Wheeler v. Montgomery Goldberg v. Kelly

Decision Date23 March 1970
Docket Number62,Nos. 14,s. 14
Citation397 U.S. 280,25 L.Ed.2d 307,90 S.Ct. 1028
PartiesMae WHEELER et al., Appellants, v. John MONTGOMERY, Director of the State Department of Social Welfare, et al. Jack R. GOLDBERG, Commissioner of Social Services of the City of New York, Appellant, v. John KELLY et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Peter E. Sitkin, San Francisco, Cal., for appellants.

Elizabeth Palmer, San Francisco, Cal., for appellees.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a companion case to No. 62, Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 90 S.Ct. 1011, 25 L.Ed.2d 287. It is a class action brought by all recipients of old age benefits who are subject to California welfare termination provisions. A three-judge District Court for the Northern District of California held that the California procedure for pre-termination review in welfare cases satisfies the requirements of the Due Process Clause, 296 F.Supp. 138 (1968), and we noted probable jurisdiction, 394 U.S. 970, 89 S.Ct. 1452, 22 L.Ed.2d 751 (1969). This procedure requires notice to the recipient of the proposed discontinuance or suspension at least three days prior to its effective date, together with reasons for the intended action and a statement of what information or action is required to reestablish eligibility, advice that the recipient may meet his caseworker before his benefits are terminated '(t)o discuss the entire matter informally for purposes of clarification and, where possible, resolution,' and assurance that there will be 'prompt investigation' of the case and restoration of payments 'as soon as there is eligibility' to receive them.* The procedure does not, how- ever, afford the recipient an evidentiary hearing at which he may personally appear to offer oral evidence and confront and cross-examine the witnesses against him. In Goldberg v. Kelly, supra, decided today, we held that procedural due process requires such an evidentiary pre-termination hearing before welfare payments may be discontinued or suspended. Accordingly, the judgment of the District Court must be and is reversed on the authority of Goldberg v. Kelly.


Mr. Chief Justice BURGER, with whom Mr. Justice BLACK joins, dissenting.

Although I agree in large part with Mr. Justice BLACK's views in No. 62, Goldberg v. Kelly, ante, p. 1022, there are additional factors I wish to mention in dissent from today's unwise and precipitous constitutional holdings.

The procedures for review of administrative action in the 'welfare' area are in a relatively early stage of development; HEW has already taken the initiative by promulgating regulations requiring that AFDC pay- ments be continued until a final decision after a 'fair hearing' is held.1 The net effect would be to provide a hearing prior to a termination of benefits. Indeed, the HEW administrative regulations go far beyond the result reached today since they require that recipients be given the right to appointed counsel,2 a position expressly rejected by the majority. As the majority notes, see ante, at 1014 n. 3, these regulations are scheduled to take effect in July 1970. Against this background I am baffled as to why we should engage in 'legislating' via constitutional fiat when an apparently reasonable result has been accomplished administratively.

That HEW has already adopted such regulations suggests to me that we ought to hold the heavy hand of constitutional adjudication and allow evolutionary processes at various administrative levels to develop, given their flexibility to make adjustments in procedure without long delays. This would permit orderly development of procedural solutions, aided as they would be by expert guidance available within federal agencies which have an overview of the entire problem in the 50 States. I cannot accept—indeed I reject—any notion that a government which pays out billions of dollars to nearly nine million welfare recipients is heartless, insensitive, or indifferent to the legitimate needs of the poor.

The Court's action today seems another manifestation of the now familiar constitutionalizing syndrome: once some presumed flaw is observed, the Court then eagerly accepts the invitation to find a constitutionally 'rooted' remedy. If no provision is explicit on the point, it is then seen as 'implicit' or commanded by the vague and nebulous concept of 'fairness.'

I can share the impatience of all who seek instant solutions; there is a great temptation in this area to frame remedies that seem fair and can be mandated forthwith as against administrative or congressional action that calls for careful and extended study. That is thought too slow. But, however cumbersome or glacial, this is the procedure the Constitution contemplated.

I would not suggest that the procedures of administering the Nation's complex welfare programs are beyond the reach of courts, but I would wait until more is known...

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40 cases
  • Baker-Chaput v. Cammett
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of New Hampshire
    • January 23, 1976
    ...considerations. Cf. Daniel v. Goliday, 398 U.S. 73, 90 S.Ct. 1722, 26 L.Ed.2d 57 (1970); Wheeler v. Montgomery, 397 U.S. 280, 282-84, 90 S.Ct. 1026, 25 L.Ed.2d 307 (1970) (Burger, C. J., dissenting).4 It has been held that, because there is no constitutional right to welfare, due process gu......
  • Frost v. Weinberger
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York
    • May 3, 1974
    ...402 U.S. 535, 539, 91 S.Ct. 1586, 29 L.Ed.2d 90 (1971) suspension of an automobile and operator's license; Wheeler v. Montgomery, 397 U.S. 280, 90 S. Ct. 1026, 25 L.Ed.2d 307 (1970) suspension of old age benefits; Hernandez v. European Auto Collision, Inc., 487 F.2d 378 (2d Cir. 1973) garag......
  • Hunt v. Edmunds
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Minnesota
    • April 7, 1971
    ...suspension of his grant and an opportunity to be heard prior to such action. Goldberg v. Kelly, supra, and Wheeler v. Montgomery, 397 U.S. 280, 90 S.Ct. 1026, 25 L.Ed.2d 307 (1970). The issue of a mere reduction vis a vis a termination was not faced. In Moldenhauer v. Provo, 326 F.Supp. 480......
  • Almenares v. Wyman
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • December 10, 1971
    ...simply reduced. The Chief Justice raised this question in a dissent joined by Mr. Justice Black, see Wheeler v. Montgomery, 397 U.S. 282, 284-85, 90 S.Ct. 1026, 25 L.Ed.2d 307 (1970). While the majority did not then answer the question, two months later the Court, in reversing and remanding......
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2 books & journal articles
  • The Due Process Clauses of the 5th and 14th Amensments
    • United States
    • The Path of Constitutional Law Part IV: The Final Cause Of Constitutional Law Sub-Part Three: Civil War Amendments And Due Process Generally
    • January 1, 2007
    ...(1970); id. at 271-75 (Black, J., dissenting). Additional dissenting opinions applicable also to Goldberg appear in Wheeler v. Montgomery, 397 U.S. 280, 282 (1970) (Burger, C.J., joined by Black, J., dissenting); id. at 285 (Stewart, J., [362] 424 U.S. 319, 340-49 (1976); id. at 349-50 (Bre......
  • The Supreme Court of the United States, 1969-1970
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly No. 23-4, December 1970
    • December 1, 1970
    ...the majority as to what would be a fair and humane procedure in this case.&dquo; (P. 276.) . In a companion case, Wheeler v. Montgomery (397 U.S. 280; 90 S. Ct. 1026), the Court applied the same rule to California’s welfare termination provisions. 856 Juvenile due process has been a concern......

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