Adkins v. Huffman – Case Brief Summary (West Virginia)

In Adkins v. Huffman, 175 W. Va. 401, 332 S.E.2d 866 (1985), there had been no original court order establishing a monthly child support payment, and the DHHR had not conducted a hearing to determine the appropriate amount of reimbursement.

The Court explained as follows in Huffman:

"Obviously the Department of Human Services inherits all the rights of the original obligor, but the Department of Human Services does not obtain any more than those rights. Although in some cases those rights may be commensurate with the full amount of AFDC benefits paid out, this is not always the case. The actual amount of AFDC benefits paid to the assignor provides a ceiling and not a floor on state recoupment." (Id. at 404, 332 S.E.2d at 870.)

In syllabus point two of Huffman, the Court explained:

"The Department of Human Services receives only those rights to recoupment of benefits paid under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children Program (AFDC) that an AFDC recipient could assign: the recipient's right to support and maintenance. That right to support and maintenance is dependent upon the ability of the responsible relative to pay, and the determination of ability to pay must be made through an administrative hearing or court proceeding."

(Id. at 402, 332 S.E.2d at 868.)

In Huffman, the Court recognized that it was bound by federal regulations which establish mandatory procedures for the determination of the amount of reimbursement to which the DHHR would be entitled, and the Court explained that the regulations provide "an extensive list of factors to consider before collecting money from the parent." 175 W. Va. at 405, 332 S.E.2d at 870-71.

The applicable federal regulation, 45 C.F.R. 302.50 (1984), provides that if there is no preexisting court order regarding child support, the amount of reimbursement to which the State would be entitled is to be determined through utilization of a formula which meets the criteria set forth in the federal regulations. At the time Huffman was decided, those determinative factors were set forth in 45 C.F.R. 302.53. That section has been altered and is located at 45 C.F.R. 302.56.

In Huffman, this Court explained that West Virginia Code § 9-3-4 "anticipates an analogous situation in its provision that limits a parent's debt by the amount established in any court order or final decree of divorce if the amount in such order or decree is less than the amount of assistance paid." 175 W. Va. at 405, 332 S.E.2d at 871.

The Court noted that had Mr. and Mrs. Huffman been divorced, Mr. Huffman's liability would have been determined by application of a "statutory laundry list of factors before fixing the amount of support and maintenance." Id. at 406, 332 S.E.2d at 871.

The Court explicitly stated that "an individual should not be required to pay more than he is able." Id. at 406, 332 S.E.2d 871. This Court concluded that prior to the DHHR collection of reimbursement, Mr. Huffman was "entitled to a hearing to determine his ability to repay the AFDC benefits." Id. at 406, 332 S.E.2d at 871.