397 U.S. 397 (1970), 540, Rosado v. Wyman

Docket Nº:No. 540
Citation:397 U.S. 397, 90 S.Ct. 1207, 25 L.Ed.2d 442
Party Name:Rosado v. Wyman
Case Date:April 06, 1970
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 397

397 U.S. 397 (1970)

90 S.Ct. 1207, 25 L.Ed.2d 442




No. 540

United States Supreme Court

April 6, 1970

Argued November 19, 1969




The Social Security Amendments of 1967 added § 402(a)(23), which reads:

[The States shall] provide that, by July 1, 1969, the amounts used by the State to determine needs of individuals will have been adjusted to reflect fully changes in living costs since such amounts were established and any maximums that the State imposes on the amount of aid paid to families will have been proportionately adjusted.

In 1969, New York, by § 131-a of its Social Services Law, altered its standard of need computation under the federally supported Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) program, and adopted a system fixing maximum allowances per family based on the number of persons in the family and the age of the oldest child, and eliminated a "special grants" program. The state statute resulted in decreased benefits to many New York City recipients. This controversy involving the compatibility of the two statutes arose out of a pendent claim included in petitioners' complaint bringing a class action challenging § 131-a as violative of the Equal Protection Clause by virtue of its provision for lesser payments to AFDC recipients in Nassau County than those allowed for New York City residents. A three-judge court was convened, but, before a decision was rendered, § 131-a was amended to permit Nassau County grants equal to those in New York City. The three-judge court concluded that the equal protection issue was "no longer justiciable," dissolved itself, and remanded the matter to the single District Judge. The District Judge issued an injunction prohibiting the reduction or discontinuance of "regular and recurring grants and special grants" payable under the predecessor welfare law. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the three-judge court had properly dissolved itself, but that the District Judge should no have ruled on tho merits of petitioners' statutory claim.


1. The District Judge had jurisdiction to decide this federal statutory challenge to the New York welfare law. Pp. 402-407.

(a)Jurisdiction over the primary claim at all stages of the litigation is not a prerequisite to resolution of the pendent

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claim, and the mootness of the equal protection claim does not eliminate the jurisdiction of the District Judge over the pendent statutory claim. Pp. 402-405.

(b) The District Judge properly did not decline jurisdiction to allow the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) to resolve the controversy, as neither the "exhaustion of administrative remedies" nor the "primary jurisdiction" doctrine is applicable here. Petitioners do not seek review of an administrative ruling, nor could they have obtained such a ruling, since HEW does not permit welfare recipients to trigger or participate in its review of state welfare programs. Pp. 405-407.

2. New York's program is incompatible with § 402(a)(23), and petitioners are entitled to an injunction by the District Court against payment of federal monies according to the State's new schedules, should New York not develop a conforming plan within a reasonable time. Pp. 407-420.

(a) Congress, in § 402(a)(23), required the States to face up to the magnitude of the public assistance requirement, prodded them more equitably to apportion their payments, and spoke in favor of increases in AFDC payments. Pp. 412-414.

(b) The evidence supports the District Judge's finding that New York has, in effect, impermissibly lowered its standard of need by deleting items that were previously included. Pp. 415-417.

(c) While § 402(a)(23) does not prevent New York from pursuing a goal of administrative efficiency, it does foreclose the State from achieving this purpose by reducing significantly the content of its standard of need. Pp. 417-419.

(d) Section 402(a)(23) invalidates any state program that decreases the content of the standard of need unless the State can demonstrate that the items formerly included (here, the system of special grants, not the system of maximum grants based upon average age of the oldest child) no longer constituted part of the reality of existence for the majority of welfare recipients. Pp. 419-420.

3. Congress has not foreclosed judicial review to welfare recipients who are most directly affected by the administration of the program, and it is the duty of the federal courts to resolve disputes as to whether federal funds allocated to the States for welfare programs are properly expended. Pp. 420-423.

414 F.2d 170, reversed and remanded.

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HARLAN, J., lead opinion

MR JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The present controversy, which involves the compatibility of the New York Social Services Law (c. 184, L.1969) with § 402(a)(23) of the Social Security Act of 193, as amended, 81 Stat. 898, 42 U.S.C. § 602(a)(23) (1964 ed., Supp. IV), arises out of a pendent claim originally included in petitioners' complaint bringing a class action challenging § 131-a of the same New York statute as violative of equal protection by virtue of its provision for lesser payments to Aid to Families With Dependent Children recipients in Nassau County than those allowed for New York City residents. Pursuant to the recommendation of Judge Weinstein, a

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three-judge court was convened on April 24, 1969, and a hearing was held. 304 F.Supp. 1350.

Before a decision was rendered, New York State amended § 131-a to permit the State Commissioner of Social Services to make, in his discretion, grants to recipients in Nassau County equal to those provided for New York City residents. The three-judge panel, in a memorandum opinion of May 12, 1969, concluded that the equal protection issue was "no longer justiciable," and that

[t]he constitutional attack on the provision [§ 131-a] as originally adopted has been rendered moot, and any attack on the newly adopted subdivision would not be ripe for adjudication . . . until there [had] been opportunity for action by state officials. . . .1

That court further held that, since there existed "no reason for continuing the three-judge court," the "matter" should be "remanded to the single judge to whom the complaint was originally presented for such further proceedings as are appropriate." 304 F.Supp. 1354, 1356. On the same day as the three-judge court dissolved itself, Judge Weinstein issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting respondents from reducing or discontinuing payments of "regular recurring grants and special grants," payable under the predecessor welfare law, 304 F.Supp. 1356, and the State's elimination of which from the computation of [90 S.Ct. 1212] welfare benefits is the subject matter of the controversy now before this Court.

An interlocutory appeal was taken to the Court of Appeals, and the case was granted a calendar preference. After hearing oral argument, the Court of Appeals, on June 11, entered an order staying the preliminary injunction

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pending its disposition of the appeal, and later converted its stay into an order staying the permanent injunction subsequently issued by the District Court when it granted summary judgment on June 18, 1969, 304 F.Supp. 1356, 1381. On July 16, 1969, the Court of Appeals panel announced its judgment of reversal, accompanied by three opinions. 414 F.2d 170. Chief Judge Lumbard and Judge Hays agreed that the three-judge panel had properly dissolved itself and were of the view, for somewhat different reasons, that Judge Weinstein should not have ruled on the merits of petitioners' statutory claim; they also expressed their opinion that the single-judge District Court (hereinafter District Court) erred on the merits. Judge Feinberg disagreed on all scores, expressing the view that the District Court properly reached and correctly decided the merits of the statutory claim.

Petitioners' application to the author of this opinion, as Circuit Justice, for a stay and an accelerated review was referred by him to the entire Court, and, on October 13, 1969, certiorari was granted. 396 U.S. 815. The request for a stay was denied, but the case was set down for early argument.

We now reverse. For essentially those reasons stated in the opinion of the District Court and Circuit Judge Feinberg's dissent, we think the District Court correctly exercised its discretion by proceeding to the merits. We are also unable to accept the conclusion, reached by a majority of the Court of Appeals, that § 402(a)(23) does not affect States like New York that place no limitation on the level of payments of welfare benefits as determined by their standard of need. For reasons set forth in Part II, we conclude that the present New York program does not fulfill the requirements of § 402(a)(23) of the federal statute.

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We consider the threshold question of whether subject matter jurisdiction was vested in the District Court to decide this federal statutory challenge to the New York Social Services Law.

That the three-judge court itself not only had jurisdiction but would have been obliged to adjudicate this statutory claim in preference to deciding the original constitutional claim in this case follows from King v. Smith, 392 U.S. 309 (1968), where, on an appeal from a three-judge court, we decided the statutory question in order to avoid a constitutional ruling. 392 U.S. at 312 n. 3. In the case before us, the constitutional claim was declared moot prior to decision by the three-judge court, and the question arises whether that circumstance removed not only the obligation, but destroyed the power, of a federal court to adjudicate the pendent claim.2 We think not. Jurisdiction over federal claims, constitutional or otherwise, is vested, exclusively...

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