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United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
November 2, 2001, Argued ; February 21, 2002, Decided
[*271] WILLIAMS, Circuit Judge:
Appellant Sonia Rivero, Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Social Services, appeals from a district court's order awarding attorney's fees to Appellees Victoria Smyth, Patricia Montgomery, and their children, Angela Smyth and Casey Montgomery (collectively, Smyth and Montgomery) under ] 42 U.S.C.A. § 1988(b) (West Supp. 2001), which authorizes an award of such fees to the prevailing party in an action to enforce the provisions of certain federal [**2] statutes. Because we conclude that the district court erroneously characterized Smyth and Montgomery as prevailing parties, we reverse.
Seven recipients of aid 1 under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, a welfare program funded by the federal government and administered by the states, brought the underlying action under 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 (West Supp. 2001) in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, claiming that a new paternity identification policy for welfare applicants instituted by the Commissioner 2 violated the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 601 et seq. (West 1991 & Supp. 2001), and related federal regulations, as well as the Supremacy and Equal Protection Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The policy, appearing at section 201.10 of Virginia's AFDC 3 Manual, required that an applicant for welfare in Virginia either identify the father of any child for whom aid was requested or, if uncertain of the child's paternity, provide the first and last names of all individuals who might be the father. The plaintiffs asserted that they were unable to identify the fathers of [**3] their children 4 as required by the policy, that they had communicated that fact to Virginia welfare officials, and that their welfare benefits had been reduced or eliminated altogether as a result. They sought, inter alia: (1) certification of a class of all children and their mothers who had been or would be subjected to the loss of cash assistance or other benefits for [*272] failure to comply with this regulation; (2) temporary restraining orders prohibiting the Commissioner from refusing to provide benefits to Smyth and Montgomery; (3) a declaratory judgment that the application of the policy to them violated the Social Security Act, related federal regulations, and the Supremacy and Equal Protection Clauses; (4) preliminary and permanent injunctions prohibiting the application of the policy to them or members of the proposed class and requiring instead that the Commissioner give an applicant the opportunity to attest under penalty of perjury to her lack of any requested information concerning her child's father, and further prohibiting the reduction or denial of benefits to an applicant so attesting unless the Commissioner had substantial evidence the attestation was false; and (5) [**4] attorney's fees and costs under § 1988.
[**5] In June 1996, the district court denied the plaintiffs' motion for class certification but entered a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the paternity identification policy against the plaintiffs. In granting the preliminary injunction, the district court found that the balancing of likely harms in considering the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction clearly favored the plaintiffs, that the denial of benefits for noncooperation because of a claimant's inability to identify the father of her children contradicted the plain language of then-applicable federal regulations, and that the plaintiffs were thus likely to succeed on the merits. 5 The preliminary injunction entered by the court prohibited the Commissioner from denying welfare benefits to the plaintiffs "based solely on their inability to provide [the Commissioner] with paternity information after they have attested to a lack of information." (J.A. at 62.) Three of the seven plaintiffs (Lynn Winchester and her two children) were granted leave to dismiss their claims and did so at that point.
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282 F.3d 268 *; 2002 U.S. App. LEXIS 2665 **; Unemployment Ins. Rep. (CCH) P16,704
VICTORIA SMYTH, for herself and as next friend for her minor child, Angela Smyth; PATRICIA MONTGOMERY, for herself and as next friend for her minor child, Casey Montgomery, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. SONIA RIVERO, in her official capacity as Commissioner, Virginia Department of Social Services, Defendant-Appellant.
Subsequent History: [**1] Writ of certiorari denied: Smyth v. Rivero, 2002 U.S. LEXIS 6050 (U.S. Oct. 7, 2002).
Prior History: Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, at Harrisonburg. James H. Michael, Senior District Judge. (CA-96-89-5).
Smyth v. Carter, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15426 (W.D. Va. Oct. 17, 2000)
consent decree, district court, benefits, settlement, prevailing party, parties, preliminary injunction, attorney's fees, terms, merits, settlement agreement, repayment, terms of the agreement, injunction, retain jurisdiction, made partmake part, dismissal order, oversight, orders, likelihood of success, paternity, purposes, summary judgment motion, identification, alteration, words, jurisdiction to enforce, terms of the settlement, order of the court, judicial approval
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