Sullivan v. Stroop

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Sullivan v. Stroop by William Rehnquist
Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

496 U.S. 478

Sullivan  v.  Stroop

No. 89-535  Argued: March 26, 1990. --- Decided: June 14, 1990


In determining whether a family's income disqualifies it from receiving benefits under the Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) program of Part A of Title IV of the Social Security Act, the appropriate agency of a participating State is required to "disregard the first $50 of any child support payments" received by the family in any month for which benefits are sought. 42 U.S.C. § 602(a)(8)(A)(vi). Under this provision, petitioner Secretary of Health and Human Services has declined to "disregard" the first $50 of "child's insurance benefits" received under Title II of the Act, reasoning that such benefits are not "child support" because that term, as used throughout Title IV, invariably refers to payments from absent parents. The District Court granted summary judgment for respondents, custodial parents receiving AFDC benefits, in their suit challenging the Secretary's interpretation of § 602(a)(8)(A)(vi). The Court of Appeals affirmed, reasoning that, since AFDC applicants receiving Title II benefits are burdened by the same eligibility constraints as those receiving payments directly from absent parents, no rational basis exists for according one class of families the mitigating benefit of the disregard while depriving the other of that benefit. The court added that to construe § 602(a)(8)(A)(vi) to exclude the Title II benefits from the disregard would raise constitutional equal protection concerns.

Held: Title II "child's insurance benefits" do not constitute "child support" within the meaning of § 602(a)(8)(A)(vi). The clear and unambiguous language of the statute demonstrates that Congress used "child support" throughout Title IV as a term of art referring exclusively to payments from absent parents. See, e.g., § 651, the first provision in Part D of Title IV, which is devoted exclusively to "Child Support and Enforcement of Paternity." Since the statute also makes plain that Congress meant for the Part D program to work in tandem with the Part A AFDC program to provide uniform levels of support for children of equal need, see §§ 602(a)(26), 602(a)(27), 654(5), the phrase "child support" as used in the two Parts must be given the same meaning. See, e.g., Sorenson v. Secretary of Treasury, 475 U.S. 851, 860, 106 S.Ct. 1600, 1606-1607, 89 L.Ed.2d 855. Thus, although governmentally funded Title II child's insurance benefits might be characterized as "support" in the generic sense, they are not the sort of child support payments from absent parents envisioned by Title IV. This is the sort of statutory distinction that does not violate the Equal Protection Clause "if any state of facts reasonably may be conceived to justify it," Bowen v. Gilliard, 483 U.S. 587, 601, 107 S.Ct. 3008, 3017, 97 L.Ed.2d 485, and it is justified by Congress' intent to encourage the making of child support payments by absent parents. Pp. 481-485.

870 F.2d 969 (CA 4 1989) reversed.

REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 485. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 496.

Clifford M. Sloan, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Jamie B. Aliperti, for respondents.

Chief Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).