464 U.S. 879 (1983)

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U.S. Supreme Court

HECKLER v. LOPEZ , 464 U.S. 879 (1983)

464 U.S. 879

Margaret M. HECKLER, Secretary of Health and Human Services
Mario LOPEZ et al
No. A-145

Supreme Court of the United States

October 11, 1983

On Emergency Application for Stay.

The emergency application to vacate the stay entered by Justice REHNQUIST is denied.

Justice STEVENS with whom Justice BLACKMUN joins, dissenting in part.

The Secretary of Health and Human Services ("the Secretary") has taken the position that she may, at any time, terminate the payment of disability benefits to persons who have previously been found to be disabled and entitled to benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act notwithstanding the complete absence of evidence that the recipient's medical condition has improved. In maintaining this position, the Secretary refused to follow the settled law in the Ninth Circuit, which requires her to adduce some evidence of medical improvement before terminating disability benefits. See Patti v. Schweiker, 669 F.2d 582 ( CA9 1982); Finnegan v. Mathews, 641 F.2d 1340 (CA9 1981). Nevertheless, for

Page 464 U.S. 879 , 880

the purposes of the stay application under review, the Secretary assumes that the Ninth Circuit's interpretation of the law is correct. Her stay application was predicated entirely on procedural grounds. A review of the procedural history of the case is therefore necessary.

Respondents filed a class action in the United States District Court for the Central District of California challenging the Secretary's policy. On June 16, 1983, the District Court entered an injunction requiring the Secretary to comply with the law of the Ninth Circuit with respect to recipients of disability benefits who reside in that circuit. The only portion of the District Court's injunction presently at issue in this Court is 4(c), which applies to all persons whose disability benefits have been terminated since August 30, 1981 (or August 25, 1980 in the case of recipients who were "grandfathered" into the federal program from state disability programs). Paragraph 4(c) enjoins the Secretary to notify all such persons that they may reapply for benefits, and upon reapplication, to reinstate their benefits pending a termination hearing at which the Secretary must produce some evidence of medical improvement. [Footnote 1] It is this portion of the District Court's injunction which Justice REHNQUIST, acting as Circuit Justice, stayed pending the Secretary's appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

Today the Court declines to vacate the stay entered by Justice REHNQUIST. Of course, in considering an application of this kind, substantial deference must be paid the judgment of the Circuit Justice. See Rosenberg v. United States, 346 U.S. 273, 286-287, 1159 (1953). The Circuit Justice's decision should not be disturbed simply because the other members of the Court would have declined to grant the stay as an original matter. Nonetheless, there are cases in which reexamination is proper, see id., at 287-288-1160; I am persuaded that this is such a case.

In Justice REHNQUIST's view, the District Court's injunction extended to persons over whom the District Court had no jurisdiction. That conclusion does not, however, justify a stay of the injunction to the extent that it granted relief to persons over whom the District Court does have jurisdiction. Moreover, the extent of the overbreadth is less than Justice REHNQUIST assumed when he was persuaded to enter his stay. [464 U.S. 879 , 881]

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