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Roberge v. Philbrook

decided: June 17, 1975.

THERESE ROBERGE, ON BEHALF OF HERSELF, HER MINOR CHILDREN AND ALL PERSONS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
PAUL PHILBROOK, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL WELFARE, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE



Appeals from an order of the United States District Court for the District of Vermont, James L. Oakes, Judge, which granted partial summary judgment in favor of the defendant and an order for judgment of the same court after trial, Albert W. Coffrin, Judge, which granted plaintiff relief in part and denied it in part. At issue is the alleged failure of defendant's welfare regulations to comply with the Aid to Needy Families provisions of the Social Security Law, 42 U.S.C. § 601, et. seq.

Hays, Gurfein and Van Graafeiland, Circuit Judges.

Author: Van Graafeiland

VAN GRAAFEILAND, Circuit Judge :

This class action, which challenges portions of Vermont's Aid to Needy Families with Children (ANFC) program, originally presented constitutional arguments requiring the convening of a three-judge court. However, it was agreed by stipulation that the action might be heard by a single judge on plaintiff's claim that certain actions of the defendant violated Subchapter IV of the Social Security Law, 42 U.S.C. § 601 et seq., and regulations promulgated thereunder.*fn1

Subsequent to such stipulation, cross motions for summary judgment were argued before Judge Oakes, sitting by designation as a District Judge. Judge Oakes held that only one of the issues before him was determinable by summary judgment. That involved a difference between the maximum payments allowed as reimbursement for the cost of shelter in Chittenden County and the remainder of the State.

Figures submitted to Judge Oakes showed that the cost of shelter in Chittenden County, in which the City of Burlington is located, was substantially higher than elsewhere in the State and that an adjustment had been made in the allowance for shelter needs under ANFC to reflect this difference. However, the difference in shelter allowances was proportionately less than the difference in rent. This, plaintiff claimed, was improper, relying primarily on the decision of this Court in Boddie v. Wyman, 434 F.2d 1207 (1970).

In Boddie we affirmed an order of Judge Foley which enjoined the Department of Social Services of the State of New York from making lower monthly grants to upstate New Yorkers under New York's AFDC and AABD programs*fn2 until such time as the Department presented evidence that costs were higher in New York City than elsewhere in the State. Recognizing the statutory and regulatory aim of uniform statewide standards, we held that a departure from uniformity must be justified by objectively established cost differentials.

That requirement has been met in the instant case. Although, concededly, cost differentials in Vermont might have warranted a greater disparity between the shelter allowances for Chittenden County and the remainder of the State, it does not follow that the State's decision to differentiate in shelter allowances to the extent that it did was arbitrary or not within the State's discretion.*fn3

That, in essence, was Judge Oakes' holding, and we agree. His grant of defendant's motion for summary judgment as to this portion of plaintiff's claim was therefore proper.

Following Judge Oakes' ruling on the summary judgment motion, two issues remained for resolution at trial, one involving so-called "shelter exceptions" and the other dealing with payments for fire insurance. To understand these issues, a general knowledge of the Vermont ANFC program is required.

Payments under Vermont's program are based upon a standard of need, the components of which have been modified somewhat from time to time. Prior to November 1, 1970, it consisted of three elements:

1. Basic needs -- food, clothing, fuel, etc., but excluding the cost of shelter.

2. Shelter allowance -- the cost of shelter with prescribed maximums.

3. Special needs -- telephone, home repairs, fire ...


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