Batterton v. Francis,
432 U.S. 416 (1977)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Batterton v. Francis, 432 U.S. 416 (1977)

Batterton v. Francis

No. 76-1181

Argued April 19, 1977

Decided June 20, 1977

432 U.S. 416


Section 407(a) of the Social Security Act delegates to the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare the power to prescribe "standards" for determining what constitutes "unemployment" for purposes of eligibility for benefits under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children-Unemployed Fathers (AFDC-UF) program. Pursuant to § 407(a), the Secretary promulgated a regulation authorizing participating States, within their discretion, to exclude from the definition of an unemployed father one

"whose unemployment results from participation in a labor dispute or who is unemployed by reason of conduct or circumstances which result or would result in disqualification for unemployment compensation under the State's unemployment compensation law."

In class actions on behalf of families who were denied AFDC-UF benefits under a state rule because the fathers' unemployment resulted from discharges for misconduct, involvement in a strike, or voluntarily quitting their jobs, the courts below held the federal regulation invalid as exceeding the Secretary's statutory authority.

Held: The regulation is a proper exercise of the Secretary's statutory authority, and is reasonable. Pp. 432 U. S. 424-432.

(a) Since the statute expressly delegated to the Secretary the power to prescribe standards for determining what constitutes "unemployment" for purposes of AFDC-UF eligibility, a reviewing court is not free to set aside the regulation simply because it would have interpreted the statute in a different manner from the Secretary, but only if the Secretary exceeded his statutory authority or the regulation is "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law." Pp. 432 U. S. 424-426.

(b) By allowing the States to exclude persons who would be disqualified under the State's unemployment compensation law, the Secretary has incorporated a well known and widely applied standard for "unemployment," and exclusion of individuals who are out of work as a result of their own conduct, and thus disqualified from state unemployment compensation is consistent with the goal of

Page 432 U. S. 417

AFDC-UF, namely, to aid the families of the involuntarily unemployed. Pp. 432 U. S. 426-429.

(c) The power to prescribe "standards" for determining what constitutes "unemployment" gives the Secretary sufficient flexibility to recognize local options in determining AFDC-UF eligibility, including the option of denying unemployment compensation benefits to participants in a labor dispute. While the congressional purpose was to promote greater uniformity in the application of the AFDC-UF program, such goal can be met without imposing identical standards on each State, and hence the Secretary's approach does not defeat the statute's purpose. Pp. 432 U. S. 429-432.

529 F.2d 514 and 515, reversed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 432 U. S. 432.

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