Hagans v. Lavine 8212 6476, No. 72

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtWHITE
Citation415 U.S. 528,94 S.Ct. 1372,39 L.Ed.2d 577
Decision Date25 March 1974
Docket NumberNo. 72
PartiesCynthia HAGANS et al., Petitioners, v. Abe LAVINE, Commissioner of New York State Department of Social Services, et al. —6476

415 U.S. 528
94 S.Ct. 1372
39 L.Ed.2d 577
Cynthia HAGANS et al., Petitioners,

v.

Abe LAVINE, Commissioner of New York State Department of Social Services, et al.

No. 72—6476.
Argued Dec. 11, 1973.
Decided March 25, 1974.

Syllabus

Petitioners, recipients of public assistance under the federal-state Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. § 2201 challenging a New York regulation permitting the State to recoup prior unscheduled payments for rent from subsequent grants under the AFDC program, on the ground that the regulation violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and conflicted with the Social Security Act and implementing regulations of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW). Injunctive and declaratory relief was sought and jurisdiction was invoked under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343(3) and (4). The District Court declared the recoupment regulation contrary to the Social Security Act and HEW regulations and enjoined its implementation or enforcement. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that because petitioners had failed to present a substantial constitutional claim, the District Court lacked jurisdiction to entertain either the equal protection or the statutory claim. Held:

1. The District Court had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3). Pp. 534—543.

(a) Section 1343(3) conferred jurisdiction to entertain the constitutional claim if it was of sufficient substance to support federal jurisdiction, in which case, the District Court could hear as a matter of pendent jurisdiction the claim of conflict between federal and state law, without determining that the latter clim in its own right was encompassed within § 1343. P. 536.

(b) Within the accepted substantiality doctrine, petitioners' complaint alleged a constitutional claim sufficient to confer jurisdiction on the District Court to pass on the controversy, since (1) the complaint alleged a deprivation, under color of state law, of constitutional rights within the meaning of § 1343(3) and

Page 529

s 1983; (2) the equal protection issue was neither frivolous nor so insubstantial as to be beyond the District Court's jurisdiction, and the challenged regulation was not so clearly rational as to require no meaningful consideration; and (3) the cause of action alleged was not so patently without merit as to justify a dismissal for want of jurisdiction, Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 66 S.Ct. 773, 90 L.Ed. 939, whatever may be the ultimate resolution of the federal issues on the merits. Pp. 536—543.

2. Given a constitutional question over which the District Court had jurisdiction, it also had jurisdiction over the 'statutory' claim. The latter claim was to be decided first and could be decided by the single district judge, while the constitutional claim could be adjudicated only by a three-judge court and only if the statutory claim was previously rejected. Pp. 543—545.

3. State law claims pendent to federal constitutional claims conferring jurisdiction on a district court generally are not to be dismissed. Given advantages of economy and convenience and no unfairness to litigants, they are to be adjudicated, particularly where they may be dispositive and their decision would avoid adjudication of federal constitutional questions. There are special reasons to adjudicate the pendent claim where, as here, the claim, although called 'statutory,' is in reality a constitutional claim arising under the Supremacy Clause, since 'federal courts are particularly appropriate bodies for the application of pre-emption principles.' Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 729, 86 S.Ct. 1130, 1140—1141, 16 L.Ed.2d 218. Pp. 545 550.

471 F.2d 347, reversed and remanded.

Carl Jay Nathanson, Hempstead, N.Y., for petitioners.

Michael Colodner, Asst. Atty. Gen., N.Y. State Dept. of Law, New York City, for respondents.

Page 530

Mr. Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners, recipients of public assistance under the cooperative federal-state Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) program,1 brought this action in the District Court for themselves and their infant children and as representatives of other similarly situated AFDC recipients. Their suit challenged a provision of

Page 531

the New York Code of Rules and Regulations permitting the State to recoup prior unscheduled payments for rent from subsequent grants under the AFDC program.2 They alleged that the recoupment regulation violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and contravened the pertinent provisions of the Social Security Act governing AFDC and the regulations promulgated thereunder by the administering federal agency, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW).3 The action sought injunctive and declaratory

Page 532

relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. § 2201, and jurisdiction was invoked under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343(3) and (4). The District Court found that the equal protection claim was substantial and provided a basis for pendent jurisdiction to adjudicate the so-called 'statutory' claim—the alleged conflict between state and federal law. After hearing, the trial court declared the recoupment regulation contrary to the Social Security Act and HEW regulations and enjoined its implementa-

Page 533

tion or enforcement. Following a remand,4 the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that because petitioners had failed to present a substantial constitutional claim, the District Court lacked jurisdiction to entertain either the equal protection or the statutory claim. 471 F.2d 347 (CA2 1973). The jurisdictional question being an important one, we granted certiorari, 412 U.S. 938, 93 S.Ct. 2784, 37 L.Ed.2d 396 (1973). For reasons set forth below, we hold that the District Court had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3) to consider petitioners' attack on the recoupment regulation.5

Page 534

I

Petitioners brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides:

'Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State

Page 535

or Territory, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.'

By its terms, § 1983 embraces petitioners' claims that the challenged regulation enforced by respondent state and county welfare officials deprives them of a right 'secured by the Constitution and laws,' viz., the equal protection of the laws. But the federal cause of action created by the section does not by itself confer jurisdiction upon the federal district courts to adjudicate these claims. Accordingly, petitioners relied principally upon 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3):

'The district courts shall have original jurisdic-

Page 536

tion of any civil action authorized by law to be commenced by any person:

'(3) To redress the deprivation, under color of any State law, statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage, of any right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution of the United States or by any Act of Congress providing for equal rights of citizens or of all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States . . ..'

Concededly, § 1343 authorizes a civil action to 'redress the deprivation, under color of any State . . . regulation . . . of any right . . . secured by the Constitution of the United States.' Section 1343(3) therefore conferred jurisdiction upon the District Court to entertain the constitutional claim if it was of sufficient substance to support federal jurisdiction. If it was, it is also clear that the District Court could hear as a matter of pendent jurisdiction the claim of conflict between federal and state law, without determining that the latter claim in its own right was encompassed within § 1343. Rosado v. Wyman, 397 U.S. 397, 402—405, 90 S.Ct. 1207, at 1212—1214, 25 L.Ed.2d 442 (1970); see also N.Y. Dept. of Social Services v. Dublino, 413 U.S. 405, 412 n. 11, 93 S.Ct. 2507, 2512, 37 L.Ed.2d 688 (1973).

The Court of Appeals ruled that petitioners had not tendered a substantial constitutional claim and ordered dismissal of the entire action for want of subject matter jurisdiction. The principle applied by the Court of Appeals—that a 'substantial' question was necessary to support jurisdiction—was unexceptionable under prior cases. Over the years this Court has repeatedly held that the federal courts are without power to entertain claims otherwise within their jurisdiction if they are 'so attenuated and unsubstantial as to be absolutely devoid of merit,' Newburyport Water Co. v. Newburyport, 193

Page 537

U.S. 561, 579, 24 S.Ct. 553, 557, 48 L.Ed. 795 (1904); 'wholly insubstantial,' Bailey v. Patterson, 369 U.S. 31, 33, 82 S.Ct. 549, 550—551, 7 L.Ed.2d 512 (1962); 'obviously frivolous,' Hannis Distilling Co. v. Baltimore, 216 U.S. 285, 288, 30 S.Ct. 326, 327, 54 L.Ed. 482 (1910); 'plainly unsubstantial,' Levering & Garrigues Co. v. Morrin, 289 U.S. 103, 105, 53 S.Ct. 549, 550, 77 L.Ed. 1062 (1933); or 'no longer open to discussion,' McGilvra v. Ross, 215 U.S. 70, 80, 30 S.Ct. 27, 31, 54 L.Ed. 95 (1909). One of the principal decisions on the subject, Ex parte Poresky, 290 U.S. 30, 31—32, 54 S.Ct. 3, 4—5, 78 L.Ed. 152 (1933), held, first, that '(i)n the absence of diversity of citizenship, it is essential to jurisdiction that a substantial federal question should be presented'; second, that a three-judge court was not necessary to pass upon this initial question of jurisdiction; and third, that '(t)he question, may be plainly unsubstantial, either because it is 'obviously without merit' or because 'its unsoundness so clearly results from the previous decisions of...

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2612 practice notes
  • Will v. Michigan Department of State Police, No. 87-1207
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 15, 1989
    ...itself bound [by prior sub silentio holdings] when a subsequent case finally brings the jurisdictional issue before us." Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 535, n. 5, 94 S.Ct. 1372, 1377, n. 5, 39 L.Ed.2d 577 (1974). 5. Jefferson County Pharmaceutical Assn. v. Abbott Laboratories, 460 U.S. 150......
  • Whalen v. United States, No. 78-5471
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 16, 1980
    ...whatsoever. Axiomatically, we are obligated to avoid constitutional rulings where a statutory ruling would suffice. See Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 549, 94 S.Ct. 1372, 1385, 39 L.Ed.2d 577 (1974); Ashwander v. TVA, 297 U.S. 288, 347, 56 S.Ct. 466, 483, 80 L.Ed. 688 (1936) (Brandeis, J.,......
  • Palmigiano v. Garrahy, Civ. A. No. 74-172 and 75-032.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Rhode Island
    • August 10, 1977
    ...v. Heyne, 491 F.2d 352, cert. denied 417 U.S. 976, 94 S.Ct. 3183, 41 L.Ed.2d 1146 (1974). This course is dictated by Hagens v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 543, 94 S.Ct. 1372, 39 L.Ed.2d 577 (1974). The question of state law is easily resolved, and abstention under the doctrine of Railroad Commiss......
  • First City Nat. Bank v. Federal Dep. Ins. Co., No. 88 CV 0469.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • January 16, 1990
    ...or not pendent jurisdiction should be exercised is a matter committed to the sound discretion of the district court. See Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 545, 94 S.Ct. 1372, 1383, 39 L.Ed.2d 577 (1974) (citing United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 86 S.Ct. 1130, 16 L.Ed.2d 218 (1966));......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2617 cases
  • Will v. Michigan Department of State Police, No. 87-1207
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 15, 1989
    ...itself bound [by prior sub silentio holdings] when a subsequent case finally brings the jurisdictional issue before us." Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 535, n. 5, 94 S.Ct. 1372, 1377, n. 5, 39 L.Ed.2d 577 (1974). 5. Jefferson County Pharmaceutical Assn. v. Abbott Laboratories, 460 U.S. 150......
  • Whalen v. United States, No. 78-5471
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 16, 1980
    ...whatsoever. Axiomatically, we are obligated to avoid constitutional rulings where a statutory ruling would suffice. See Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 549, 94 S.Ct. 1372, 1385, 39 L.Ed.2d 577 (1974); Ashwander v. TVA, 297 U.S. 288, 347, 56 S.Ct. 466, 483, 80 L.Ed. 688 (1936) (Brandeis, J.,......
  • Palmigiano v. Garrahy, Civ. A. No. 74-172 and 75-032.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Rhode Island
    • August 10, 1977
    ...v. Heyne, 491 F.2d 352, cert. denied 417 U.S. 976, 94 S.Ct. 3183, 41 L.Ed.2d 1146 (1974). This course is dictated by Hagens v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 543, 94 S.Ct. 1372, 39 L.Ed.2d 577 (1974). The question of state law is easily resolved, and abstention under the doctrine of Railroad Commiss......
  • First City Nat. Bank v. Federal Dep. Ins. Co., No. 88 CV 0469.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • January 16, 1990
    ...or not pendent jurisdiction should be exercised is a matter committed to the sound discretion of the district court. See Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 545, 94 S.Ct. 1372, 1383, 39 L.Ed.2d 577 (1974) (citing United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 86 S.Ct. 1130, 16 L.Ed.2d 218 (1966));......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Jurisdictional Avoidance: Rectifying the Lower Courts' Misapplication of Steel Co.
    • United States
    • Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy Vol. 44 Nbr. 1, January 2021
    • January 1, 2021
    ...repeatedly conceded that this type of jurisdictional handwaving is "'more ancient than analytically sound.'" Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 538 (1974) (quoting Rosado v. Wyman, 397 U.S. 397, 404 (1970)). The Court has therefore retreated somewhat to acknowledge that "[a]bsen......

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