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RICHARDSON v. WRIGHT ET AL.

decided*fn*: February 24, 1972.

RICHARDSON, SECRETARY OF HEALTH, EDUCATION, AND WELFARE
v.
WRIGHT ET AL.



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA.

Author: Per Curiam

[ 405 U.S. Page 208]

 We noted probable jurisdiction of these appeals, 404 U.S. 819 (1971), to consider the applicability of Goldberg

[ 405 U.S. Page 209]

     v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254 (1970), to the suspension and termination of disability benefit payments pursuant to § 225 of the Social Security Act, 70 Stat. 817, 42 U. S. C. § 425, and implementing regulations of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Shortly before oral argument, we were advised that the Secretary had adopted new regulations, effective December 27, 1971, governing the procedures to be followed by the Social Security Administration in determining whether to suspend or terminate disability benefits. These procedures include the requirement that a recipient of benefits be given notice of a proposed suspension and the reasons therefor, plus an opportunity to submit rebuttal evidence. In light of that development, we believe that the appropriate course is to withhold judicial action pending reprocessing, under the new regulations, of the determinations here in dispute. If that process results in a determination of entitlement to disability benefits, there will be no need to consider the constitutional claim that claimants are entitled to an opportunity to make an oral presentation. In the context of a comprehensive complex administrative program, the administrative process must have a reasonable opportunity to evolve procedures to meet needs as they arise. Accordingly, we vacate the judgment of the District Court for the District of Columbia, 321 F.Supp. 383 (1971), with direction to that court to remand the cause to the Secretary and to retain jurisdiction for such further proceedings, if any, as may be necessary upon completion of the administrative procedure.

Vacated and remanded.

Disposition

321 F.Supp. 383, vacated and remanded.

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, dissenting.

While I join MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN who reaches the merits, I add a word about the unwisdom of the policy pursued by the Court.

[ 405 U.S. Page 210]

     A three-judge district court held § 225 of the Social Security Act, 42 U. S. C. § 425, unconstitutional, insofar as it purported to authorize the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare to suspend the payment of social security disability benefits without giving prior notice and "an opportunity to participate" to the disability beneficiary. 321 F.Supp. 383, 386. The court remanded the cause to the Secretary for the formulation of new procedures consistent with its opinion. Judge Matthews, troubled by an implication in the majority's opinion that participation merely by way of written submissions might satisfy the majority's notions of due process, dissented "from so much of the opinion as seems to suggest that the procedural requirements of due process may be satisfied with something less than the 'opportunity' [to participate] specified in [ Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254]." Id., at 388. We noted probable jurisdiction in these cross-appeals to evaluate the opinion below in light of Goldberg. 404 U.S. 819.

Now, however, it is suggested that the Secretary has so far complied with the instructions of the District Court to formulate new procedures that we should remand the cases to the District Court for further proceedings in light of these new requirements. Such a course, I submit, would be a perversion of the philosophy of due process that we expressed in Goldberg.

Judge Matthews, below, captured the essence of Goldberg in her brief partial dissent:

"In Goldberg the Supreme Court held that a welfare recipient, in addition to timely and adequate notice detailing the reasons for a proposed termination of benefits, must have 'an effective opportunity to defend by confronting any adverse witnesses and by presenting his own arguments and evidence orally.'" 321 F.Supp., at 387-388.

[ 405 U.S. Page 211]

     It cannot seriously be argued that the Secretary's "new rules" comport with Goldberg. They may cure the notice defect, but they make no provision whatsoever for the presentation of oral testimony or the confrontation of witnesses.*fn1 We noted probable jurisdiction, I thought, to determine if the difference between "welfare" payments and "disability" payments is sufficient to say that one's Fifth Amendment right to be heard may be satisfied by an opportunity to make written submissions in the latter case, although not in the former.*fn2 We heard oral argument on this basis. Because of the inadequacy of the new rules, in light of Goldberg, the question will remain regardless of the outcome of a remand.

I think it unseemly, needlessly to shuttle any litigant, especially an indigent, back and forth from court to court, hoping that his exhaustion of newly created remedies will somehow or other make his problem disappear and relieve us of an obligation. No concession promising justice to the claimants has been made. The issue of due process

[ 405 U.S. Page 212]

     was properly raised and is here for decision; and all the requirements of case or controversy within the meaning of Art. III of the Constitution have been satisfied.

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, with whom MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS and MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL join, dissenting.

I respectfully dissent. The Court justifies today's sua sponte action on the ground that if reprocessing under the Secretary's new regulations "results in a determination of entitlement to disability benefits, there will be no need to consider the constitutional claim that claimants are entitled to an opportunity to make an oral presentation." (Emphasis by the Court.) Avoidance of unnecessary constitutional decisions is certainly a preferred practice when appropriate. But that course is inappropriate, indeed irresponsible, in this instance. We will not avoid the necessity of deciding the important constitutional question presented by claimants even should they prevail upon the Secretary's reconsideration. The question is being pressed all over the country. The Secretary's brief lists no less than seven cases presenting it with respect to disability benefits and 10 cases presenting it with respect to non-disability benefits.*fn1a

[ 405 U.S. Page 213]

     The Secretary's new regulations permit discontinuance of disability benefits without affording beneficiaries procedural due process either in the form mandated by Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254 (1970), or in the form mandated by the District Court, 321 F.Supp. 383 (DC 1971). The regulations require only that the beneficiary be informed of the proposed suspension or termination and the information upon which it is based and be given an opportunity to submit a written response before benefits are cut off.*fn2a This procedure does not afford the beneficiary, as Goldberg requires for welfare and old-age recipients, an evidentiary hearing at which he may personally appear to offer oral evidence and confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses. Nor does the procedure satisfy the requirements of due process as determined by the District Court. That court held that the beneficiary must be given not only notice but also, before he responds, a "reasonable opportunity ...


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