427 U.S. 524 (1976), 74-6212, Norton v. Mathews

Docket Nº:No. 74-6212
Citation:427 U.S. 524, 96 S.Ct. 2771, 49 L.Ed.2d 672
Party Name:Norton v. Mathews
Case Date:June 29, 1976
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 524

427 U.S. 524 (1976)

96 S.Ct. 2771, 49 L.Ed.2d 672

Norton

v.

Mathews

No. 74-6212

United States Supreme Court

June 29, 1976

Argued January 13, 1976

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND

Syllabus

The Social Security Act provides child survivor benefits only to a child who was "dependent" upon the deceased insured parent at the time of the parent's death. Appellant illegitimate child, who did not come [96 S.Ct. 2772] under any of the statutory presumptions of dependency to which legitimate children and illegitimate children under some circumstances are entitled under the Act, could establish his status as a dependent child only by showing that his father lived with him or was contributing to his support at the time of death. Appellant was administratively denied benefits because he could not make such a showing, his father having been killed in military service and never having assumed support. After this denial was upheld on administrative appeal, a class action was brought on appellant's behalf against appellee Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, seeking relief against denial of the benefits and claiming, inter alia, that, by creating a presumption of dependency, and consequent qualification for benefits, for legitimate children generally, and for illegitimate children under certain circumstances, but denying the presumption to appellant and others similarly situated, the Act discriminated against appellant's class in violation of the equal protection guarantee implicit in the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Ultimately, a three-judge District Court, convened when classwide injunctive relief was requested against the allegedly unconstitutional operation of the Act's presumptions of dependency, ruled in appellee's favor on the merits of the constitutional claim and granted summary judgment in his favor.

Held: Since the decision in Mathews v. Lucas, ante p. 495, renders the merits of the present case a decided issue in favor of appellee and thus one no longer substantial in the jurisdictional sense, it is unnecessary to decide the jurisdictional question presented as to whether a three-judge court was properly convened upon appellant's demand for injunctive relief, and hence

Page 525

whether this Court had jurisdiction over the direct appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1253. Pp. 528-533.

390 F.Supp. 1084, affirmed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 533.

BLACKMUN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

On the merits, this case raises the same question as to the constitutionality of §§ 202(d)(3) and 216(h)(3)(C)(ii) of the Social Security Act, 64 Stat. 484, as amended, and 79 Stat. 410, 42 U.S.C. § § 402(d)(3) and 416(h)(3)(C)(ii), as was presented in Mathews v. Lucas, ante p. 495. The present litigation, however, also raises certain jurisdictional issues. It now has become apparent that the simultaneous submission of Lucas to the Court, and our decision in that case today, make it unnecessary for us specifically to decide the jurisdictional questions.

I

Appellant Gregory Norton, Jr., was born out of wedlock in February, 1964. Both his father and his mother then were high school students, aged, respectively, 16 and 14, who lived separately at home with their parents.

Page 526

The two never married and, indeed, never lived together. Appellant always has resided with his maternal grandmother and has been cared for by her. When Gregory was born, his father contributed six dollars and some clothing and other habiliments for the baby, but, being so young and unemployed, he never assumed appellant's actual support.

In February, 1965, the father entered military service. He was killed in Vietnam on May 19, 1966, at age 19. Before his death, the father apparently took some initial steps (the procurement of a birth certificate and other items) necessary for the processing of a dependent child's military allotment. The father failed, however, to complete the required procedures before he was killed.

In September, 1969, appellant's maternal grandmother filed on his behalf an application [96 S.Ct. 2773] for a surviving child's benefits under § 202(d)(1) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1), based on the father's earnings record. An administrative hearing followed. The Hearing Examiner concluded that appellant was not entitled to benefits as a dependent child because his father, at the time of his death, was neither living with appellant nor contributing to appellant's support.1 App. 119. The subsequent

Page 527

administrative appeal was no more successful. Id. at 20-21.

The present action was then instituted on behalf of appellant against the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. By the complaint, relief was sought alternatively on statutory and constitutional grounds. First, it was asserted that, by his attempt to secure a military allotment for appellant, the father, at the time of his death, in fact was contributing to appellant's support, within the meaning of § 216(h)(3)(C)(ii) of the Act, and that appellant therefore was a dependent of the father, under §§ 202(d)(1) and (3) (1970 ed. and Supp. IV), and entitled to benefits. Second, it was asserted that, by creating a presumption of dependency, and consequent qualification for benefits, for legitimate children generally, and for illegitimate children under certain circumstances, see n. 1, but denying the presumption to appellant and others similarly situated, the Act discriminated against appellant's class, in violation of the guarantee of equal protection implicit in the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

Appellant's statutory claim was initially considered and rejected by a single District Judge. Norton v. Richardson, 352 F.Supp. 596 (Md.1972). In view of the complaint's request for certification of a class pursuant to Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 23(c)(1), and for classwide injunctive relief against the alleged unconstitutional operation of the Act's presumptions of dependency, a three-judge court was convened under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2282 and 2284 (1970 ed. and Supp. IV) to pass upon the constitutional

Page 528

claim. The three-judge court first agreed with, and reaffirmed, the single judge's rejection of appellant's statutory claim. Norton v. Weinberger, 364 F.Supp. 1117, 1120 (1973). The court went on to identify the plaintiff class, id. at 1120-1121,2 but, on the merits of the constitutional, claim it ruled in favor of the Secretary and granted summary judgment in his favor. Id. at 1121-1131.

Appellant, taking the position that the three-judge court had denied his request for an order enjoining enforcement of provisions of the Act, lodged a direct appeal here pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1253. While his jurisdictional statement was pending, Jimenez v. Weinberger, 417 U.S. 628 (1974), was decided. This Court thereafter vacated the three-judge court's judgment and remanded the case for further consideration in the light of Jimenez. Norton v. Weinberger, 418 U.S. 902 (1974).

On the remand, the same three-judge court, with one judge now dissenting, adhered to its earlier conclusion in favor of constitutionality. Norton v. Weinberger, 390 F.Supp. 1084 (1975). [96 S.Ct. 2774] Appellant has again appealed. We postponed the question of jurisdiction to the hearing of the case on the merits, 422 U.S. 1054 (1975), and, in doing so, cited Weinberger v. Salfi, 422 U.S. 749, 763 n. 8 (1975), which just then had been decided. Subsequently, we set the case for oral argument with Mathews v. Lucas, ante, p. 495. 423 U.S. 819 (1975).

II

The question whether the three-judge court was properly convened upon appellant's demand for injunctive relief

Page 529

is relevant, of course to our appellate jurisdiction. If the court was not empowered to enjoin the operation of a federal statute, then three judges were not required to hear the case under 28 U.S.C. § 2282...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP