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08/17/95 JAMES BROWN v. ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT PUBLIC

August 17, 1995

JAMES BROWN, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC AID, AND PHIL BRADLEY, RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Macon County. No. 93MR90. Honorable John L. Davis, Judge Presiding.

As Corrected December 12, 1995.

Honorable John T. McCULLOUGH, J., Honorable Robert W. Cook, J., Honorable Frederick S. Green, J. Cook and Green JJ., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mccullough

JUSTICE McCULLOUGH delivered the opinion of the court:

In an administrative review proceeding, the circuit court of Macon County affirmed a decision of the Department of Public Aid (Department) denying the request of petitioner James Brown for release from or modification of the Department's administrative support orders concerning Brown's daughter, Sonja, a 19 year old who received assistance from the Department while residing with her parents. Petitioner brings this appeal. Phil Bradley, successor to Robert Wright, acting Director of the Department, is a respondent-appellee along with the Department.

The issues are whether (1) section 10-2 of the Illinois Public Aid Code (Code) (305 ILCS 5/10-2 (West 1992)) violates the equal protection guarantees of the United States and Illinois Constitutions by requiring parents who allow adult children between ages 18 and 21 to reside with them to reimburse the Department for support provided to those children while it imposes no similar obligation upon parents whose adult children ages 18 to 21 do not reside with them; (2) the reimbursement requirement of section 10-2 of the Code violates petitioner's right to substantive due process guaranteed by the United States and Illinois Constitutions where (a) petitioner's daughter had a child born out of wedlock, (b) she applied for and received public aid, and (c) petitioner and his wife allowed his daughter to reside with them; and (3) the Department's decision to require reimbursement from petitioner for public aid received by his daughter who resided with him and his wife was arbitrary and capricious or against the manifest weight of the evidence. We affirm.

Sonja Brown (Sonja), born September 15, 1973, is the daughter of Joann Brown (Joann), and petitioner. Sonja has resided with her parents since birth. On February 1, 1992, while pregnant, Sonja applied for benefits for herself under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. Her application was approved in February 1992. From May through August 1992, Sonja received $204 in monthly AFDC benefits. On September 22, 1992, Sonja gave birth to a son. Sonja received $221 in AFDC benefits for September 1992. In October, November, and December 1992, and the ensuing months, she received $259.

Throughout the period in which she received AFDC benefits, Sonja and her son resided with her parents and her brother at their home in Decatur, Illinois. Sonja received financial support from petitioner, including tuition for her to attend Richland Community College (Richland) as a full-time student, health insurance for her son and herself, and the provision of a car. Sonja did not pay petitioner rent to live in his home, and her mother provided free day-care for Sonja's son.

It is unnecessary for our analysis to relate the correspondence between the parties prior to the administrative hearing. At the administrative hearing held on April 9, 1993, Becky Stone, a family support specialist from the Field Recovery Unit of the Department's Macon County office, testified that because petitioner failed to submit documents to verify his income despite the Department's repeated requests, petitioner's support obligation was established as the maximum, or entire amount of support, that had been provided to Sonja. Since the Department distributed $204 in benefits for Sonja in May 1992, for example, petitioner was assessed the full $204 for his support obligation, based on the Department's determination that petitioner was a relative responsible for Sonja's financial support while she lived in his home. The same amount of support was assessed for June, July, and August 1992.

Stone explained that in September 1992, the Department began distributing benefits for two people, Sonja and her newborn son. In September, Sonja received AFDC benefits in the amount of $221. Only $111 of that amount was for Sonja's support, and therefore, petitioner was only required to offset Sonja's public aid benefits by that amount. In October and November 1992, the Department expended $259 monthly for Sonja and her son, and petitioner had a support obligation for the $130 that went toward Sonja's own support. Petitioner's support obligation was set at the same amount for December 1992 through March 1993. Stone stated that the administrative support order would be in effect with regard to petitioner's obligation as long as Sonja lived at home, received public aid for both her son and herself, and was under 21 years of age.

Sonja testified that she was 19 years old and would turn 20 later that same year. Neither of her parents was legally obligated to keep her as a member of the household. It was her choice to live with her parents until she finished her education. She was a full-time student at Richland pursuing an associate degree, and she planned to continue her education thereafter. Sonja stated that she was considered a dependent of petitioner and received medical and dental benefits under his group plan at Wagner Casting Company (Wagner). Her parents purchased health insurance for her son. She did not need to live in subsidized housing because her parents provided support to her.

Joann testified that she and petitioner had three children, a 24-year-old daughter, Sonja, and a 12-year-old son, and that the latter two still lived at the parental residence. She stated that she had not worked since being diagnosed with lupus. Her disease had been stabilized for seven years through medication. Joann stated that her disease was a financial burden for the family. Joann explained that Sonja sought public aid benefits on her own, wanting to take as much responsibility for her baby as she could. Neither Joann nor petitioner encouraged her to seek public aid.

Petitioner testified he had been employed at Wagner for over 20 years. His health plan from Wagner provided coverage for his wife's medical expenses. He paid for Sonja's college tuition of $1,800 per year and provided her with a car. Sonja assisted with household expenses with the public aid benefits she received. He stated that he paid $400 per month for his mortgage and approximately $300 to $400 per month for food. Petitioner's 1992 Federal income tax return indicated that his gross earnings were $31,629. As the result of claiming four exemptions, or dependents, petitioner subtracted $4,000 from his taxable income in 1992. He stated that he was amending his tax return to include Sonja's son as a fifth exemption. Petitioner stated that he did not wish for his daughter and her child to live in subsidized housing and to be exposed to drugs, crime, and gangs. They were allowed to live at his home for that reason.

The hearing officer then resumed questioning Stone regarding the method by which the Department calculated petitioner's support obligation. Stone referred to title 89, section 103.TABLE A, of the Illinois Administrative Code (89 Ill. Adm. Code ยง 103.TABLE A (1994)). Stone explained that, based on petitioner's gross annual income of $31,629 and claim of five dependents, his support obligation according to table A would be $205 per month. The Department assessed against the responsible relative the lesser of the actual amount of support paid to the recipient or the amount of support established under table A. According to Stone, there was no statutory authority that permitted the Department to consider any figures outside of the responsible relative's adjusted gross income, such as out-of-pocket expenses that the relative elects to incur on behalf of the public aid recipient.

Petitioner contended at the hearing that financial hardship could be considered by the Department in reducing, modifying, or excusing his support obligation. Petitioner claimed that Joann's medical condition and expenses were ...


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