HODGES SC v. THOMPSON

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United States Court of Appeals,Fourth Circuit.

Jim HODGES, in his official capacity as Governor of the State of South Carolina;  Jean Hoefer Toal, in her official capacity as Chief Justice of South Carolina;  South Carolina Department of Social Services;  State of South Carolina;  People of SC, on Behalf of the State of South Carolina;  John Doe;  Jane Doe, and those similarly situated, Plaintiffs–Appellants, v. Tommy G. THOMPSON, Secretary, United States Department of Health and Human Services;  Wade F. Horn, Ph.D. in his official capacity as Assistant Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services for Children and Families;  U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Defendants–Appellees.

No. 00–2512.

Decided: November 15, 2002

Before WIDENER, NIEMEYER, and MOTZ, Circuit Judges. ARGUED:  Marcus Angelo Manos, Nexsen, Pruet, Jacobs & Pollard, L.L.C., Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellants.  Gregory George Katsas, Appellate Staff, Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Appellees.   ON BRIEF:  Wilburn Brewer, Jr., Nexsen, Pruet, Jacobs & Pollard, L.L.C., Columbia, South Carolina;  A.E. Dick Howard, Charlottesville, Virginia, for Appellants.  Stuart E. Schiffer, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Scott N. Schools, United States Attorney, Jacob M. Lewis, Peter J. Smith, Appellate Staff, Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Appellees.

OPINION

The Governor of South Carolina appeals the grant of summary judgment to the Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services in the State's action seeking injunctive and declaratory relief from conditions imposed for federal funding of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program.

South Carolina challenges the district court finding that Congress acted within its Spending Clause authority when it conditioned States' receipt of federal funds under the child support enforcement program and the TANF program on compliance with the requirement that States develop and maintain automated child support enforcement systems and that such a condition was not so coercive as to violate the Tenth Amendment.   The State further alleges the district court erred when it found that the Secretary did not have the discretion to amend the statutory penalty structure for a State's noncompliance with the child support systems requirements.   In addition, South Carolina contends the court erred in finding that the State could not invoke the protections of the Due Process Clause.   After considering the parties' briefs and the record, and following oral argument, we affirm substantially on the reasoning of the district court.

I.

The district court opinion contains a comprehensive history, the details of which need not be repeated here, of the federal government's longstanding involvement in child support enforcement programs and related federal efforts to work with the States to solve the serious problem of nonpayment of child support.   See Hodges v. Shalala, 121 F.Supp.2d 854 (D.S.C.2000).   Currently, as a condition of receipt of any federal funding under Title IV–D of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 651–669, States must have an approved state plan for child and spousal support that meets all the requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 654.   Among the prerequisites for approval of a Title IV–D Plan are the requirements that the State establish and operate an automated data processing and information retrieval system, see 42 U.S.C. § 654(24), and a state child support disbursement unit (SDU), see 42 U.S.C. § 654(27)(A).   South Carolina concedes that it has neither a federally certifiable statewide automated system for child support nor an SDU. See Hodges, 121 F.Supp.2d at 861.

Without an approved state plan, a State may lose federal funding under both Title IV–D (child support enforcement) and Title IV–A (TANF).   See 42 U.S.C. § 655(a)(1)(A);  42 U.S.C. § 602(a)(2).   Alternatively, a State may opt for an alternative penalty in lieu of disapproval of their state plan and the withholding of federal funds if the State is making a good faith effort to comply with the program's requirements and the State has submitted a corrective compliance plan.   See 42 U.S.C. § 655(a)(4).   South Carolina has elected to incur the alternative penalty.

We exercise jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo.   See United States v. Kanasco, Ltd., 123 F.3d 209, 210 (4th Cir.1997).

II.

 We turn first to South Carolina's contention that the federal government's requirements and penalties associated with the state-wide automated systems, which South Carolina failed to provide, exceed Congressional authority under the Spending Clause and the Tenth Amendment.

Consistent with its Spending Power, Congress may attach conditions on the receipt of federal funds.   See South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U.S. 203, 206, 107 S.Ct. 2793, 97 L.Ed.2d 171 (1987).   The Spending Power is not unlimited, of course, and the Supreme Court has recognized four general limitations:  spending must be in pursuit of the general welfare;  any attached conditions must be unambiguous;  conditions must also be related to a federal interest;  and, the obligations imposed by Congress may not violate any independent constitutional provisions.   See Dole, 483 U.S. at 207–08, 107 S.Ct. 2793.

The district court found that “Congress made a considered judgment that the American people would benefit significantly from the enhanced enforcement of child-support decrees and the diminution of the number of parents who are able to avoid their obligations simply by moving across local or state lines.”  Hodges, 121 F.Supp.2d at 873.   Thus, like the district court, we are satisfied that Congress acted in the general welfare when it enacted the child support enforcement programs and the associated funding conditions under Title IV–D.

South Carolina's contention that the Title IV–D conditions are ambiguous is without merit.   The statute expressly provides that compliance with the automated system and SDU requirements is a condition of approval of a state plan.   See 42 U.S.C. § 654(16), (24)(27)A.  We agree with the district court that the clear and unequivocal statement of the required conditions in the statute enabled South Carolina to “exercise [her] choice knowingly, cognizant of the consequences of [her] participation.”   See Dole, 483 U.S. at 207, 107 S.Ct. 2793 (citations omitted).

A third limitation on the Spending Power requires that conditions “bear some relationship to the purpose of the federal spending.”  New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144, 167, 112 S.Ct. 2408, 120 L.Ed.2d 120 (1992) (citing Dole, 483 U.S. at 207–08, n. 3, 107 S.Ct. 2793).   Here, there is a complementary relationship between efficient child support enforcement and the broader goals of providing assistance to needy families through the TANF program.   Establishing paternity and collecting child support may enable families to reduce their dependence on the welfare system, and both programs are intended to reduce the incidence of poverty among children and families.   The Supreme Court has recognized that Congress intended these linkages between child support programs and the TANF program.   See Sullivan v. Stroop, 496 U.S. 478, 484, 110 S.Ct. 2499, 110 L.Ed.2d 438 (1990) (concluding Congress intended the two programs to “operate together closely to provide uniform levels of support for children of equal need”).1

 South Carolina does not contend that the Title IV–D conditions violate the fourth limitation on the Spending Power—that the conditions violate any independent Constitutional prohibition, rather it raises a Tenth Amendment 2 challenge.   As we have recently reconfirmed, “the Tenth Amendment itself does not act as a constitutional bar to Congress's spending power;  rather, the fourth restriction on Congress's spending power stands for the more general proposition that Congress may not induce the states to engage in activities that would themselves be unconstitutional.”  James Island Pub. Serv. Dist. v. City of Charleston, 249 F.3d 323, 327 (4th Cir.2001) (citing Kansas v. United States, 214 F.3d 1196, 1199 (10th Cir.2000)) (italics in original).   We therefore next consider South Carolina's Tenth Amendment argument, not as a limitation related to the Spending Clause, but as an independent constitutional challenge.

South Carolina argues that the coercive effect of the Title IV–D conditions run afoul of the protections of the Tenth Amendment.   The Supreme Court has recognized that the Tenth Amendment may be implicated when the financial incentives offered by the federal government to the States cross the impermissible line where “pressure turns into compulsion.”   See Dole, 483 U.S. at 211, 107 S.Ct. 2793 (citations omitted).   Congress may use its Spending Power to influence a State's legislative choices by providing incentives for States to adopt certain policies, but may not compel or coerce a State, or go so far as to “commandeer the legislative processes of the States by directly compelling them to enact and enforce a federal regulatory program.”   See New York v. United States, 505 U.S. at 161, 112 S.Ct. 2408, but Congress, under the Commerce Clause, may offer the States a choice of regulation under federal control or preemption under federal regulation.   See Hodel v. Virginia Surface Mining & Reclamation Ass'n, Inc., 452 U.S. 264, 288, 101 S.Ct. 2352, 69 L.Ed.2d 1 (1981).

The district court found that, based on the State's own admission, the alternative penalty, which South Carolina has now elected, would result in the loss of a small fraction of the State's TANF funds and that such a proportion was noncoercive.   Given the linkages between child support enforcement and aid to needy families and the level of the alternative penalty, we agree with the district court's conclusion that “the Title IV–D conditions are not so overbearing as to create an unconstitutional compulsion.”  Hodges, 121 F.Supp.2d at 875.

 South Carolina next contends that the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has the discretion to deviate from the alternative penalty structure of Title VI D in order to respond to the peculiar circumstances that led to South Carolina's noncompliance.   Specifically, South Carolina argues that its inability to comply with the automated system and SDU requirements was caused by the failure of its prime contractor, Unisys, to deliver on its contract with the State.   South Carolina maintains that because its non-compliance was no fault of its own and its alternative systems are in substantial compliance with the goals of the statute, the Secretary abused her discretion by refusing to grant South Carolina an evidentiary hearing and waive or amend the alternative penalty for noncompliance.

We have examined the penalty provisions of the statute and, like the district court, cannot find the discretion South Carolina envisions.   The wording of the statute is plain.   Where the Secretary determines that a state plan would be disapproved, and where the State has made and continues to make a good faith effort to comply and has submitted a corrective compliance plan, “the Secretary shall not disapprove the State plan ․ and the Secretary shall reduce the amount otherwise payable to the State [by the designated alternative penalty].”  42 U.S.C. § 655(a)(4)(A)(i)(II) (emphasis added).   Again, we agree with the district court that “[b]y the text of the statute, the legislature has prescribed that the Secretary shall enforce this penalty.”   Hodges, 121 F.Supp.2d at 879.   Absent any discretion available to the Secretary to impose a lesser penalty than the alternative penalty as outlined in the statute, South Carolina's assertion that it is entitled to an evidentiary hearing must also fail.3

III.

For the foregoing reasons, we are of opinion that the Title IV–D provisions are constitutionally valid under the Spending Clause and the Tenth Amendment and that the Secretary lacks discretion under Title IV–D to deviate from the penalty provisions.

The judgment of the district court is accordingly

AFFIRMED.

FOOTNOTES

1.   Sullivan considered the relationship between child enforcement programs and Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).  496 U.S. at 478, 110 S.Ct. 2499.   TANF is a block grant program established in 1996 as the successor to the AFDC program.   See 42 U.S.C. §§ 601–618.

2.   The Tenth Amendment states:  “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”   U.S. Const. amend.   X.

3.   In the district court, South Carolina asserted a Due Process claim which the district court denied.   The court concluded that the “State cannot invoke the protections of the Fifth Amendment with claims that [the State] has been harmed.”  Hodges, 121 F.Supp.2d at 865.   South Carolina does not take issue with the district court's holding, but rather, on appeal it asserts that the State is entitled to assert a Due Process claim on behalf of its citizens.   Because this contention was never properly presented to the district court, we do not consider it now.   See McGowan v. Gillenwater, 429 F.2d 586, 587 (4th Cir.1970).

Affirmed by published PER CURIAM opinion.

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