Cockrum v. Califano, Civ. A. No. 78-1147.

Decision Date31 May 1979
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 78-1147.
Citation475 F. Supp. 1222
PartiesLena COCKRUM et al., Plaintiffs, v. Joseph CALIFANO, Jr., Secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia


Michael R. Schuster, Legal Counsel for the Elderly, Philip L. Goar, National Senior Citizens Law Center, Laura Macklin, Neighborhood Legal Services Program, Washington, D. C., for plaintiffs.

Nathan Dodell, Asst. U. S. Atty., Washington, D. C., for defendant.


OBERDORFER, District Judge.

I. Introduction
A. Overview

Lena Cockrum and three others filed this suit on June 26, 1978, challenging delays which attend the conducting by the Social Security Administration (SSA) of administrative hearings, and the rendering of final decisions for claimants who appeal the denial, reduction or termination of benefits under Title II (Old Age Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI)) and Title XVI (Supplemental Security Income (SSI)) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq., 1381 et seq. (Act). They seek to represent themselves and other individuals within the District of Columbia who, having requested a hearing after an unfavorable decision, have waited 120 days or longer for a final decision from defendant Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare (Secretary).

Plaintiffs' complaint sets forth six causes of action against the Secretary. It alleges violations of 42 U.S.C. 405(b) (with respect to Title II claimants), 42 U.S.C. 1383(c) (with respect to Title XVI), and with respect to all claimants, 42 U.S.C. § 1302, two provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. §§ 555(b) and 706(1), and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Plaintiffs seek an injunction ordering the Secretary to make final decisions on appeals within 120 days after a hearing is requested, and to pay benefit claims whenever a decision has not been reached within that time. Alternatively, they seek an injunction directing the Secretary to adopt regulations which impose time limits on reaching decisions on appeals. As explained below, they also seek reconsideration of an earlier order denying a motion for a preliminary injunction, and seek a preliminary injunction for both named parties and the class.

In the original complaint and in the new complaints filed with later motions to intervene, plaintiffs allege that they constitute a certifiable class under F.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(1) and (2). On July 6, 1978, plaintiffs moved for certification under 23(b)(2) on behalf of four subclasses of individuals who had suffered delays of 120 days or more in their appeals from the denial, termination or reduction of (1) benefits under Title II, except for claims based on disability; (2) disability benefits under Title II; (3) benefits under Title XVI, except those based on disability; (4) disability benefits under Title XVI.

On July 25, plaintiffs filed an application for a temporary restraining order to require defendant to issue a final decision on the benefit claims of two named plaintiffs Lena Cockrum and Lottie Young. The Court denied the TRO on July 27, based on representations that government counsel would undertake certain efforts to secure prompt resolution of Young's claim and on the understanding that if such efforts were unsuccessful the issues would be reconsidered in ruling on the motion for preliminary injunction. That latter motion was denied on August 23, based on evidence that the case had been mooted as to those named plaintiffs. The Court also noted, however, in a memorandum accompanying the order denying plaintiffs' motion, that its conclusion that the named plaintiffs would not benefit from a preliminary injunction did not necessarily require dismissal of the action, citing Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393, 95 S.Ct. 553, 42 L.Ed.2d 532 (1975) for the proposition that in some cases certification of the class may be held to relate back to the time the suit was filed "depending upon the circumstances . . . and especially the reality of the claim that otherwise the issue would evade review." Id. at 402, n. 11, 95 S.Ct. at 559. Subsequently the parties have strongly contested some of the representations which formed the basis for that preliminary decision, but in light of the Court's resolution of the issues in this case it will be unnecessary to return to that problem. A motion for intervention on behalf of Annie Pearl David, Esther Starkey and Michael L. Wasilow was filed on September 26, 1978. A second motion for intervention was filed on January 30, 1979 on behalf of Azzie Lee Cage and Josephine Muldrow. Both motions are opposed by the Secretary.

In this Memorandum the Court explains its orders resolving the outstanding motions. Section B of Part I deals with the procedural aspects of the Court's decision to enter summary judgment for plaintiffs. Part II treats the motions for class certification and intervention as to three intervenors. Part III sets out conclusions as to jurisdiction and mootness. Part IV addresses the substantive issue of entitlement to declaratory and equitable relief which this case presents.

B. Disposition

The Court has treated plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration and clarification of the denial of a preliminary injunction and its opposition to defendant's motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment and has entered judgment and granted declaratory relief for plaintiffs. The Court's entry of judgment at this stage of the proceedings is based upon a number of considerations and authorities. First, it is clear that in this Circuit oral argument on a motion for summary judgment is not required before entry of that judgment, Spark v. Catholic University, 167 U.S.App. D.C. 56, 59, 510 F.2d 1277, 1280 (1975); 6 Moore's Federal Practice at ¶ 56.14(1) (1978); Local Rule 1-9(c). Secondly, both F.R.Civ.P. 56(b) and case law support the Court's treatment of a motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment where matters outside the pleadings are presented and considered by the Court; Carter v. Stanton, 405 U.S. 669, 92 S.Ct. 1232, 31 L.Ed.2d 569 (1972); Fagan v. National Cash Register, 157 U.S.App.D.C. 15, 26, 481 F.2d 1115, 1126 (1973); Tuley v. Heyd, 482 F.2d 590, 592-93 (5th Cir. 1973). And finally under the proper circumstances where the parties have had full opportunity to present the issues and to contest the proposition that there exist no facts in dispute material to entry of judgment, the Court may enter judgment for a party which has not in haec verba moved for summary judgment; Morrisey v. Curran, 423 F.2d 393, 398 (2d Cir. 1970); Petroleo Brasileio S. A. v. American Oil Corp., 372 F.Supp. 503, 508 (S.D.N.Y. 1974); United States v. Cless, 150 F.Supp. 687 (M.D.Pa.1957) (on plaintiff's motion for judgment on pleadings, court enters summary judgment for defendant); see Abrams v. Occidental Petroleum Corp., 450 F.2d 157, 165-66 (2d Cir. 1971), aff'd sub nom. Kern County Land Corp. v. Occidental Petroleum Corp., 411 U.S. 582, 93 S.Ct. 1736, 36 L.Ed.2d 503 (1973); 6 Moore's Federal Practice at ¶ 56.12 (1978). As Professor Moore notes in his treatise (quoting in the first paragraph from his first edition):

If either the proponent of the claim or the defending party moves for a summary judgment, and the court finds that the moving party is not entitled thereto, but that the other party is so entitled, it would seem that the court has the power to enter the proper judgment, although a cross-motion therefor was not made. Rule 54(e) gives the court the power to enter the final judgment to which the prevailing party is entitled, even if the party has not demanded such relief in his pleadings, except in default judgment cases. The theory is that the form of the pleadings should not place a limitation upon the power of the court to do justice. So where one party has invoked the power of the court to render a summary judgment against his adversary, it is reasonable that this invocation gives the court power to render a summary judgment for his adversary if it is clear that the case warrants that result.
There is some authority contra, which only leads to the ceremony of a formal motion by the party so entitled. The great weight of authority, however, dispenses with the formality of a cross-motion and supports the above position of the Treatise. (At XX-XXX-XX-XXX) (footnotes omitted).

This case plainly presents circumstances in which such a procedure is in order. The Secretary has had a full and more than fair opportunity to contest, and has contested, every element of plaintiff's allegations in a variety of pleadings. The parties vigorously contested the motions for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction. Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration and Clarification of the Denial of a Preliminary Injunction presented another opportunity for defendant to contest the case. Defendant filed an extensive memorandum in support of its Motion to Dismiss and a supplemental memorandum, supported by five exhibits. The parties further contested the Motion for Class Certification and two motions for intervention, with defendant filing a supplemental memorandum with respect to the former. The supplemental reports requested by the Court to provide information about named parties and intervenors and about the status of two relevant cases were employed by defendant as additional opportunities to raise substantive issues by incorporating his motion for rehearing en banc filed in the Sixth Circuit case of Blankenship v. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, 587 F.2d 329 (6th Cir. 1978). In addition, the Court has before it numerous affidavits and exhibits, filed by both parties in contesting various motions, and statistics relating to delays in decision-making revealed by plaintiff's interrogatories.1 Moreover, the issue here turns on a finite number of facts which are fully admitted by defendant in his...

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    ...litigation receives little press attention, although its effects are certainly felt by the parties involved. In Cockrum v. Califano, 475 F. Supp. 1222 (D.D.C. 1979), a class of claimants appealing the denial, reduction, or termination of Social Security benefits sought injunctive relief aga......
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