Rosado v. Wyman

Decision Date06 April 1970
Docket NumberNo. 540,540
Citation25 L.Ed.2d 442,90 S.Ct. 1207,397 U.S. 397
PartiesJulia ROSADO et al., Petitioners, v. George K. WYMAN, etc., et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Lee A. Albert, New York City, for petitioners.

Philip Weinberg, New York City, for respondents.

Mr. Justice HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The present controversy, which involves the compatibility of the New York Social Services Law, McKinney's Consol. Laws, c. 55 (c. 184, L. 1969) with § 402(a)(23) of the Social Security Act of 1935, 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 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 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 in- junction 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, 90 S.Ct. 106, 24 L.Ed.2d 68. 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 Jduge 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.


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, 88 S.Ct. 2128, 20 L.Ed.2d 1118 (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, 88 S.Ct., at 2130.

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 or concurrently, in the federal district courts. Such courts usually sit as single-judge tribunals. While Congress has determined that certain classes of cases shall be heard in the first instance by a district court composed of three judges, that does not mean that the court qua court loses all jurisdiction over the complaint that is initially lodged with it. To the contrary, once petitioners filed their complaint alleging the unconstitutionality of § 131—a, the District Court sitting as a one-man tribunal, was properly seised of jurisdiction over the case under §§ 1343(3) and (4) of Title 28 and could dispose of even the constitutional question either by dismissing the complaint for want of a substantial federal question, Ex parte Poresky, 290 U.S. 30, 54 S.Ct. 3, 78 L.Ed. 152 (1933),3 or by granting requested injunctive relief if 'prior decisions (made) frivolous any claim that (the) state statute on its face (was) not unconstitutional.' Bailey v. Patterson, 369 U.S. 31, 33, 82 S.Ct. 549, 551, 7 L.Ed.2d 512 (1962). Even had the constitutional claim not been declared moot, the most appropriate course may well have been to remand to the single district judge for findings and the determination of the statutory claim rather than encumber the district court, at a time when district court calendars are overburdened, by consuming the time of three federal judges in a matter that was not required to be determined by a three-judge court. See Swift & Co. v. Wickham, 382 U.S. 111, 86 S.Ct. 258, 15 L.Ed.2d 194 (1965).

On remand the District Court correctly considered mootness a factor affecting its discretion, not its power, and balanced the policy considerations that have spawned the doctrine of pendency and the countervailing policy of federalism: the extent of the investment of judicial energy and the character of the claim. Not only had there been hearings and argument prior to dismissal of the constitutional claim, but the statutory question is so essentially one 'of federal policy that the argument for exercise of pendent jurisdiction is particularly strong.'4 United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 727, 86 S.Ct. 1130, 1139 (1966).

Respondents analogize dismissal for mootness to dismissal for want of a substantial claim and rely on language in United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, to the effect that a federal court should not pass on a state claim when the federal claim falters at the threshold and is 'dismissed before trial.'5 383 U.S., at 726, 86 S.Ct., at 1139. The argument would appear to be that once a federal court loses power over the jurisdiction-conferring claim, it may not consider a pendent claim. They contend that mootness, like insubstantiality, is a threshold jurisdictional defect.

Whether or not the view that an insubstantial federal question does not confer jurisdiction—a maxim more ancient than analytically sound—should now be held to mean that a district court should be considered without discretion, as opposed to power, to hear a pendent claim, we think the respondents' analogy fails. Unlike insubstantiality, which is apparent at the outset, mootness, frequently a matter beyond the control of the parties, may not occur until after substantial time and energy have been expended looking toward the resolution of a dispute that plaintiffs were entitled to bring in a federal court.

We are not willing to defeat the commonsense policy of pendent jurisdiction—the conservation of judicial energy and the avoidance of multiplicity of litigation—by a conceptual approach that would require jurisdiction over the primary claim at all stages as a prerequisite to resolution of the pendent claim.6 The Court has shunned this view. See Moore v. New York Cotton Exch., 270 U.S. 593, 46 S.Ct. 367, 70 L.Ed. 750 (1926); Hurn v. Oursler, 289 U.S. 238, 53 S.Ct. 586, 77 L.Ed. 1148 (1933) (dictum).7


A further reason given to support the contention that the District Court should have declined to exercise jurisdiction is that the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare was the appropriate forum, at least in the first instance, for resolution on the merits of the questions before us, and that at the time thi action came to Court HEW was 'engaged in a study of the relationship between Section 602(a)(23) and Section 131—a.' 414 F.2d, at 176 (opinion of Judge Hays).8 Petitioners answer, we think correctly, that neither the principle of 'exhaustion of administrative remedies' nor the...

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