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Clayborne v. Califano

decided: July 19, 1979.

DANA CLAYBORNE, BY HER NEXT FRIEND AND MOTHER, ANNA M. CLAYBORNE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JOSEPH H. CALIFANO, JR., SECRETARY OF HEALTH, EDUCATION AND WELFARE, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from a judgment of the District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Jacob Mishler, Chief Judge, holding that the ineligibility of certain adopted children for secondary disability benefits under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 402(d), does not deprive appellant of equal protection or due process under the Federal Constitution. Affirmed.

Before Feinberg, Mansfield, Circuit Judges, and Haight,*fn* District Judge.

Author: Mansfield

Appellant, Dana Clayborne, is the nine-year-old adopted daughter of Anna Clayborne and her husband.*fn1 Mrs. Clayborne became a disabled former wage earner on or about August 31, 1969 and began receiving Social Security disability insurance benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423 in March 1970.*fn2 Mrs. Clayborne suffers from a serious heart problem which renders her unemployable. Her heart condition also makes it unsafe for her to bear a child. Prior to the onset of her disability, Mrs. Clayborne had one natural child. The Claybornes brought appellant into their family to provide their first child a sibling.

On July 15, 1976 Mrs. Clayborne applied for secondary insurance benefits on Dana's behalf under § 402(d).*fn3 The application was denied by the Social Security Administration on the ground that appellant was precluded from receiving secondary benefits because she failed to satisfy the requirements of § 402(d)(8) which, with certain exceptions described more fully below, provides that a child adopted after the insured parent becomes entitled to primary benefits does not qualify as a dependent eligible for secondary benefits.*fn4

Following internal administrative review, which was abbreviated by consent of the parties, appellant brought suit in the Eastern District of New York against the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, U.S.C. § 405(g), to contest the constitutionality of § 402(d)(8), this being the sole basis for challenging the Secretary's decision that appellant was ineligible for secondary benefits. Appellant contended that the statute deprived her of equal protection and due process under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. The district court, Jacob Mishler, Chief Judge, upheld the constitutionality of the statute. We affirm.

In 1956 Congress expanded the coverage of the Social Security Act by providing benefits for wage-earners forced by disability into premature retirement, Pub.L. 84-880, § 103(a), 70 Stat. 815 (1956), and in 1958 it broadened the disability insurance plan by providing "secondary" benefits to members of the wage-earner's family who were, or were presumed to be, dependent on the wage-earner. Pub.L. 85-840, § 205(d), 72 Stat. 1022 (1958).*fn5 We need not detail the numerous modifications of the secondary disability benefits plan that Congress has enacted over the years since 1958. As the statute now stands, and with some qualifications not relevant here, secondary disability benefits are available to all unmarried children under the age of 18 who are "dependent" upon the insured at the time an application for secondary benefits is filed. § 402(d)(1). A child is deemed dependent on her natural parent or adopting parent at the time of filing unless at that time the parent is not living with or contributing to the support of the child and the child is neither the "legitimate" nor adopted child of the parent, or unless the child has been adopted by someone else. § 402(d)(3). A stepchild is deemed dependent on her stepparent if at the time of filing the child is living with or receiving at least one-half of her support from the stepparent. § 402(d) (4).

Thus far the statute equates adopted and natural children. This equality, however, is significantly qualified by subsection (d)(8). Under this provision, a child adopted After the parent becomes entitled to primary benefits is deemed Not to be a dependent unless the child is the natural child or stepchild of the insured or was legally adopted by the insured pursuant to order of a court of competent jurisdiction within the United States and was for the year preceding the onset of the disability living with the insured within the United States and receiving at least one-half of her support from the insured.*fn6 In short, the statute extends secondary coverage to all adopted children directly related by blood or marriage to the insured but denies benefits to other adopted children, i. e., unrelated children, unless they were dependent on the insured prior to the onset of the disability.*fn7

Appellant, being unrelated to Mrs. Clayborne and having been born after Mrs. Clayborne became eligible for disability benefits, could not, of course, satisfy the dependency requirement applicable to unrelated adopted children and, therefore, is ineligible to receive secondary benefits.*fn8 Appellant argues that the statutory classification excluding children such as herself creates an unjustified distinction between related and unrelated adopted children, thereby depriving the latter of equal protection, and that the conclusive presumption that unrelated after-adopted children are not dependent on the adopting parent at the time of filing is a deprivation of due process. All reported decisions addressing the constitutionality of § 402(d) in its present form have upheld the validity of the statute. Williams v. Califano, 566 F.2d 1044 (5th Cir.), Cert. denied, 439 U.S. 821, 99 S. Ct. 85, 58 L. Ed. 2d 112 (1978), Affirming per curiam, 441 F. Supp. 1045 (E.D.La.1977); Stanton v. Weinberger, 502 F.2d 315 (10th Cir. 1974); Johnson v. Califano, 462 F. Supp. 656 (D.Kan.1978). In light of recent decisions of the Supreme Court rebuffing equal protection and due process challenges to other statutory classifications in the Social Security Act, we are constrained to do likewise.

Discussion

In the area of social welfare legislation Congress has considerable latitude in determining eligibility for benefits. A "challenged statute is entitled to a strong presumption of constitutionality." Mathews v. de Castro, 429 U.S. 181, 185, 97 S. Ct. 431, 434, 50 L. Ed. 2d 389 (1976). The Supreme Court has not phrased the applicable standard uniformly,*fn9 but the sum of the cases is that a statutory classification satisfies constitutional requirements if it is reasonably believed to promote a legitimate legislative purpose.*fn10

The Secretary argues that the provision rendering unrelated after-adopted children ineligible for secondary benefits serves two legitimate purposes. First, it implements a policy of limiting secondary benefits to those whom the wage-earner was supporting prior to the loss of her earning capacity, and, second, it prevents abuse of the secondary benefit scheme by denying benefits to children who might be adopted solely to qualify them for such benefits.

Appellant does not deny that either of these policies could be a valid legislative policy. However, she argues that the first policy cannot reasonably be ascribed to the Act. We agree. It is true that the legislative history and the case law lend some support to the position that secondary benefits are designed to replace support which the secondary beneficiary had been receiving from the insured prior to the latter's loss of earning capacity. See, e. g., Conf.Rep.No.2165, 86th Cong., 2d Sess., Reprinted in (1960) U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News, pp. 3749, 3753; S.Rep.No.2388, 85th Cong., 2d Sess., Reprinted in (1958) U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News, pp. 4218, 4232; S.Rep.No.1669, 81st Cong., 2d Sess., Reprinted in (1950), U.S.Code Cong.Serv., pp. 3287, 3317; Califano v. Jobst, 434 U.S. 47, 50, 98 S. Ct. 95, 54 L. Ed. 2d 228 (1977). Indeed, the House Report on the Social Security Amendments Act of 1972, which changed § 402(d)(8) to its present form, adopted this view of the statutory scheme. See H.R.No.92-231, 92d Cong., 2d Sess., Reprinted in (1972) U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News, pp. 4989, 5039. However, the Supreme Court unambiguously rejected this view of the statutory purpose in Jimenez v. Weinberger, 417 U.S. 628, 634, 94 S. Ct. 2496, 41 L. Ed. 2d 363 (1974), for reasons disclosed by the secondary benefits provisions themselves.

Under § 402(d)(8), natural-born children or stepchildren who become part of the family unit after the onset of the insured's disability are eligible for secondary benefits even though they could not possibly have been recipients of support from the insured prior to the disability. Accordingly, it is more accurate to say that the legislative policy is to furnish secondary benefits to every child who would have received support from the insured but for the disability.*fn11 Neither Congress nor the Secretary has suggested a ground for departing from this policy in the case of unrelated adopted children, limiting them to benefits only as a substitute for support that had been received from the insured before the insured's loss of earning capacity.

There remains the question of whether § 402(d)(8)"s discrimination against unrelated adopted children should be sustained on the ground that it protects the integrity of the secondary benefit scheme by eliminating an incentive for a primary beneficiary to adopt a child solely to qualify the child for secondary benefits. Appellant does not dispute that this was an objective of Congress, See H.Rep.No.92-931, Supra, at 5039, and that it is a legitimate concern for Congress.*fn12 Rather, appellant argues that the fear that anyone would assume the responsibilities of ...


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