APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Before Adams, Rosenn, Circuit Judges, and Layton, District Judge*fn* .
In this case we must consider the role of the federal courts in enforcing federal regulations governing state welfare programs that receive federal subsidies. The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey enjoined the State of New Jersey ("New Jersey" or the "State") from violating a federal regulation that requires the State to take final administrative action within ninety days on any appeal from the denial of a claim under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children ("AFDC") program. The district court ordered that in any cases in which the ninety-day limit was exceeded, the State had to pay interim benefits to the aggrieved applicants while their appeals were pending. We reverse.
The appellees ("claimants") sought AFDC benefits from New Jersey. One claimant was applying for initial benefits; another sought an increase in the payments being made to him; a third contested a reduction intended to recoup past payments to which she allegedly had not been entitled. In all of the cases, welfare officials in New Jersey denied the claims, and the claimants took administrative appeals.
Under federal regulations, New Jersey should have completed the administrative appeals within ninety days. 45 C.F.R. § 205.10(16) (1978). As the State avers, without dispute, it instead took from 94 to 111 days. In their own behalf and in behalf of all those similarly situated, the claimants brought suit in the federal district court contesting the legality of these delays under the regulation and under the Due Process Clause of the fourteenth amendment. The claimants named as defendants various officials of New Jersey and the Secretary of the federal Department of Health, Education and Welfare ("HEW"). The district court certified the proposed class of plaintiffs.
As the district court found on the basis of studies undertaken in the wake of this suit, in the period from November 1976 to January 1977, New Jersey completed 83% Of the administrative appeals (known as "fair hearing decisions") within ninety days. In the period from June 1977 to August 1977, the proportion of timely adjudications had grown to 96%, which represented 400 out of 417 cases. As for the category of cases in which the State, on appeal, changed its initial decision, reports from the first period showed that appeals in only 20% Of those cases were brought to completion within ninety days. By the period from June to August 1977, the figure was 76%. In that period, the 24% Of such appeals exceeding the ninety-day limit constituted merely 17 cases, and in 5 of these cases the State had continued to pay undiminished benefits during the appeals, so that there was no hardship to those particular claimants.
The district court granted summary judgment for the claimants. It concluded that the federal regulation setting the ninety-day standard demanded total rather than substantial compliance. To ensure compliance, the court granted a permanent injunction commanding observance of the ninety-day limit, and if the State failed to complete an appeal and implement the decision within ninety days, the court ordered the State to provide the claimant with the requested benefits until administrative action was concluded. This provision for interim relief did not apply to applications for one-time grants. The district court's injunction ran only to the officials of New Jersey and not to the Secretary of HEW. The state officials have appealed. Because the injunction does not end the dispute as to all of the parties it is interlocutory. We have jurisdiction, however, under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1) (1976). Cf. Hook v. Hook & Ackerman, Inc., 213 F.2d 122, 128-29 (3d Cir. 1954) (grant of permanent injunction interlocutory when other claims between parties still pending before district court).
The claimants allege a violation by the State of the Due Process Clause and of the regulation cited above. New Jersey disputes the jurisdiction of the district court over the claim that the State violated a federal regulation. The claimants, who asserted causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1976), argue that the district court had two grounds on which to exercise jurisdiction: 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3) (1976) and 28 U.S.C. § 1331(a) (1976). Because we find jurisdiction under section 1343(3), we do not reach the issue of jurisdiction under section 1331(a).
Section 1343(3) vests jurisdiction in the district court over any civil action
To redress the deprivation, under color of any State law, statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage, of any right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution of the United States or by any Act of Congress providing for equal rights of citizens or of all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States . . . .
The claimants do not advance any argument that 42 U.S.C. § 602(a) (1976), under which the ninety-day regulation was promulgated, is an "Act of Congress providing for equal rights . . . ." Nor do they contend that, within the terms of section 1343(3), 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is such an Act of Congress. See Chapman v. Houston Welfare Rights Organization, 441 U.S. 600, 99 S. Ct. 1905, 60 L. Ed. 2d 508 (1979). Their argument is that their constitutional claim, brought under section ...