It is readily apparent to this court that plaintiffs face a "future injury of uncertain date and incalculable magnitude" if their terminated benefits are not restored. Plaintiffs are not seeking the proverbial pot of gold but merely restoration of the minimal disability benefits they received until recently, benefits which made their lives tolerable. To plaintiffs, whose impecuniousness is aggravated by an inability -- actual or merely perceived -- to return to the job market, the loss of even the relatively small amount of money that they were receiving has further extended their marginality. Not only can one expect that, when plaintiffs no longer have recourse to borrowed funds, they will face the loss of housing and the ability to maintain proper nutritional standards, but they also will be unable to access continuing medical care through the social security system.
Assuredly, if irreparable harm inheres in the risk created by an infringer to a corporation's ability to continue to market its wooden duck boxes, or the risk that prisoner's dignity will be offended by the removal of a bullet, or the risk to a potential sports professional in not being admitted to college, irreparable harm also inheres in this case. There is a clear likelihood that, without the relief sought, a realistic danger exists that the plaintiffs seeking relief will be without the means to avail themselves of the basic needs of food, shelter, or medical care, much less the means to be self-sustaining. I "do not think that it is necessary for [plaintiffs] to show that without an injunction 'rigor mortis [would] set in forthwith. '" Rockwell Intern. Systems, Inc. v. Citibank, N.A., 719 F.2d 583, 586 (2d Cir. 1983) (quoting Studebaker Corp. v. Gittlin, 360 F.2d 692, 698 (2d Cir. 1966)). Thus, irreparable harm will accrue to plaintiffs if injunctive relief is withheld.
Plaintiffs argue that they have a strong likelihood of success on the merits because the governmental classification here penalizes the exercise of a basic liberty, reasonable access to the courts. Such a penalty, if shown, would, of course, require this court's strict scrutiny of the government's attempt to show that the classification is necessary to promote a compelling governmental interest. See Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 86 L. Ed. 1655, 62 S. Ct. 1110 (1942). In their Reply Brief, however, plaintiffs acknowledge that the ruling in question here does not specifically impede access to the courts, as did the Illinois law that required criminal defendants to pay a fee in order for their cases to be reviewed by an appellate court and that was held to be unconstitutional in Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 12, 100 L. Ed. 891, 76 S. Ct. 585 (1966). Rather, plaintiffs argue that they are being penalized for taking their cases to the District Court.
While the distinction made by the Secretary between persons who have and those who have not exhausted their administrative appeals may have the effect of denying benefits to those who have elected to press their claims in the federal courts, I cannot conclude that plaintiffs have demonstrated that the government was motivated, in promulgating its ruling, by a desire to deny a valuable government benefit to them because they have exercised a fundamental right. See, generally, Mt. Healthy City Bd. of Ed. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 50 L. Ed. 2d 471, 97 S. Ct. 568 (1977). Judicial inquiry into government motivation is appropriate in instances of discretionary governmental action. See Ely, Legislative and Administrative Motivation in Constitutional Law, 79 Yale L.J. 1205, 1269 (1970). Because plaintiffs do not constitute a protected class and have not shown that their exercise of a right of access to the courts was the cause of the government's distinction, the court will not engage in strict scrutiny of the government's action. See Schweiker v. Wilson, 450 U.S. 221, 230, 67 L. Ed. 2d 186, 101 S. Ct. 1074 (1981).
However, the challenged ruling may still be tested to determine whether it classifies the persons it affects in a manner rationally related to legitimate governmental objectives. Mathews v. DeCastro, 429 U.S. 181, 185, 97 S. Ct. 431, 50 L. Ed. 2d 389 (1976).
This "rational relation" test is not a toothless standard. Mathews v. Lucas, 427 U.S. 495, 510, 49 L. Ed. 2d 651, 96 S. Ct. 2755 (1975). As has been perceptively observed, the right to equal protection of the law requires "'some rationality in the nature of the class singled out, ' with 'rationality' tested by the classification's ability to serve the purposes intended by the legislative or administrative rule: 'The courts must reach and determine the question whether the classifications drawn in a statute are reasonable in light of its purpose . . .'" Tribe, American Constitutional Law (1978) at 995, quoting Rinaldi v. Yeager, 384 U.S. 305, 308-309, 16 L. Ed. 2d 577, 86 S. Ct. 1497 (1966) and McLaughlin v. Florida, 379 U.S. 184, 191, 13 L. Ed. 2d 222, 85 S. Ct. 283 (1964).
The Secretary contends that the classification here has a rational basis and, because it is equitable and administratively manageable, serves a legitimate governmental interest in finding administratively efficient means for regulating social welfare programs. See Weinberger v. Salfi, supra at 781 (nine-month duration-of-relationship requirement for one to be considered "widow" or "child" in order to obtain Social Security benefits designed to prevent "sham marriages" not denial of equal protection). The distinction that the Secretary defends here is between those claimants and beneficiaries who have not yet had a judicially reviewable "final decision" of the Secretary and those who have already received such a decision and have exercised their right to judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The latter category, according to the government, see Brief at 11, "will have a judicial determination of their claims in relatively short order," and the fact of "final decision" at the administrative level is the sole rationale offered for the differing treatment.
The question that must be answered in the negative for plaintiffs to demonstrate a reasonable probability of success on the merits is this: does the exclusion of plaintiffs from defendant's policy of temporarily restoring terminated benefits bear a rational relationship to the Secretary's interest in restoring benefits to those who have not yet had a final decision rendered on their claim to benefits.
Separate and apart from the critical fact that the "final decision" plaintiffs received was under a standard no longer being applied, this question, at least theoretically, would have to be answered in the affirmative. Reality, however, has widely diverged from theory in the application of the Social Security disability benefits law and regulations.
Information supplied to this court by an official of the Social Security Administration indicates that during fiscal 1983, district courts rendered 5,986 "Final Court Decisions", that is, decisions that affirm or reverse a "final decision" of the Secretary or that dismiss a case. Of these "Final Court Decisions", 5717 or 95 percent were "Disability Final Court Decisions." The breakdown of these disability decisions is as follows:
Program Aff'd Rev'd Dis'd Total
Title II 2362 1225 221 3808
Title XVI 369 137 40 546
Concurrent 968 318 77 1363
(Titles II & XVI)
Total 3699 1680 338 5717
© 1992-2004 VersusLaw Inc.