Gautier Torres v. Mathews, Civ. No. 75-1331.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
Citation426 F. Supp. 1106
Docket NumberCiv. No. 75-1331.
PartiesCesar GAUTIER TORRES, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff, v. David MATHEWS, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Defendant.
Decision Date14 February 1977

Luis Amauri Suarez, Servicios Legales de Puerto Rico, Inc., Hato Rey, P.R., for plaintiff.

Julio Morales Sanchez, U.S. Atty., D. Puerto Rico, San Juan, P.R., for defendant.

Before McENTEE, Circuit Judge, TOLEDO, Chief Judge and TORRUELLA, District Judge.


TORRUELLA, District Judge.

Title XVI of the Social Security Act (SSA), 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq., also known as the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program,1 establishes "a national program to provide supplemental security income to individuals who . . . are . . . disabled." 42 U.S.C. § 1381. Pursuant to Section 1611(f) of the SSA, 42 U.S.C. § 1382(f), no individual is eligible for these benefits during any month in which "such individual is outside of the United States." Furthermore, the statute provides that once "an individual has been outside the United States for any period of 30 consecutive days, he shall be treated as remaining outside the United States until he has been in the United States for a period of 30 consecutive days." The term "disabled" is defined, in part, as one who "is a resident of the United States." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(1)(B). In turn, Section 1614(e) of the SSA, 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(e), defines "`United States', when used in a geographical sense" as indicated above, as meaning the 50 States and the District of Columbia.

Plaintiff, a citizen of the United States, was found to be eligible to receive SSI benefits, due to disability, while residing in Hartford, Connecticut. During the months of September through November, 1975 he received monthly payments in the amount of $157.70.

On November 7, 1975, Plaintiff moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Shortly after his arrival there he visited the Social Security offices to inform this Agency of his change of address, in order to enable him to continue receiving his SSI checks. While there, Plaintiff was verbally notified by an employee of this Agency that he had rendered himself ineligible to receive further SSI benefits by reason of his change of residence to Puerto Rico. Plaintiff was instructed to immediately turn over to the Social Security Administration any SSI benefits received while he resided in Puerto Rico.

Without further ado, Plaintiff proceeded to file the present action in which he seeks to have the residency requirement set aside as contravening the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. On November 26, 1975, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2284(3), and after a specific finding of irreparable injury to Plaintiff, the District Court issued a temporary restraining order against Defendant prohibiting the discontinuance of Plaintiff's SSI benefits until such time as the questions raised by this suit as decided by the Three Judge District Court convened for these purposes.

On December 19, 1975 the Social Security Administration sent Plaintiff a "Notice of Planned Action" wherein he was informed that his SSI benefits would be suspended effective December 1, 1975. This Notice also advised Plaintiff of his appeal rights. In compliance with the Court's outstanding temporary restraining order, the Notice stated that Plaintiff would continue to receive his SSI benefits while the order remained in effect.

On January 19, 1976 Plaintiff proceeded to file with the Administration a "Request for Reconsideration of the Notice of Planned Action." On February 20, 1976 this Request was denied. As grounds for this action, it was stated: "Although you meet all other factors of eligibility, you do not meet the residence requirements. To be eligible for Supplemental Security Income checks, you must live in one of the 50 States or Washington D.C."

After several preliminary procedural interchanges the Administration has affirmed its decision as final for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), thus concluding that no further exhaustion of administrative remedies is necessary. See Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 96 S.Ct. 893, 47 L.Ed.2d 18 (1976); Weinberger v. Salfi, 422 U.S. 749, 95 S.Ct. 2457, 45 L.Ed.2d 522 (1975); 20 CFR 416.1424c.

Plaintiff contends that the exclusion from SSI benefits of a citizen of the United States for the sole reason of his change in residence to Puerto Rico, is repugnant to the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States in that it establishes an irrational and arbitrary classification violative of the equal protection component of the due process clause of said Constitutional provision. As alternative grounds Plaintiff further contends that the statute in question infringes upon his constitutional right to travel and freedom of movement in that it forces him, in order to qualify for these benefits (which to him are essential), to remain within the 50 States and the District of Columbia.

Defendant replies that this legislation constitutes a valid exercise by Congress of its plenary powers pursuant to the territorial clause of Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution, and that no arbitrary classification is created by the Statute in question. Relying upon the so-called Insular Cases,2 Defendant claims that "the equal protection component of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution does not require Congress to afford the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico the same treatment under the scope of its enactments as though it were a state."

This last contention is the starting point for the resolution of the questions raised by this case.

The Insular Cases, which where the product of acquisition by the United States of various non-contiguous territories after the termination of the Spanish-American War, resolved the issue of whether the Constitution "follows the flag." After much debate,3 the Court in Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298, 42 S.Ct. 343, 66 L.Ed. 627 (1922), created4 the doctrine of incorporated versus unincorporated territories whereby in the later case (that is, territories for which Congress had not expressed an intention of eventual Statehood) only "certain fundamental personal rights declared in the Constitution" were held to be in effect within its geographical confines. (258 U.S. at pages 312-313, 42 S.Ct. at page 348). In Balzac, a criminal slander prosecution for published "reflections" on the then Governor of Puerto Rico, the Court held that Puerto Rico was an unincorporated Territory. Therefore, the Court concluded, there did not exist a Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury, because such a trial was not a "fundamental" right.5

Defendant's reliance on the Insular Cases, however, is the product of a misconception as to the issues before us. We are not here concerned with the alleged power of Congress to establish disparate treatment towards the United States citizens who reside in Puerto Rico. Rather, the focus of our attention should be directed to determining whether a constitutional right of a citizen of the United States has been improperly penalized while he is within one of these States. We see this as the more relevant framing of the issues because although Plaintiff lost his benefits while physically in Puerto Rico, the statutory prohibitions that permitted this result came into play from the very moment when they exerted their force upon Plaintiff. From this standpoint, Plaintiff is in the same position now as if he would have remained in Connecticut and brought a declaratory judgment suit there to challenge the validity of the sections at issue, in compliance with the requirements of the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C., Sections 2201, 2202. See Public Service Commission of Utah v. Wycoff Co., 344 U.S. 237, 242-244, 73 S.Ct. 236, 97 L.Ed. 291 (1952); Golden v. Zwickler, 394 U.S. 103, 108-11, 89 S.Ct. 956, 22 L.Ed.2d 113 (1969).

It is now beyond question that the right to travel and to freedom of movement, particularly within the United States, are fundamental rights of all citizens of the United States, Memorial Hospital v. Maricopa County, 415 U.S. 250, 254, 94 S.Ct. 1076, 39 L.Ed.2d 306 (1974); Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U.S. 618, 629-633, 641-642, 89 S.Ct. 1322, 22 L.Ed.2d 600 (1969).

In United States v. Guest, 383 U.S. 745, 757-758, 86 S.Ct. 1170, 1178, 16 L.Ed.2d 239 (1966), the Court said:

"The constitutional right to travel from one State to another . . . occupies a position fundamental to the concept of our Federal Union. It is a right that has been firmly established and repeatedly recognized.
". . . That right finds no explicit mention in the Constitution. The reason, it has been suggested, is that a right so elementary was conceived from the beginning to be a necessary concomitant of the stronger Union the Constitution created. In any event, freedom to travel throughout the United States has long been recognized as a basic right under the Constitution."

See also Kent v. Dulles, 357 U.S. 116, 125-127, 78 S.Ct. 1113, 2 L.Ed.2d 1204 (1957). Cf. Flemming v. Nestor, 363 U.S. 603, 80 S.Ct. 1367, 4 L.Ed.2d 1435 (1960).

Shapiro v. Thompson, supra, is particularly relevant. That case involved constitutional challenges to statutory provisions of Connecticut, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia which required one year's residence as a prerequisite to welfare eligibility. Appellants' principal contentions were to the effect that the waiting period was needed to preserve the fiscal integrity of public assistance program and as a permissible attempt to discourage indigents from entering a State solely to obtain larger benefits. The Court stated, at 394 U.S. page 634, 89 S.Ct. at page 1331:

". . . In moving from State to State or to the District of Columbia appellees were exercising a constitutional right, and any classification which serves to penalize the exercise of that right, unless shown to

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