UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT
argued: January 10, 1977.
BERNARD GREENSPAN, D.O., APPELLANT,
ANN KLEIN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS COMMISSIONER, DEPARTMENT OF INSTITUTIONS AND AGENCIES, STATE OF NEW JERSEY, AND GERALD J. REILLY, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS DIRECTOR, DIVISION OF MEDICAL ASSISTANCE AND HEALTH SERVICES, JOINTLY, SEVERALLY AND IN THE ALTERNATIVE, APPELLEES
APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY (D.C. Civil No. 76-439).
Rosenn and Hunter, Circuit Judges and Snyder,*fn* District Judge.
HUNTER, Circuit Judge:
This appeal from the denial of plaintiff Greenspan's request for a preliminary injunction against New Jersey state officials raises the issue of a single district judge's power to deny a preliminary injunction request, or to abstain, after deciding that the constitutional question presented could be heard only by a three-judge court. For the following reasons, we hold that a single judge in that situation is without jurisdiction to deny a preliminary injunction request or to abstain.
Bernard Greenspan, an osteopathic physician whose patients are largely Medicaid recipients received a letter dated February 27, 1976, from the New Jersey Division of Medical Assistance and Health Services Director. The letter informed Greenspan that effective immediately he was suspended from further participation as a provider of services under the New Jersey Health Services Program, meaning that Greenspan would not be entitled to reimbursement under Medicaid (30 N.J.S. §§ 4D-1 to 4D-24). The only reason given was that a review "indicates that you submitted claims and received payment for services not rendered by you." He was also told he had a right to request within twenty days a hearing on the matter; if none were requested within that time the suspension would automatically become "permanent and final."*fn1
Greenspan claims he received the letter on March 2, 1976, without prior warning or an opportunity to answer any claims the Division may have had against him. Apparently upset not just by the suspension, but also by the cursory notice which gave him no opportunity to be heard prior to a potentially drastic deprivation, Greenspan filed a complaint on March 10, 1976, in the federal court for the district of New Jersey, alleging, inter alia, that the New Jersey regulatory scheme allowing such suspensions without a prior hearing violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In addition to declaratory and compensatory relief, Greenspan requested preliminary and permanent injunctions. The district judge described the preliminary injunction as an injunction 1) against enforcing Greenspan's suspension, 2) against requiring Greenspan to request the state administrative hearing, or at least to toll the twenty day period until the court's final judgment, and 3) requiring payment by Medicaid for all necessary and proper treatment of Medicaid patients from February 27, 1976, until further order of the court. A request for a temporary restraining order was denied.
On April 1, 1976, the request for a preliminary injunction was denied. The district judge first considered the merits of the preliminary injunction request,*fn2 and found no irreparable harm to the plaintiff in his practice of medicine,*fn3 and no probable success on the merits. The public interest in a fiscally responsible program was also considered. After considering the merits of the preliminary injunction request, the district judge said
Finally, the declaration of unconstitutionality and the interference with the statutory and regulatory system of the State of New Jersey in the operation of its Medicaid Program, which this application for a preliminary injunction would call for, requires the matter to be presented to a three-judge court. 28 U.S.C. § 2281. The statute is specifically designed to prevent a single federal judge from paralyzing a state statute or a regulatory scheme and provide procedural protection against infliction of improvident statewide doom by a federal court on a state legislative policy. See Gay v. Board of Registration Commissioners, 466 F.2d 879 (6th Cir., 1972).
Greenspan appealed from the denial of his preliminary injunction request. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1). Agreeing with the district judge that this is a three-judge court case, we will vacate the order denying the preliminary injunction and remand with instructions to convene a three-judge court.
This, one of the last three-judge court cases under the old 28 U.S.C. § 2281, repealed as to actions commenced after August 12, 1976,*fn4 presents a variety of issues. The first is rather simple: whether a party is required to request a three-judge court. The district judge apparently thought that there is such a requirement; in this he was mistaken. The decision to convene a three-judge court is one to be made by the district judge, not by the parties. If the district judge to whom the application for injunctive relief is presented determines that under 28 U.S.C. § 2281*fn5 a three-judge court is required, that judge is to notify the chief judge of the district to convene a three-judge court in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 2284.*fn6 There is no requirement in the statute that one of the litigants request a three-judge court and we see no reason to imply such a requirement.*fn7
Thus, once the district judge determined that this case could properly be heard only by a three-judge court, he was without jurisdiction to consider the merits of the constitutional attack on New Jersey's regulatory scheme. Because the denial of the preliminary injunction involved such a consideration of the merits, the district judge lacked jurisdiction to rule on the preliminary injunction.*fn8 We are therefore without jurisdiction to review the merits of that denial.
Because it has been argued that what the district judge did was to abstain,*fn9 at least as an alternative ground for denying the preliminary injunction request, we also address the issue whether a single judge, in a 28 U.S.C. § 2281 case,*fn10 can abstain. Abstention, however, is a refusal currently to exercise jurisdiction - an abstention from determining the merits of a case. Here the single judge had no jurisdiction under § 2281. Having none, he had no discretion to exercise in determining whether he should abstain.
The Supreme Court in Idlewild Bon Voyage Liquor Corp. v. Epstein, 370 U.S. 713, 8 L. Ed. 2d 794, 82 S. Ct. 1294 (1962), was presented with a case that should have been heard by a three-judge court but in which the single judge abstained. The appellate court held itself without jurisdiction, since the case was properly a three-judge court case, with direct appeal to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court implicitly agreed that a single judge was without jurisdiction to abstain when it said
We agree with the Court of Appeals that a three-judge court should have been convened in this case. When an application for a statutory three-judge court is addressed to a district court, the court's inquiry is appropriately limited to determining whether the constitutional question raised is substantial, whether the complaint at least formally alleges a basis for equitable relief, and whether the case presented otherwise comes within the requirements of the three-judge statute. Those criteria were assuredly met here, and the applicable jurisdictional statute therefore made it impermissible for a single judge to decide the merits of the case, either by granting or by withholding relief.
Id. at 715 (emphasis added) (footnote omitted).
Thus, a single judge in § 2281 cases cannot abstain; only a three-judge court has jurisdiction to make that decision. Apel v. Murphy, 526 F.2d 71 (1st Cir. 1975); International News Distributors, Inc. v. Shriver, 488 F.2d 1350 (6th Cir. 1973). Contra, Blount v. Mandel, 400 F. Supp. 1190 (D. Md. 1975).
For the foregoing reasons, and after a thorough review of the record, the district court's order denying the preliminary injunction request will be vacated, and the case remanded with instructions to notify the chief judge of the district that a three-judge court is required to hear this case.