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Wilson v. Secretary of Health and Human Services

argued: June 17, 1986.


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey - Camden D.C. Civ. No. 83-3771

Author: Hunter

SEITZ, HUNTER, and MANSMANN, Circuit Judges

HUNTER, Circuit Judge:

1. Appellees John Wilson and Mary Christopher originally brought this action in 1984 to appeal the decisions of the Secretary of Health and Human Services (the "Service") denying their applications for disability insurance benefits. Appellees subsequently amended their complaint to include class action allegations and requests for declaratory and injunctive relief against the Secretary. Specifically, they challenged the Secretary's policy of denying or terminating disability benefits solely because claimants' impairments are not medically "serve" and without consideration of claimants' age, education, work experience, residual functional capacity, or ability to return to their former work. Appellees then filed motions for preliminary injunctive relief and class certification. While these motions were pending before the district court, this court invalidated one of the Secretary's severity regulation, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c) (1985), on the ground that it was inconsistent with the Social Security Act (the "Act"). See Baeder v. Heckler, 768 F.2d 547 (3d Cir. 1985).

After we decided Baeder, the Secretary defended the motions pending in the district court by contending that a policy, set forth in Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 85-28, rendered 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c) and the other severity regulations*fn1 consistent with our holding in Baeder. The district court rejected this argument and granted appellees' motions for class certification and preliminary injunctive relief. The Secretary appeals the orders of the district court, invoking our jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1) (1982). We will vacate in part the district court's order issuing the preliminary injunction and remand the matter to the district court.


Before we discuss the merits of the district court's grant of the preliminary injunction, we initially confront the Secretary's assertion that the district erred in certifying the class of plaintiffs. The class certified by the district court includes

all persons in the State of New Jersey who have filed or will file applications for disability benefits under Title II and/or Title XVI of the Social Security Act, as amended, and whose benefits have been or will be denied or terminated based upon a finding of no severe impairment pursuant to the policies set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) and .1521, 416.920(c) and .921 (1983), and Social Security Ruling 82-55 (1982).

Wilson v. Heckler, 622 F. Supp. 649, 661-62 (D.N.J. 1985). In its order, the district court also stated:

The plaintiff class does not include, at this time, any such persons who received decisions of the Secretary on or before July 25, 1984 and who failed either to file a complaint in federal district court or to appeal to the next level of administrative review within 60 days after the date of receipt of such decision. For purposes of determining class membership, the term "person in the State of New Jersey" is defined as an individual who was domiciled in the State of New Jersey at the time of his or her most recent administrative decision. For purposes of determining whether disability was denied or terminated based on a finding of no severe impairment, the rationale of the final agency denial shall be controlling except that the rational of the Administrative Law Judge shall be controlling where the Appeals Council denies review and has not initiated review on its own motion pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.969 (1983).

Wilson, 622 F. Supp. at 662.

The Secretary argues that the district court erred by including in the class claimants who have failed to exhaust administrative remedies. As explained below, we will not rule on this argument.

4. Our jurisdiction in this appeal is provided by 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1), which empowers this court to review district court orders "granting, continuing, modifying, refusing or dissolving injunctions." The district court's class certification ruling is pendent to the preliminary injunction order, which provides the basis for this appeal. In Kershner v. Mazurkiewicz, 670 F.2d 440 (3d Cir. 1982) (in banc), this court held that "a pendent class certification order is not appealable under section 1292(a)(1) unless the preliminary injunction issue cannot properly be decided without reference to the class certification question." Id. at 449. The pendent class certification issue may be decided only when that issue "directly controls [the] disposition of the [preliminary injunction issue], or [when] the issues are, in some other way, inextricably bound." Id.; see Tustin v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 1055, 1065 (3d Cir. 1984).

5. We believe that the class action and preliminary injunction issues are not sufficiently interrelated to provide us with jurisdiction to rule on the Secretary's class action contention. As appellees observe, each of the two issues are governed by different considerations. The preliminary injunction issue concerns whether the Secretary has authority to continue to apply the severity regulations in light of Baeder and SSR 85-28; ...

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