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RHODES v. WEINBERGER

January 21, 1975

Jennifer M. RHODES, suing by her next of friend Ellanoria Rhodes, et al.
v.
Caspar WEINBERGER, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare


Newcomer, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: NEWCOMER

NEWCOMER, District Judge.

 This is one of those fortunately rare cases in which defendant's concession of liability creates more problems than it solves. Plaintiffs Jennifer Rhodes and Clara and Bernice Brogdon are illegitimate minors whom defendant denied child's insurance benefits solely because their natural father had not acknowledged them or no finding of paternity had been made one year prior to their father's eligibility for retirement insurance. A restriction identical to the one which barred these plaintiffs' eligibility was recently found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, Jimenez v. Weinberger, 417 U.S. 628, 94 S. Ct. 2496, 41 L. Ed. 2d 363 (1974), and defendant has conceded that the section involved in this case, 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(3)(A), is likewise invalid. An affidavit sworn to by the Deputy Director of the Social Security Administration's Bureau of Retirement and Survivors Insurance states that the Jimenez decision permits, "prospectively", an otherwise qualified illegitimate minor to obtain child's insurance benefits without fulfilling the requirements of § 416(h)(3)(A). The affidavit explains that "appropriate instructions necessary to effectuate" the change in policy due to Jimenez "are being prepared". Defendant contends that his admission of unconstitutionality moots plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief, prevents plaintiffs' claims from being typical of those of the class they seek to represent, and deprives this Court of jurisdiction in that defendant's sovereign immunity precludes a suit for retroactive benefits, the only type of relief which, defendant maintains, plaintiffs can still seek. Defendant also asserts that even assuming sovereign immunity does not bar plaintiffs' retroactive benefits claim, plaintiffs cannot base jurisdiction over this claim on any federal statute. Plaintiffs have vigorously opposed defendant's motion to dismiss and have filed for certification of class and for summary judgment on the issue of liability.

 Contrary to defendant's arguments, we are of the opinion that plaintiffs' prayer for an injunction is not moot, that this Court can hear a claim for retroactive benefits as a part of plaintiffs' injunction claim, and that plaintiffs are proper representatives, under Federal Rule 23(b)(2), of a class of those who have or will be denied child's insurance benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(3)(A). We will therefore certify plaintiffs as representatives of such a class and grant plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability, reserving for a future proceeding the tasks of determining the form and scope of an injunction and the amount of retroactive benefits to which the named plaintiffs may be entitled.

 a. The Challenged Statute.

 An examination of the statutory scheme for determining eligibility for child's insurance is required before the facts of this case can be understood. The Social Security Act provides that every dependent "child" of a wage earner entitled to old-age insurance may file for child's insurance benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 402(d). The statute's definition of "child" includes any natural or adopted child and any individual who could qualify as a child under the intestacy laws of the wage earner's state of domicile, 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(2)(A), or who is the offspring of a marriage which would be valid but for non-obvious defects in the marriage ceremony. 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(2)(B). If a minor, such as each of the plaintiffs herein, does not qualify as a child under this definition he or she may still obtain benefits if the wage earner upon whose account they are claiming has acknowledged his paternity or if a court has declared such paternity or required support payments because of such paternity at least one year prior to the time the wage earner first became entitled to retirement insurance benefits (Or reaches age 65, whichever is earlier).

 The Supreme Court in Jimenez, cited supra, found unconstitutional 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(2)(B), which required that illegitimate children whose relation to the wage earner had not been acknowledged or officially declared before the wage earner became eligible for disability benefits could not obtain child's insurance benefits. The Court stated that this section, when read in conjunction with 402(d)(3)(A) and 416(h)(2)(A) and (h)(2)(B), discussed supra, created two classes of illegitimate children born after the wage earner's eligibility for disability payments. The first class consisted of after-born illegitimates who could qualify for benefits because they could inherit property under state intestacy laws or because their parents' marriage was technically invalid. The second class consists of all remaining after-born illegitimate children, who were conclusively barred from benefits by 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(3)(B). The Court found that this classification of after-born illegitimates was not rationally related to any legitimate interest of the Social Security Administration and thus deprived the second class of equal protection of the laws guaranteed them by the Fifth Amendment.

 b. Facts.

 The following facts are undisputed. The named plaintiff Jennifer Rhodes was found to be the natural daughter of Willie Singleton by a Court of Common Pleas of the County of Philadelphia on October 20, 1969. Jennifer Rhodes, by her mother, Ellanoria Rhodes, first filed for child's insurance benefits under 42 U.S.C. § 402(d) on November 29, 1974, as a dependent child of the insured wage earner Willie Singleton, who himself had become entitled to Social Security retirement benefits in September, 1967. That application, and a later re-application, were denied by the Social Security Administration because the finding of paternity had not been made at least one year prior to the wage earner parent's attainment of age 65 or entitlement to benefits as was required by 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(3)(A). Willie Singleton died in January, 1974, and his child, Jennifer Rhodes, applied for and is presently receiving survivor's benefits under 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(3)(C).

 Named plaintiffs Clara and Bernice Brogdon are the youngest of five acknowledged, illegitimate children of Pearl Brogdon and the insured wage earner Clarence Glasgow, who himself became entitled to retirement benefits in October, 1962. In August, 1965, Clarence Glasgow filed applications on behalf of Clara and Bernice Brogdon, as well as the three older children, for child's insurance benefits under 42 U.S.C. § 402(d). Those applications were initially denied, but after a hearing held in September, 1967, the three older children were found to be entitled to benefits under 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(3)(A). Clara and Bernice Brogdon were denied those benefits for the failing to meet the time requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(3)(A), in that they were born after the wage earner parent, Clarence Glasgow, had become entitled to Social Security benefits. Clarence Glasgow died on December 24, 1968.

 The complaint in this matter was filed in this Court on June 17, 1974, two days before the Supreme Court announced its opinion in Jimenez.

 I. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

 Defendant contends that the affidavit stating that 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(3)(A) is invalid and that "appropriate regulations are being prepared" to implement a change in the Bureau's policy moots plaintiffs' request for declaratory and injunctive relief, leaving retroactive benefits as the only remedy remaining to plaintiffs. Defendant further asserts that plaintiffs cannot pursue this remedy against the federal government both because the government as a sovereign has ...


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