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11/22/94 VINCENT AND MARILYN JACOBSON v. DEPARTMENT

November 22, 1994

VINCENT AND MARILYN JACOBSON, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC AID AND PHIL BRADLEY, DIRECTOR OF THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC AID, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County. No. 92-MR-89. Honorable Alford R. Penniman, Judge, Presiding.

As Modified On Denial of Rehearing February 23, 1995.

Justice Geiger delivered the opinion of the court: McLAREN, P.j., and Thomas, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Geiger

JUSTICE GEIGER delivered the opinion of the court:

The defendants, the Department of Public Aid (the Department) and its Director, Phil Bradley, appeal the judgment of the circuit court reversing the administrative decision of the Director of the Department that the plaintiffs, Vincent and Marilyn Jacobson, were required to reimburse the Department as responsible relatives for their 19-year-old daughter who was receiving aid to families with dependent children (AFDC).

At issue in this appeal is the constitutionality of that portion of section 10-2 of the Illinois Public Aid Code (the Code) (305 ILCS 5/1-1 et seq. (West 1992)) which determines the support responsibility of parents whose 18- to 21-year-old children live at home. Section 10-2 provides, in relevant part, that "the parents are severally liable for the support of any child under age 21, except that a parent is not liable for a child age 18 or over if such child is not living with the parent or parents." 305 ILCS 5/10-2 (West 1992).

In December 1990, the plaintiffs' daughter, Pamela, applied for and received AFDC for herself and her infant son. On March 27, 1991, the Department issued a notice to the plaintiffs of their obligation to support Pamela. The Department ordered the plaintiffs to pay $134 per month as their continuing support obligation, with an additional $916 owed for payments made to Pamela between December 1990 and June 1991. The plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal from that order on the basis that the Department "knew that Pamela was living at home and should have adjusted her monthly check in accordance."

At the hearing before the Department, the plaintiffs stated that they were requesting either a modification or a cancellation of their obligation based on a change in their income and on the in-kind support they provided to Pamela. The Department's field representative stated that the Department had recalculated the plaintiffs' obligationbecause of the decrease in their income, and the plaintiffs now owed $770 for prior payments and $110 per month.

Marilyn Jacobson testified that she lived with her husband, her adult son, her daughter Pamela, and Pamela's child. The plaintiffs did not charge Pamela rent. Marilyn opined that an appropriate amount of rent for Pamela would be one-quarter of $327, the plaintiffs' monthly mortgage payment. The plaintiffs also provided food for Pamela in the amount of approximately $100 per month and clothing in the amount of $100 to $150 per year. Pamela drove one of the plaintiffs' cars. Vincent Jacobson testified that, to satisfy the support obligation, the plaintiffs were paying the Department half of the grant that Pamela received. In addition, the plaintiffs testified that their household income was insufficient to meet the needs of the entire household, including Pamela.

In its final administrative decision, the Department ordered the plaintiffs to pay $115 per month for current support and $802 as reimbursement of AFDC from December 1990 through June 1991. The plaintiffs filed a timely complaint for administrative review in the circuit court.

At the hearing in the circuit court, the plaintiffs argued that the Department should have given them credit for the in-kind support they provided to Pamela. The plaintiffs asserted that they were, in effect, paying twice for Pamela's support. The defendants responded that the amount of aid Pamela received was based on her not having to pay for housing or food, so that the in-kind support was considered in the initial determination of Pamela's eligibility for aid. The plaintiffs also argued that the statutory distinction between parents whose 18- to 21-year-old children live at home and those whose children do not violated the equal protection clauses of both the United States and Illinois Constitutions. See U.S. Const. amend. XIV; Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 2.

The trial court held that, in order to constitutionally interpret the relevant statutory sections and the Department's regulations, the guidelines of sections 504 and 505 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (the Dissolution Act) (750 ILCS 5/504, 505 (West 1992)) would have to be incorporated into the procedure for measuring the ability of responsible relatives to provide support. The court noted that the statute was otherwise constitutional. The court therefore held that the plaintiffs were entitled to credit for their in-kind contributions pursuant to section 505(3)(h) of the Dissolution Act (750 ILCS 5/505(3)(h) (West 1992)). Because the amount of the in-kind contributions exceeded the amount of aid Pamela received, the court ruled that the plaintiffs were not required to reimburse the Department.

At the hearing on the defendants' motion to reconsider the judgment, the court reiterated its equal protection concern. In the court's view, however, it was the Department's failure to properly apply sections 504 and 505 of the Dissolution Act, as required by section 10-3 of the Code, which triggered the equal protection problem. The court found that the guidelines were meant to apply to all Parents whose 18- to 21-year-old children reside in the parental home. The Department's misapplication of the statute thus discriminated against the plaintiffs by treating them differently from other members of the class, in violation of the fourteenth amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law. As before, the court stated that, in interpreting the statute and the guidelines, sections 504 and 505 of the Dissolution Act must be incorporated and the guidelines therein followed. Because the Department failed to do so in this case, the court denied the motion to reconsider.

On appeal, the defendants contend that the trial court erred in reversing the administrative decision of ...


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