Sullivan v. Stroop

LOCATION: Congress

DOCKET NO.: 89-535
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 496 US 478 (1990)
ARGUED: Mar 26, 1990
DECIDED: Jun 14, 1990

Clifford M. Sloan - on behalf of the Petitioner
Jamie B. Aliperti - on behalf of the Respondents

Facts of the case


Media for Sullivan v. Stroop

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 26, 1990 in Sullivan v. Stroop

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in Louis W. Sullivan v. Elizabeth Stroop.

Mr. Sloan.

Clifford M. Sloan:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case concerns the meaning of the term child support payments in a provision of the statute regarding the Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or AFDC program.

Under that provision, the first $50 per month of child support is disregarded or not counted in AFDC eligibility and assistance determinations.

The issue in this case is whether, as the Secretary of Health and Human Services has determined, the term child support payments refers to payments from absent parents, and does not include Social Security child's insurance benefits, or whether, as Respondents contend and as the court of appeals concluded, the term means not only payments from absent parents, but also Social Security child's insurance benefits.

We believe that the Secretary's interpretation should be upheld for three reasons.

First, the term child support is used repeatedly in the Social Security Act to refer to payments from absent parents.

Indeed, the current version of the disregard, as it was amended in 1988, explicitly refers to payments by the absent parent.

Second, the legislative history and background of the AFDC program reveal a consistent emphasis on the problem of obtaining payments from absent parents and the only prior instance of a child support disregard as part of that emphasis.

It is reasonable to view this disregard in light of that long standing emphasis.

Third, to the extent that the statute is ambiguous, the Secretary's interpretation is entitled to deference.

Now, a few words of background.

Byron R. White:

The statute does say any child support payments.

Clifford M. Sloan:

Yes, it does, Justice White.

Byron R. White:

And these are payments to a child or for the child's benefit.

Clifford M. Sloan:

That is true.

Byron R. White:

So, what do you do?

You say child support is a term of art, or--

Clifford M. Sloan:

It... it is a term of art within the statute.

If you look at Title IV of the Social Security Act, and the AFDC program is IV-A of the Social Security Act, there is an entire part of the Social Security Act, Title IV-D, that is addressed to child support.

And throughout both Title IV-A, which has a close relationship to Title IV-D, and Title IV-D, child support refers to payments from absent parents.

Now, the linchpin of the relationship between Title IV-A and Title IV-D is the requirement that has been in the AFDC program since 1975, that an AFDC recipient assign rights to child support to the state, and the state then collects them.

The entire IV-D system, as it relates to the four... as it relates to AFDC recipients, hinges on that assignment of rights.

And so it is reasonable to view the term child support payments, even though it says any child support payments, in view of its repeated meaning throughout the Act.

That... it's important to understand why this assignment of rights developed in 1975, and why the Title IV-D program, insofar as it applies to AFDC recipients, was developed.

And that is because repeatedly Congress has identified the problem of obtaining payments from absent parents as one of the chief reasons that people are on AFDC, and that problem is one of the chief obstacles to getting people off of AFDC and on the road to self-sufficiency.

And it... it's a very particular defined problem.

And Congress has tried a number of different ways, it has been a frustrating problem to get at that problem.

And that is why child support is in Title IV to begin with.