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Appellants are women who contend that an Indiana welfare regulation governing eligibility for state and federal aid to dependent children contravenes the Fourteenth Amendment and the Social Security Act, 42 U.S. C. § 602 (a) (10). The regulation provides that person who seeks assistance due to separation or the desertion of a spouse is not entitled to aid until the spouse has been continuously absent for at least six months, unless there are exceptional circumstances of need. Burns Ind. Rules and Regs. (52-1001 )-2 (1967). Appellants brought this action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, basing jurisdiction on 42 U. S. C. § 1983, 28 U. S.C. § 1343, and seeking both declaratory and injunctive relief. A three-judge court was convened pursuant to 28 U. S. C. § 2281. After a "preliminary hearing on defendant's" motion to dismiss "at which the court" received evidence upon which to resolve the matter, the court dismissed the complaint on the ground that none of the claimants had exercised her right under Indiana law to appeal from a county decision denying welfare assistance, Burns Ind. Stat. Ann. § (52-1211 )-1 (Supp. 1970), and therefore appellants had failed to exhaust administrative remedies. In the alternative, the court held that the pleadings did not present a substantial federal question and that the court lacked jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C § 1983; 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201, 2202. Carte v. Stanton, No. IP 70-C-124 (SD Ind., Dec. 11, 1970). This direct appeal followed and we noted probable jurisdiction. 402 U.S. 994 (1970).

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