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decided: September 9, 1983.



Author: Rehnquist

[ 463 U.S. Page 1328]


Applicant, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary), requests that I issue a partial stay pending appeal of a preliminary injunction issued by the District Court for the Central District of California. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected the Secretary's application for an emergency stay and for a stay pending appeal. On September 1, 1983, I granted the Secretary's request for a temporary stay pending further consideration of the application and the response. I have now decided to grant the stay requested by the Secretary.

 This class action was instituted by numerous individuals and organizations to challenge the Secretary's failure to follow two Ninth Circuit decisions in terminating the payment of benefits under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act to recipients in the Ninth Circuit. On the authority of Finnegan v. Matthews, 641 F.2d 1340 (CA9 1981),

[ 463 U.S. Page 1329]

     and Patti v. Schweiker, 669 F.2d 582 (CA9 1982), respondents contend that the Secretary cannot terminate the payment of benefits without producing evidence that a recipient's medical condition has improved since he previously was declared disabled. The Secretary, on the other hand, relying on agency regulations which specifically disavow the holdings of Patti and Finnegan, contends that she can terminate benefits when current evidence indicates that a prior recipient is not now disabled. She argues that she need not produce specific evidence that the prior recipient's medical condition has improved.

Respondents styled their claim in the District Court as a constitutional challenge to the Secretary's "nonacquiescence" with settled law in the Ninth Circuit, an action which they argue violates constitutional principles of separation of powers and which deprives them of due process and equal protection. The District Court granted respondents' motion for class certification and their motion for a preliminary injunction.

The first part of the District Court's injunction, which the Secretary has not sought to stay, restrains the Secretary from disregarding Patti and Finnegan in pending and future cases. Paragraph 4(c), on the other hand, directs the Secretary within 60 days of the order to notify each member of the class that he can apply for reinstatement of benefits if he believes that his medical condition has not improved since his initial disability determination. Paragraph 4(c) requires the Secretary immediately to reinstate benefits to the applicants who apply. Following reinstatement of benefits, the Secretary can conduct hearings to establish lack of disability, but in those hearings, the Secretary must make a showing of medical improvement pursuant to Patti and Finnegan before terminating benefits. In a later order the District Court ruled that the Secretary can recoup interim benefits if she produces evidence at the hearing that the applicant's medical

[ 463 U.S. Page 1330]

     condition has improved now or that it had improved at the earlier time when benefits were terminated.

On August 15, 1983, after the Ninth Circuit refused to issue an emergency stay, the Secretary notified approximately 30,000 members of the class that they could apply for reinstatement of benefits. The Secretary already has begun to receive applications. Thus the Secretary only requests that I stay the portion of Paragraph 4(c) which requires her to pay benefits to all applicants until she establishes their lack of disability through hearings complying with Patti and Finnegan.

My obligation as a Circuit Justice in considering the usual stay application is "to determine whether four Justices would vote to grant certiorari, to balance the so-called 'stay equities,' and to give some consideration as to predicting the final outcome of the case in this Court." Gregory-Portland Independent School District v. United States, 448 U.S. 1342 (1980) (REHNQUIST, J., in chambers). The Secretary's stay application does not come to me in the posture of the usual application, however. The Secretary does not ask me to stay the judgment of the Court of Appeals pending the disposition of a petition for certiorari in this Court. She asks instead that I grant a stay of the District Court's judgment pending appeal to the Ninth Circuit when the Ninth Circuit itself has refused to issue the stay.

Although there is no question that I have jurisdiction to grant the Secretary's request, it is also clear that "'a stay application to a Circuit Justice on a matter before a court of appeals is rarely granted.'" Atiyeh v. Capps, 449 U.S. 1312, 1313 (1981) (REHNQUIST, J., in chambers) (citation omitted); see O'Rourke v. Levine, 80 S. Ct. 623, 624, 4 L. Ed. 2d 615, 616 (1960) (Harlan, J., in chambers). For the reasons I ...

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