monthly income violated the Food Stamp Act*fn6 and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. On September 13, 1982, Foster amended her complaint to add the additional claim that the revised income eligibility standards were not reasonably related to the actual cost of necessities, and hence, violated the Indiana poor relief statute. Foster requested declaratory and injunctive relief as to these three claims.

On January 9, 1981, the district court ordered the defendants to provide Foster with fuel assistance in the sum of $150.00, and requested additional briefing on the issue of class certification. On March 12, 1981, the district court granted Foster's motion for class certification, but denied her motion for a preliminary injunction by an unpublished order. Foster v. Center Township, 673 F.2d 1334 (7th Cir. 1981). A bench trial was held on January 8 and 9, 1985. The court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(b) and, on February 7, 1985, entered judgment against Foster on all claims. Foster filed a motion to amend judgment, which the court considered under both Rules 59(e) and 60(b), and denied. This appeal followed.


Foster appeals only from the district court's entry of judgment for defendants on her claim that the 1981 guidelines were not reasonably calculated to meet the needs of the poor, and hence, violated the Indiana poor-relief statute. After a review of the record in the instant appeal, we concluded that Foster was in fact eligible for poor-relief assistance under those guidelines, and ordered the parties to submit supplemental briefs on the issue whether Foster had standing to bring suit.*fn7 In her supplemental brief Foster did not dispute her eligibility for poor-relief assistance under the 1981 guidelines, but, nevertheless, argued that she had standing (at the time of filing her original complaint on December 31, 1980) to challenge both the denial of assistance to her under the 1980 guidelines and the subsequent revision of those guidelines.*fn8

Article III of the Constitution limits the power of the federal judiciary to the resolution of "cases" and "controversies." See, e.g., Diamond v. Charles, 476 U.S. 54, 90 L. Ed. 2d 48, 106 S. Ct. 1697 , , 476 U.S. 54, 106 S. Ct. 1697, 1703, 90 L. Ed. 2d 48 (1986); Bender v. Williamsport Area School District, 475 U.S. 534, 89 L. Ed. 2d 501, 106 S. Ct. 1326, , 475 U.S. 534, 106 S. Ct. 1326, 1331, 89 L. Ed. 2d 501 (1986); City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 101-02, 103 S. Ct. 1660, 1665, 75 L. Ed. 2d 675 (1983); Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 471, 102 S. Ct. 752, 757, 70 L. Ed. 2d 700 (1982); Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 94-101, 88 S. Ct. 1942, 1949-53, 20 L. Ed. 2d 947 (1968). In its constitutional dimension,*fn9 the issue of a party's standing is a component of the case-or-controversy analysis, and, thus, bears on the power of a court to entertain the party's complaint. Valley Forge, 454 U.S. at 471, 102 S. Ct. at 758; Davis v. Passman, 442 U.S. 228, 239 n.18, 99 S. Ct. 2264, 2274 n.18, 60 L. Ed. 2d 846 (1979); Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 262 n.8, 97 S. Ct. 555, 561 n.8, 50 L. Ed. 2d 450 (1977); Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498-99, 95 S. Ct. 2197, 2205, 45 L. Ed. 2d 343 (1975); People Organized for Welfare and Employment Rights v. Thompson, 727 F.2d 167, 169 (7th Cir. 1984). We are, of course, obligated to consider the issue of standing, like any other question of our Article III jurisdiction, whether the parties have raised it or not. Bender, U.S. at , 106 S. Ct. at 1331 ("Every federal appellate court has a special obligation to 'satisfy itself not only of its own jurisdiction, but also that of the lower court.'") (quoting Mitchell v. Maurer, 293 U.S. 237, 244, 55 S. Ct. 162, 165, 79 L. Ed. 338 (1934)); see also Village of Arlington Heights, 429 U.S. at 260-62, 97 S. Ct. at 561; Regents of University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 281 n.14, 98 S. Ct. 2733, 2743 n.14, 57 L. Ed. 2d 750 (1978); D'Amico v. Schweiker, 698 F.2d 903, 905-06 (7th Cir. 1983). If we discover that the lower court lacked jurisdiction, because the plaintiff did not have standing, then we have jurisdiction on appeal, not of the merits, but merely for the purpose of correcting the error of the lower court entertaining the suit. United States v. Corrick, 298 U.S. 435, 440, 56 S. Ct. 829, 831, 80 L. Ed. 1263 (1936). It is immaterial that both parties failed to notice the jurisdictional defect. Bender, U.S. , 106 S. Ct. at 2334.

Analysis of standing under Article III focuses on the party bringing the claim, not on the claim itself. See, e.g., Valley Forge, 454 U.S. at 484, 102 S. Ct. at 765; Warth, 422 U.S. at 500, 95 S. Ct. at 2205. In Valley Forge, 454 U.S. at 472, 102 S. Ct. at 758, the Supreme Court set forth the following three requirements as the "irreducible minimum" that must be present before a party may invoke the Article III power of a federal court: (1) the party "personally has suffered some actual or threatened injury as a result of the putatively illegal conduct of the defendant," (quoting Gladstone, Realtors v. Village of Bellwood, 441 U.S. 91, 99, 99 S. Ct. 1601, 1608, 60 L. Ed. 2d 66 (1979)); (2) the injury "fairly can be traced to the challenged action," (quoting Simon v. Eastern Kentucky Welfare Rights Organization, 426 U.S. 26, 38, 96 S. Ct. 1917, 1924, 48 L. Ed. 2d 450 (1976)); and (3) the injury "is likely to be redressed by a favorable decision," (quoting Simon, 426 U.S. at 41, 96 S. Ct. at 1925). See also Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 766, ...

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