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July 1, 1983


Review of a decision of the Court of Appeals. Affirming Beilfuss, C.j.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Beilfuss

This is a review of a decision *fn1 of the court of appeals which reversed the judgment of the trial court, Honorable Nick F. Schaefer, Judge of the Circuit Court for Outagamie County, presiding, adjudicating the defendant to be the father of the plaintiff's child in a paternity action.

The plaintiff, Pamela Dombrowski, commenced a paternity action against the defendant, Mark Moser, on November 30, 1979. She had previously applied for public assistance from the Outagamie County Department of Social Services (Department). A file containing the application for aid and other information gathered from Dombrowski is maintained by the Department.

Prior to trial, Moser filed a motion seeking to examine the Department's file for any information that would aid the defendant in his defense. The motion was denied. At trial Moser subpoenaed Dombrowski's caseworker requiring the caseworker to bring the file for inspection. The caseworker was called as a witness but refused to produce the file for inspection.

Outside the presence of the jury Moser renewed his request to inspect the file, claiming that he had reason to believe the file contained exculpatory material which he wished to use to impeach Dombrowski's credibility. The court again denied the request, holding that under sec. 49.53(1), Stats. 1977, *fn2 the file was confidential and privileged. The jury returned a verdict finding Moser to be the father of Dombrowski's child.

Moser appealed on the sole issue of whether sec. 49.53(1), Stats., prohibited his inspection of Dombrowski's file. The court of appeals reversed. The court held that sec. 49.53(1) did not prohibit a paternity defendant from inspecting the Department's file, stating:

"The initial question becomes whether the paternity prosecution is a 'purpose . . . connected with the administration' of aid to dependent children within the meaning of sec. 49.53(1). When a mother and her child receive public assistance in the form of aid to dependent children, an action to determine paternity and compel support is commenced to eliminate or reduce assistance. This connection is recognized in sec. 49.19(4) (h) 1a, Stats., which requires the mother, as a condition of eligibility for aid to dependent children, to fully cooperate in efforts directed at establishing the paternity of a child born out of wedlock and obtaining support payments. In addition, the state is automatically assigned the rights to support during the time aid is paid. Section 49.19(4) (h)1b, Stats. We conclude that the action to establish paternity and to compel support is connected to the department's administration of aid to dependent children. To conclude otherwise would be unrealistic. Therefore, sec. 49.53(1) does not bar disclosure of the department's file in this case."

We granted the plaintiff's petition for review.

The sole issue on review is whether sec. 49.53(1), Stats., precludes a defendant in a paternity action from inspecting a county department of social services record, which may contain relevant evidence to impeach the complainant. We hold that, in the appropriate circumstances as outlined below, a paternity defendant's request for inspection of such a record falls within two of the statutory exceptions to the general confidentiality of the records.

This review involves the determination of the scope of the confidentiality placed on State Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) records. Resolution of this issue involves an examination of federal statutes and regulations as well as sec. 49.53(1), Stats.

Part A of Title IV of the Social Security Act of 1935, 42 USC, sec. 601 et seq., established the federal AFDC program which provides federal funds to states, on a matching funds basis, to be distributed to aid needy children. The program is administered by the states pursuant to a plan of "cooperative federalism." King v. Smith, 392 U.S. 309, 316 (1968). States are not required to participate, but those that choose to do so must submit plans which conform to the detailed requirements of the Social Security Act and its implementing federal regulations. McCoog By and Through Ferguson v. Hegstrom, 690 F.2d 1280, 1284 (1982); Yearby v. Perham, 415 F. Supp. 1236, 1238 (N.D. Ga. 1976).

One of the federal requirements that states must comply with in order to receive federal AFDC funds is the restriction placed on disclosure of information regarding AFDC applicants and recipients contained in 42 USC, sec. 602(a) (9). This section provides in pertinent part:

"(a) A state plan for aid and services to needy families with ...

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