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In re Letourneau

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT


decided: July 28, 1977.

IN RE BERTHE LETOURNEAU, PETITIONER

Petition for mandamus to require the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Kevin Thomas Duffy, Judge, to convene a three-judge district court to determine the constitutionality of 26 U.S.C. § 1402(c)(2)(C) and 42 U.S.C. § 411(c)(2)(C). Remanded.

Oakes, Circuit Judge, and Wyzanski*fn* and Holden,*fn** District Judges.

Author: Oakes

OAKES, Circuit Judge:

Petitioner seeks a writ of mandamus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1651, to require the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Kevin Thomas Duffy, Judge, to convene a three-judge district court to determine the constitutionality of 26 U.S.C. § 1402(c)(2)(C) and 42 U.S.C. § 411(c)(2)(C). The claim is that these statutes unconstitutionally deny Social Security benefits to aliens lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States who work for an international organization or foreign government instrumentality.*fn1 Judge Duffy refused to convene a three-judge court, which may be convened only if the complaint "alleges a basis for equitable relief," Idlewild Bon Voyage Liquor Corp. v. Epstein, 370 U.S. 713, 715, 8 L. Ed. 2d 794, 82 S. Ct. 1294 (1962) (per curiam); Nieves v. Oswald, 477 F.2d 1109, 1112 (2d Cir. 1973); see 28 U.S.C. § 2282. The judge concluded that here the relevant jurisdiction-conferring statute, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),*fn2 forbids issuance of an injunction against operation of the statutory scheme. This ruling is reviewable on a petition for mandamus. Gonzalez v. Automatic Employees Credit Union, 419 U.S. 90, 100 n.19, 42 L. Ed. 2d 249, 95 S. Ct. 289 (1974). We hold that the district court's construction of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) is incorrect, and we therefore remand for consideration of the substantiality of petitioner's constitutional claims.

The court below relied for its conclusion on a footnote in Weinberger v. Salfi, 422 U.S. 749, 763 n.8, 45 L. Ed. 2d 522, 95 S. Ct. 2457 (1975), which in dictum may be read to state that § 405(g) does not affirmatively grant injunctive power to the federal courts.*fn3 At least one other district court has been persuaded by this footnote to hold that § 405(g) leaves it without injunctive power. Webster v. Secretary of H.E.W., 413 F. Supp. 127, 128 n.1 (E.D.N.Y. 1976), rev'd on other grounds sub nom. Califano v. Webster, 430 U.S. 313, 97 S. Ct. 1192, 51 L. Ed. 2d 360, 45 U.S.L.W. 3630 (1977) (per curiam). See also Slone v. Weinberger, 400 F. Supp. 891, 894 (E.D. Ky. 1975).*fn4 We believe, however, that the footnote, which is an observation and not a holding, and which does not examine the well-developed prohibition against inferring denial of remedial powers from ambiguous statutory language, leaves the ultimate issue open. See Norton v. Mathews, 427 U.S. 524, 533-34, 49 L. Ed. 2d 672, 96 S. Ct. 2771 (1976) (Stevens, J., dissenting).

Subject to due process limitations, Congress may grant jurisdiction over particular subject matter to the federal courts while withholding the power to give certain remedies. See Palmore v. United States, 411 U.S. 389, 400-02, 93 S. Ct. 1670, 36 L. Ed. 2d 342 (1973). See generally Hart, The Power of Congress to Limit the Jurisdiction of Federal Courts: An Exercise in Dialectic, 66 Harv. L. Rev. 1362, 1366 (1953); Note, Congressional Power Over State and Federal Court Jurisdiction: The Hill-Burton and Trans-Alaska Pipeline Examples, 49 N.Y.U.L. Rev. 131 (1974). When congressional intent is unclear, however, no diminution in the remedial powers of the federal courts may be inferred. Congress must speak clearly to interfere with the historic equitable powers of the courts it has created. Porter v. Warner Holding Co., 328 U.S. 395, 398, 90 L. Ed. 1332, 66 S. Ct. 1086 (1946); Hecht Co. v. Bowles, 321 U.S. 321, 330, 88 L. Ed. 754, 64 S. Ct. 587 (1944); Brown v. Swann, 35 U.S. (10 Pet.) 497, 503, 9 L. Ed. 508 (1836); Usery v. Local 639, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, 177 U.S. App. D.C. 222, 543 F.2d 369, 388 (1976); Commodity Futures Trading Commission v. British American Commodity Options Corp., 422 F. Supp. 662, 664 (S.D.N.Y. 1976).

Here, § 405(g) speaks expansively of what a district court may do - it may affirm, reverse or modify in any way the Secretary's judgment - and is completely silent on any limitations on the court's equitable powers. See note 2 supra. In this absence of any affirmative limitation on historic district court powers, we may not infer that Congress meant to circumscribe them. Accord, Johnson v. Mathews, 539 F.2d 1111, 1125 (8th Cir. 1976). See also Jimenez v. Weinberger, 523 F.2d 689, 694 (7th Cir. 1975), cert. denied, 427 U.S. 912, 96 S. Ct. 3200, 49 L. Ed. 2d 1204 (1976).

While we therefore hold that § 405(g) does not bar issuance of an injunction, there remains the question whether petitioner's constitutional claim is so insubstantial that a three-judge court nevertheless need not be convened, see Goosby v. Osser, 409 U.S. 512, 518, 35 L. Ed. 2d 36, 93 S. Ct. 854 (1973). The court below did not consider this question, and we therefore remand for a consideration of the substantiality of petitioner's constitutional claims, particularly in light of Mathews v. Diaz, 426 U.S. 67, 48 L. Ed. 2d 478, 96 S. Ct. 1883 (1976), and Nyquist v. Mauclet, 432 U.S. 1, 97 S. Ct. 2120, 53 L. Ed. 2d 63, 45 U.S.L.W. 4655 (1977). See also Fiallo v. Bell, 430 U.S. 787, 97 S. Ct. 1473, 52 L. Ed. 2d 50, 45 U.S.L.W. 4402 (1977).

Cause remanded.

Disposition

Cause remanded.


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