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Therrien v. Schweiker

decided: June 27, 1986.

STEVEN W. THERRIEN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
RICHARD S. SCHWEIKER, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE



Appeal from an order of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, M. Joseph Blumenfeld, Judge, upholding the Secretary's denial of surviving-child benefits under 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1). Appellant challenges a regulation promulgated by the Secretary that denies benefits to correspondence school students, and claims that the application of the statute and regulation in this case violated his equal protection and due process rights.

Winter and Pratt, Circuit Judges, and Maletz,*fn* Judge.

Author: Winter

WINTER, Circuit Judge:

Steven W. Therrien appeals from an order of Judge Blumenfeld that upheld the denial by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (the "Secretary") of surviving-child insurance benefits under 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1). Judge Blumenfeld accepted and approved the Recommended Ruling of Magistrate F. Owen Eagan on January 23, 1984. Subsequently, appellant moved pro se to object to the Recommended Ruling. Judge Blumenfeld treated this motion as one for relief from a judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b), due to the fact that appellant had not received timely notice of the Recommended Ruling. The court reviewed the Recommended Ruling, found it to be supported by the record and the law, and therefore denied appellant's motion. For reasons stated below, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

Therrien has been incarcerated at the Connecticut Correctional Institution at Somers since February 13, 1979. On May 8, 1979, he applied for child's insurance benefits, stating that he intended to enroll in Western Illinois University, a correspondence school. His claim was denied by the Social Security Administration ("SSA") on July 17, 1979, because he did not qualify as a full-time student according to SSA's standards. His failure to qualify was based both on the fact that he had not actually enrolled in the educational institution, and on a regulation, 20 C.F.R. § 404.367 (1980) (formerly 20 C.F.R. § 404.320 (1979)), that excluded correspondence school students from the class of persons eligible for benefits. Therrien claims that this regulation is inconsistent with the statute, and that the enrollment requirement contained in the regulation and the statute impermissibly discriminates on the basis of indigency.

At the time of Therrien's application, Section 202(d)(1) of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1)(B)(i) (1976) (amended 1981), provided that the children of persons who died while insured by Social Security were eligible for benefits if they were unmarried and either younger than 18 years old, or a full-time student and younger than 22 years old.*fn1 Section 202(d) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(7)(A) (1976), defined a "full-time student" as "an individual who is in full-time attendance as a student at an educational institution, as determined by the Secretary (in accordance with regulations prescribed by him) in the light of the standards and practices of the institutions involved. . . ."

Finally, the challenged regulation provided:

You may be eligible for child's benefits if you are a full-time student. A full-time student means a person who is in full-time attendance at an educational institution. You will be considered a full-time student if all the following conditions are met; . . .

(b) You are enrolled in a noncorrespondence course and carrying a subject load that is considered full-time for day students under the practices and standards of the educational institution. . . . If you are enrolled in any other educational institution, your course of study must last at least 13 weeks and your scheduled attendance must be at least 20 hours a week. . . .

20 C.F.R. § 404.367 (1980).

Therrien argues in effect that the definition of a full-time student found in the regulation was inconsistent with the statute. However, because the statute explicitly delegated to the Secretary the task of prescribing regulations to effectuate the statute, the nature of our review is extremely limited. The Supreme Court has held that where there is an

explicit delegation of substantive authority [to define terms], the Secretary's definition of [a term] is 'entitled to more than mere deference or weight.' . . . Rather, the Secretary's definition is entitled to 'legislative effect' because, 'in a situation of this kind, Congress entrusts to the Secretary, rather than to the courts, the primary responsibility for interpreting the statutory term.' . . . Our task is the limited one of ensuring that the Secretary did not 'excee[d] his statutory authority' and that the regulation is not arbitrary or capricious.

Schweiker v. Gray Panthers, 453 U.S. 34, 44, 69 L. Ed. 2d 460, 101 S. Ct. 2633 (1981) (quoting Batterton v. Francis, 432 U.S. 416, 425-26, 53 L. Ed. 2d 448, 97 S. Ct. 2399 (1977)). See also Herweg v. Ray, 455 U.S. 265, 71 L. Ed. 2d 137, 102 S. Ct. 1059 (1982) (applying standard of review set out in Gray Panthers and Batterton). Thus, Therrien must demonstrate that the regulation either was so inconsistent with the statute as to be outside the legitimate exercise of authority delegated to the Secretary, or was arbitrary or capricious.

In enacting Section 402(d)(1), Congress sought to aid dependent children of deceased or disabled insureds in completing their education. Prior to the 1965 Amendments to the Act, eligibility terminated at age 18. The ...


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