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Supreme Court of the United States
January 6, 1997, Argued ; April 21, 1997, Decided
[*332] [**1356] [***577] JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case concerns a lawsuit brought by five mothers in Arizona whose children are eligible to receive child support services from the State pursuant to Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, as added, 88 Stat. 2351 and as amended, 42 U.S.C. A. §§ 651-669b (Nov. 1996 Supp.). These custodial parents sued the director of Arizona's child support agency [*333] under Rev. Stat. § 1979, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that they had an enforceable individual right to have the State's program achieve "substantial compliance" with the requirements of Title IV-D. Without distinguishing among the numerous provisions of this complex program, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that respondents had such a right. We disagree that the statutory scheme can be analyzed so generally, and hold that Title IV-D does not give individuals a federal right to force a state agency to substantially comply with Title IV-D. Accordingly, we vacate and remand with instructions to remand to the District Court.
This controversy concerns an interlocking set of cooperative federal-state welfare programs. Arizona participates in the federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, which provides subsistence welfare benefits to needy families. Social Security Act, Title IV-A, 42 U.S.C. §§ 601-617. To qualify for federal AFDC funds, the State must certify that it will operate a child support enforcement program that conforms with the numerous requirements set forth in Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. A. §§ 651-669b [***578] (Nov. 1996 Supp.), 1 and will do so pursuant to a detailed plan that has been approved by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary). § 602(a)(2); see also § 652(a)(3). The Federal Government underwrites roughly two-thirds of the cost of the State's child support efforts. § 655(a). But the State must do more than simply collect overdue support payments; it must also establish a comprehensive system to establish paternity, [*334] locate absent parents, and help families obtain support orders. §§ 651, 654.
[****9] A State must provide these services free of charge to AFDC recipients and, when requested, for a nominal fee to children and custodial parents who are not receiving AFDC payments. §§ 651, 654(4). AFDC recipients must assign their child support rights to the State and fully cooperate with the State's efforts to establish paternity and obtain support payments. Although the State may keep most of the support payments that it collects on behalf of AFDC families in order to offset the costs of providing welfare benefits, until recently it only had to distribute the first $ 50 of each payment to the family. 42 U.S.C. § 657(b)(1). The amended version of Title IV-D replaces this $ 50 pass-through with more generous distributions to families once they leave welfare. 42 U.S.C. A. § 657(a)(2) (Nov. 1996 Supp.). Non-AFDC recipients who request the State's aid are entitled to have all collected funds passed through. § 657(a)(3). In all cases, the State must distribute the family's share of collected support payments within two business days after receipt. § 654b(c)(1).
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520 U.S. 329 *; 117 S. Ct. 1353 **; 137 L. Ed. 2d 569 ***; 1997 U.S. LEXIS 2506 ****; 65 U.S.L.W. 4265; 97 Cal. Daily Op. Service 2878; 97 Daily Journal DAR 5065; 10 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 399
LINDA J. BLESSING, DIRECTOR, ARIZONA DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMIC SECURITY, PETITIONER v. CATHY FREESTONE, ETC., ET AL.
Prior History: [****1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.
Disposition: 68 F.3d 1141, vacated and remanded.
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Civil Procedure, US Supreme Court Review, General Overview, Civil Rights Law, Protection of Rights, Section 1983 Actions, Scope, Governments, Legislation, Vagueness, Interpretation, Public Health & Welfare Law, Social Security, Assistance to Families, Child & Spousal Support